by Katie Munday
All the signs had been there for a long time, but I only realised my Autistic identity in my mid-20s. I come from a family who are also neurodivergent (hard wired differently to most) and very aggressively unique, so my oddities were just seen as Kate-isms. Despite this validation and acceptance, I still spent most evenings untangling my struggles alone in my room, trying to work out social and emotional events that had happened throughout the day.
It was only when I began working with Autistic children that I realised that I was Autistic too. I have many of the same sensory aversions and seeking behaviours as the young people I work with and, for the most part, we communicate very well with each other. When I got my diagnosis two years later, everything started making more sense for me; every time socialising had gone pear-shaped, every time my sensory overwhelm had made me angry and ‘difficult to be around.’ All of those times I had never fit in with others were simply because we weren’t wired the same.
Finally, all these experiences had a name, a reason, and with this came the beginning of self-acceptance and self-love which I had needed for a very long time. Now, in my early 30s, I understand my sensory profile a lot better – I know what sensory input will hurt or upset me and what will bring me Autistic joy. I have a lot more patience with myself and use many of the same techniques for myself as I use with the children I work with. Wonderfully, the children at work have made me realise myself and I work every day to make sure they have the same opportunity for self-love.
Understanding the fundamentals of my humanity allowed me to unpick parts of my identity that had lain dormant and covered-up for many years. It was only when I began to understand my neurodivergence that I could begin to unravel my gender.
I have never appreciated being told what to do, and so I never bought into gender norms. When I was younger I had a punk aesthetic, lots of handmade and embellished clothing, patches, badges, paint, leather. I loved finding a typical bit of clothing and making it into something unique. I also wore a lot of skater jeans and baggy button-down shirts. I was sometimes mistaken as a boy, with my loose clothes and short hair. I didn’t feel the need to suppress or hide parts of myself and often didn’t ‘correct’ people when they called me a boy.
I never felt like a girl, or a boy; most days it was difficult enough for me to feel human. I was surrounded by people who looked like me, but we were not the same, and this made me feel isolated at school. Fortunately, there were spaces in my life where being different was celebrated – drama club, scouts and the punk and skinhead scenes. Everyone in these groups was a little odd, and I fit right in.
Most of these communities were not concerned with binary ideas of gender. In the skinhead scene everyone had a shaved head and wore shirts, jeans and Doc Martens. The punk scene I was part of was vehemently feminist and anti-patriarchy. These people knew binary gender for the sham it is, and they constantly pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be feminine, masculine, androgynous – human.
On reflection I was outwardly queer and Autistic from a very young age, I just didn’t know or appreciate that. My self-actualisation was marred by my Autistic differences. I have alexithymia, a difference in how I process, understand and communicate my emotions. It is difficult for me to translate physical sensations associated with emotions into words. This is something I have always struggled with and is the reason I used to spend so much time processing alone in my childhood bedroom all those years ago. What does it feel like to be a girl? Why does the gender role of ‘women’ not feel right to me? Why does growing into a woman feel like such a strange and awkward idea?
And now I have my answer: I was never going to fit neurotypical ideas of being a girl or woman because I am not neurotypical. I am trans and Autistic, a girl in name only.
Katie Munday is a queer Autistic advocate, activist and community researcher. They are a prolific blogger on their website Autistic and Living the Dream https://autisticltd.co.uk/