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Autism Features Transphobia

The importance of speaking up

It’s not easy for me to speak publicly about my autism, in large part because I’ve been taught all my life that ‘good’ autistic people are those who are not visibly autistic.

by Felix Moore

Academics and medical professionals alike are increasingly interested in the link between autism and trans identity. Various studies have suggested that autistic people are more likely to be trans, with one study finding that autistic participants were 7.59 times more likely to ‘express gender variance’. As an autistic trans person, I am less interested in the ‘cause’ of this link than I am in the parallels between these two aspects of my identity. The most obvious to me is that both identities are interrogated and pathologised. Neither trans nor autistic people are trusted as authorities on the subject of ourselves.

There are various theories about the link between autism and trans identity, but I think that theorising on this subject is missing the point. I am sceptical of the motives behind this line of questioning for the same reasons as I am of attempts to identify a so-called ‘gay gene’. The next logical step, after you find a cause, is to find a cure. People already believe that I ‘only’ identify as trans because I am autistic. I’m not interested in adding more fuel to this fire.

To those asking this question, I would ask, why does it matter? I don’t see the point people are making when they say that I wouldn’t be trans if I were not autistic. The fact is that I am autistic, and if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be me. So if it is true that I am trans ‘because’ I am autistic, it’s only true in the same way that everything about me is ‘because’ I am autistic. The question being asked is effectively, ‘How would this person be different if they were a completely different person?’, which strikes me as neither useful or interesting.

I realised I was autistic when I was ten. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was fifteen, despite my best efforts. A letter written about me by a psychologist when I was thirteen reads in part: ‘You referred her last summer because she had expressed the wish to talk to a female worker to discuss her idea that she may be suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism. […] In my opinion, she does not suffer from any of these two conditions […] She has a complex personality and, in order to cope with the tragedy of her mother’s deteriorating illness, she has developed perhaps a defensive position which includes the thought of being herself ill with a serious illness.’

This is a typical example of the ways in which autistic people’s identities and assertions about themselves are dismissed. In the view of this psychologist, there had to have been some sort of external reason for me to think I was ‘suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome’. Her best guess seems to have been a combination of hysterical hypochondria with a dash of Oedipal anxiety, a take you might get if you asked someone whose level of psychological analysis extended to watching the episode of Friends featuring Freud! The Musical.

It seems more than a little ironic that, after I was denied an autism diagnosis for years, my autism is now used to deny my trans identity. Autistic trans people are used by anti-trans groups as the ideal sacrificial lambs; gullible, easily confused children (even when we are adults) who have been manipulated into transition by the nefarious ‘trans agenda’. Autistic people are easy to exploit in this way because we are already granted no agency. People assume that we’re incapable of real self-understanding, that we can’t think critically about our own identities, and that we’re easily manipulated into believing things about ourselves that we wouldn’t otherwise believe. Every assertion we make about ourselves is subject to scrutiny and analysis, as though we are lab animals and not sentient human beings.

Autistic people, like trans people, are granted little to no voice in discussions about us. Most people who are considered experts on autism are not autistic. Most resources about autism are aimed at parents, family members and medical professionals, not people with autism. We are treated not as people, but as burdens that our neurotypical families heroically bear.

It’s not easy for me to speak publicly about my autism, in large part because I’ve been taught all my life that ‘good’ autistic people are those who are not visibly autistic. But this same ability to ‘mask’ my autism is the reason I struggled so hard to get a diagnosis, and why I still struggle to convince people that I am ‘really’ autistic. Moreover, in a climate in which autistic people are used as talking points, I feel obligated to speak up. Autistic trans people are exploited by anti-trans groups because we are seen as voiceless. If we don’t speak on our own behalf, they will continue to speak for us.