An exploration into gender by a confused 20-something

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:

Man———————-Woman

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.

It did impact my life

I may have been slightly wrong in my last blog post when I said, “I don’t necessarily think [my neurodivergence] will impact my life very much.” Okay, maybe I was very wrong.

I came to this conclusion before realizing how much more I had to learn both about myself and autism in general. The truth is that my ‘symptoms’ permeate every aspect of my life, and for so long, all I’ve done is punish myself for it. Any amount of social interaction, particularly if it’s new or uncomfortable, will drain me for days at a time or longer leaving me virtually incapable of functioning at what one would consider a ‘normal’ level. And the most freeing realization I’ve had is that I may never function ‘normally,’ and that is okay. It doesn’t mean I’m incapable of functioning; it just means I have to modify how I move through life.

I’ve also discovered that I’m recovering from severe burnout after years of masking and beating myself up for not living up to neurotypical standards. Severe burnout for autistic people can take a long time to recover from, especially if you don’t know how to take care of yourself in the midst of it. I’ll look back at my college years and think, “I was doing so well then. Why am I struggling so much now with less pressure?” I now know that there were many factors: I had a strict routine which allowed me to move through the day without making too many decisions; many of my courses were centered around my special interests; I had a built-in support network; I was familiar with the entirety of our small campus; most of my professors were understanding if I needed extra flexibility; and I knew that I was intelligent and good at academics, leading to greater confidence. When I threw myself headfirst into adulthood, I had no idea what I was doing. Previously, my routines had at least partially been created for me, and suddenly I was tasked with building them entirely from scratch. Of course, this is a learning curve for all young adults, but for me it was a shock to my entire system. And I quickly learned that there were real-life implications for being myself.

I was fired from my first post-grad job a few weeks after coming out as trans to my coworkers. The reason given was that I “wasn’t connecting enough,” even though I felt I was trying my hardest. My bosses informed me that I should not be working in the service industry at all and should instead look for employment that doesn’t involve talking to people, and I could not for the life of me understand why. (Side note: I take immense satisfaction in the fact that I am successfully working in the service industry despite my former bosses’ opinions on what I’m capable of.)

Looking back I can see how different I must have appeared, as I was surrounded entirely by straight, cisgender, neurotypical people. The convergence of my various identities and personality was too much, I suppose; though if I was fired for something unspoken, I have no way of knowing what it was. But now I understand that regardless, the issue was not with me, but with the environment I was working in. It was a 9 to 5 (often to 6 or 7…) with complete inflexibility. There was an expectation to build connections beyond that of client-employee, which would have been difficult even if it had been explicitly told to me. And on top of that, I could barely relate to any of my coworkers or clients.

Anyways, the purpose of this anecdote is to illustrate that I simply cannot move through life in the same way as a neurotypical person, and since accepting that fact, I’ve felt an enormous weight lift off my shoulders. I’m only a few steps into this lifelong journey, but here are a few things I’m learning to accept:

  • I’m allowed to order food instead of cooking or grocery shopping. Eating something is better than nothing.
  • I won’t always have the energy to go out with friends even if I want to.
  • I won’t always have the energy to do things I’m passionate about even if I want to.
  • I get overstimulated easily, and I’m allowed to accommodate myself. For example: wearing noise-reducing earplugs, sunglasses, and/or carrying something to fidget with.
  • Being quiet is okay.
  • Being ‘weird’ is okay.
  • I don’t have to guess what people are thinking or feeling. If there’s something that they want me to know, they can tell me directly.
  • Most importantly, I’m allowed to do things at my own pace.

This rambling blog post was mostly an exercise in self-reflection, but maybe some of you can relate. And if you can, I have one thing to say:

Normalcy is boring.

