I started a blog post in June of 2016, appropriately titled “an exploration into gender by a confused teen,” that I never finished. The following is what I wrote.
Growing up, I had always understood gender as this:
Man or Woman.
No in-between, no wiggle room. Check the box, fill in the blank. We all chose one and that’s where we stayed. But now, more and more people are viewing gender as a spectrum:
While I love that people have more freedom to choose and express their gender the way they want, the gender spectrum seems to agree with the assumption that there are specific traits to be ascribed to particular genders. This includes the idea that there are “masculine” and “feminine” traits, and that these traits are usually set as polar opposites. For example:
- Emotion vs Logic
- Gentle vs Strong
- Submissive vs Dominant
- Homemaker vs Breadwinner
But why are these traits mutually exclusive, and why is one feminine and the other masculine? Because society dictated it to be as such?
As an 18-year-old, the concept of gender flabbergasted me. Whether it be binary or a spectrum, I couldn’t wrap my mind around what gender actually is. In the above, I was attempting to figure out what exactly it meant for gender to exist on a spectrum, because in my mind it implied that a binary still existed. If you can place two things in opposition to each other, doesn’t that say that they are… well… opposites? And once I realized that it was a spectrum of identity rather than a spectrum of traits, I was just as confused.
If gender is not how you’re born, or how you dress, or how you act, or how society perceives you, then what actually is it? For the longest time, those were the only things tying me to being a “girl.” I was born with a certain body and acted a certain way, so therefore I was a girl. Right?
But apparently that wasn’t right. So what is it then? A feeling? An innate knowing? I didn’t have those. I just existed and absorbed the perceptions of others, patchworking them into a fragile concept of self that never seemed to fit.
I wish I could say now at 24 years old, existing in the world as trans and nonbinary, that I’ve finally figured it out. But I haven’t, and I don’t believe I ever will.
And yes, I do believe it is related to me being autistic.
There is a significant overlap between gender diversity and autism, with one recent study showing that trans people are three to six times more likely to be autistic than the general population. For some individuals, their gender experience is so influenced by autism that they cannot separate one from the other. There still isn’t much research on the topic, but this overlap may be because of a disconnect from societally and culturally constructed roles and a fundamental difference in how we create our sense of self.
Learning all of this caused another lightbulb moment. Of course, gender doesn’t make any sense to me. It was made up by humans, most of whom don’t make any sense to me. And that means it is entirely mine to create and define, just as I must do with every other aspect of my identity.
I am outside of gender and I am the entire spectrum.
I am masculine and feminine and everything in between.
My gender is when children ask me if I’m a boy or a girl and I respond, “what do you think?”
It is what being called handsome and beautiful feels like.
It is the strength of a firm handshake and the comfort of a warm hug.
It is finding joy in the unknown, in change, in small pleasures.
My gender is sacred and transformative.
I hope this brief post inspires you to consider the roles you’ve been taught to fill as they relate to gender. Perhaps you’ll discover that you’re exactly where you need to be, or perhaps not.
All I know is this: I am trans, and I am content.