Neurodivergence & me

As long as I can remember, social interaction has been a performance: Come one, come all! And watch the ever-elusive Max attempt to connect with their peers, build relationships, and become a functioning member of society as our world steadily crumbles. I’ve felt different than others. Weird. Even in the spaces where I’m most comfortable, there seems to be a disconnect between my self that I experience in my head and my self that I present to others. It’s not as if I’m dishonest or unauthentic; I just can never seem to accurately get the information from my brain through my vocal chords and out of my mouth without careful consideration beforehand. I suppose that’s why I’ve always preferred to express myself through writing; I can take my time to think through the words I place on the page, or I can just allow my stream of consciousness to vomit all over it. (A pleasant image… you’re welcome.) When I was younger and had a disagreement with my parents, I remember storming off to my room and writing a strongly worded letter to give them rather than attempting to speak to them directly. Or I’d write to myself in my journal so I could see my thoughts take physical form and truly understand the emotions I was experiencing. I always chalked this up to being a shy introvert with anxiety, and yet…

Am I autistic?

I first asked myself this question when on TikTok (of all places) I started seeing video after video of adults speaking about their experiences with autism, particularly those who received diagnoses later in life. Lo and behold, anxiety is often a comorbidity of autism, and lo and behold, people who are socialized as female are often undiagnosed because their symptoms present differently than their male counterparts. Perfectionism, shyness, hypersensitivity, subconscious masking: all things I knew I experienced, but never quite understood why. And apparently excessive reading is a dissociative behavior. Who knew?

I’m… probably autistic.

When I finally said these words to myself, I unexpectedly felt relief wash over me. There was a word that could accurately describe how I’ve moved through life thus far and that could inform how I move forward. And while I don’t necessarily think it will impact my life very much, I feel a deeper understanding than I ever have before. Will I ever get a diagnosis? I’m not sure, but I honestly don’t care either way. My peace of mind is worth more than any doctor’s opinion.

I don’t entirely know what the purpose of this little post is, other than to acknowledge my multi-faceted, weird, true self. So to that child who would rather lose themself in a book for hours on end, to that pre-teen who didn’t understand why they couldn’t be cool like the popular kids, to that high schooler who cried in the bathroom because they didn’t feel close enough to their close friends, to that college student who needed to stay busy just to make it through the day, to that adult who may never be able to make it through a retail store without a shutdown… You’re okay. This is your permission to be gentle with yourself (something you never seem to do).

I’m still here, and I’ve built one hell of a beautifully imperfect life for myself.

Dear [name]: an appeal to empathy

I write to you with hope in my heart for a better world. I also write with fear in my gut for myself and those I love. Most importantly, I write to you as a human trying their best to navigate this whirlwind we call life on this planet we call home.

I only ask that you read this letter in its entirety. I don’t ask for⁠—nor expect⁠—a response, though I am open to one. I hope that through this letter, I can express my perspective in ways that can’t be accurately conveyed through short posts on social media. I hope that I can express why this election is about more than just left versus right, and that you will see why the continuation of this presidency could harm someone you may care about. I write only from my personal experiences that have led me to where I am today.

I remember tears running down my face the evening of the 2016 election. Dramatic, right? I was almost nineteen years old, and it was the first general election in which I could vote. I reluctantly cast my vote for Clinton after being a staunch Sanders supporter, but I knew that I made the right choice; I watched as Trump chose a supporter of gay conversion therapy as his running mate. I read the GOP’s 2016 platform in which it says, “our laws and our government’s regulations should recognize marriage as the union of one man and one woman… we do not accept the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage and we urge its reversal,” referencing the 2015 legalization of gay marriage. I was frightened, and for a good reason.

At the time, I was in my first relationship with a woman after coming out as gay the year prior. The 2015 Supreme Court decision had inspired me to do so. We went to Pride as our first date and spent the day discussing our coming out experiences: the challenges, the joys, and what it meant to be a queer person in 2016. We compared our families’ reactions: mine being accepting, hers being less so. The day before the election I told her that if Trump won, I would tell the world about us, because the greatest act of resistance is to be authentically yourself. And so I did. As I mourned the loss of what I thought the next four years would be, I grew to love myself and my queerness in ways that I never believed to be possible.

I developed an insatiable curiosity about people and politics and how they influence each other. In college I studied, read, and wrote about our history and various political ideologies; I learned exactly how the U.S. has left its mark on the world⁠—the good and the ugly. And I watched as the history and theories I was learning about in school began to play out rapidly, in real time, like an immersive game I didn’t ask to be a part of. And I watched as the Supreme Court, with Trump’s support, ruled that I could be denied services because of who I love under the guise of religious freedom. And I watched as Trump opposed the Equality Act, which would ensure LGBT+ protections under the Civil Rights Act. And I watched as his administration denied that transgender people are protected under Title VII, endangering my partner and many of my friends. All I could do was watch as he and his administration played chess with my life and the lives of those I care about. Yet, I learned to love myself despite how much my government hates me.

That leads us to where we are now, in the year 2020. The GOP’s platform and Trump’s stances remain unmoved; if anything, it seems as though they have moved further into hatred. I have been called to join the fight for equity and justice, which I don’t want you to misunderstand. We do not riot, nor loot, nor burn. We speak out, we challenge the status quo, and we stand side by side with the most marginalized in our country. We push for progressive policies and progressive leaders. We are constantly challenging our own assumptions and biases to understand how we can truly make the world a better place, in ways that are joyful and ways that are difficult.

And the reason why I follow this calling is not because I am frightened for my own well-being, but because I know that I hold a lot of privilege. I have a home and an income; I am young and in good health; I will never experience the horrors of racism or xenophobia. Although this letter comes from a personal place, I want you to know that this moment is not about me. It is about the heart and soul of this country and the terrifying realities that rest inside. It is about healing the wounds that have left us stagnant in order to move forward.

I can picture a better world in my mind so clearly and it pains me that we may never be able to build that world together.

And so I ask, what does a better world look like to you? I envision a world where everyone has access to food, water, shelter, and healthcare; where no one has to be afraid because of their skin color, their religion, who they love, or their personal identities; where we heal and protect our planet and all of its creatures. No election will solve any of these issues, but I will vote for the candidate who aims to raise the minimum wage, expand Medicare coverage, enact reparations and prison reform, sign the Equality Act, reduce carbon emissions, and limit oil and gas drilling. And then I will work like hell to make sure he listens to the people he is supposed to represent, because that is how we will make our country great.


You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

-Max

I’m a bad vegan

Six years ago, I decided to go vegan.

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision on a summer day at the age of fourteen, and the next day I dropped all animal products and never went back. My parents were understandably a bit wary (although supportive as always) and the majority of my diet for about a month consisted of rice and beans that my dad kept in a pot at the back of the fridge.

That was when, but the question I get asked most often is why? Why did I decide to go vegan? What inspired me to make such a change? It seems as though most people who follow a vegan diet either have an a-ha moment where their mindset is changed forever, or they go through a transitional period; they slowly phase out meat and dairy, learn about the health and moral pillars of veganism, and figure out that it’s the right choice for them. I love hearing all of the stories—how someone watched a documentary about factory farms, or had a conversation with a friend, or realized the negative environmental impacts of the industry and decided right then and there that it was time to make a change. I love hearing these stories because I don’t have one like that.

I have a story, but it’s not one that I share often.

Why I did it

When people ask me why? my response is usually something along the lines of “originally health reasons, blah blah blah, learned more, blah blah blah, now it’s for ethical reasons.” And that’s not necessarily untrue. I did go vegan for health reasons.

I didn’t go vegan for healthy reasons.

From the ages of thirteen to sixteen, I battled an eating disorder. I was a ballet dancer, so nearly every evening I stood in front of a full length mirror for hours in nothing but a leotard and tights, my security blanket of hair pulled away from my face, and I couldn’t help but pick apart every flaw of my distorted reflection. And of course, as one does with an eating disorder, I came to the conclusion that my insecurities could be remedied through food—specifically through restricting the food I was eating. I would only eat foods that I could find the calorie count for; I would get nervous to go out to eat, and sometimes I wouldn’t go at all; I would try crazy, unhealthy diets; I would get upset if I ever let myself have a second helping of a meal.

At the time that I decided to go vegan, I was arguably going through one of my upswings; I wasn’t restricting as much, but I was still obsessed with finding ways to eat that would help me lose weight (even though I didn’t need to). I masked my obsession with the excuse that I just wanted to feel healthy, but regardless of what I ate, I would never feel the kind of “healthy” that I expected of myself, which only served to fuel my self-hatred. I put people who I thought had an ideal body up on a pedestal, and I attempted to recreate their diet with the belief that I’d eventually start to look like them. And therefore, what actually inspired me to give veganism a try was a YouTuber who I thought had a perfect body.

Yes, the truth is that a YouTuber inspired me to go vegan. Not because of their explanations of the values of veganism, but simply because of how they looked. It was clearly working for them, and after perusing PETA.org for about 10 minutes, my mind was made up. The next morning I had a smoothie for breakfast and I was sure that I’d finally found the answer; perhaps, in a way, I was right.

Why I’m proud

Not too long after that fateful day in 2012, I started going to a nutritionist. I was terrified to tell her about my veganism, because I thought that she was going to make me stop. But she didn’t.

She must have seen something sincere in me, because she instead taught me about calories and why they don’t need to be the enemy. She taught me about portion sizes and why we need every food group. She challenged me to eat meals that would be impossible to calorie-count, to eat multiple snacks a day, to go out to restaurants with friends. I was vegan all the while, and so my mindset changed. My whole philosophy on food and eating changed. I learned more, and my convictions about the merits of veganism solidified.

Although I still have my struggles, I’m in a place that I never thought I’d be in. I can trust myself and my body all because someone took the chance to believe in me. And yet, I’m still not what many would consider a “typical” vegan.

Why I’m a bad vegan

I didn’t go vegan for healthy or moral reasons.

I don’t believe that veganism is for everyone.

I don’t foresee a world completely without animal products.

I don’t place animal rights before human rights.

I find debates about the ethics of veganism fascinating.*

I have yet to completely transition to cruelty-free products.

The food I eat isn’t always healthy.

I have no qualms about eating local, organic honey.*

But in truth, I’m not a bad vegan. If you ask, I’ll share everything I’ve learned and everything I’m learning. I’ll share my truth and why I still feel that veganism is the best choice for me—environmentally, ethically, personally. I’ll encourage you to give it a try, but I’ll encourage you to be gentle with yourself. I’ll be honest.

I’m not a bad vegan; I just made the right decision for all the wrong reasons.

-Max

*Let me know if you’d be interested in a post about this. It’s hard to explain in a concise manner.
*This is probably (surprisingly) the most controversial statement from my list, so I thought I’d add a little footnote. My main reasoning is that by supporting local beekeepers, you’re supporting the local bee population. With our changing climate and constant environmental degradation, pollinators are more threatened than ever. A good beekeeper will know how to act as a steward for the bees and how to ethically harvest honey while still leaving enough for them to use.

beginning with happiness

I’ve wanted to start a blog ever since I was old enough to use the Internet by myself. I’ve had this particular blog for about three years and I currently have seven (7) unfinished blog posts in my drafts folder, but for some reason, I decided that today is the day that I will finally try to make something out of it.

I created this blog towards the end of my freshman year of college, and at this moment in time, I have been a college graduate for five months. (Bachelor of the Arts, woo!) Now, let me be quite frank: Being a recent college grad can suck. I mean, it can be really shitty. I’m sure many of you have experienced the crushing realization that your life is not at all what you thought it would be; it’s not necessarily your current situation that’s the problem, but your prior expectations weighed against your current situation. That’s where I’m at right now.

I worked a full-time, slightly-higher-than-minimum-wage job for the entire summer. I threw myself into the 9 to 5 life immediately after graduating—which I can admit was my first mistake—before quickly burning out and losing said job. Now, as I try to write a new chapter in my life, as I try to hit the reset button on my post-grad beginning, I am left with a question:

What does it take to lead a fulfilling, happy life?

I know that this answer will differ for nearly everyone and that it will even differ for the same person over a period of time, but I also know that the answer is not to define yourself by your current situation. Circumstances are not stagnant, and whether they’re good or bad, they’re eventually going to change. Therefore, I thought I—at the request of no one—would lay out what I think is important for happiness, and hopefully someone will get something out of it.

In order to move towards happiness, you must: 

1. Know—or accept not knowing—who you are.

I am a 20 year old, a vegan, a Pagan, a Buddhist, a big ol’ queer, a dancer, a singer, and a writer/poet consistently struggling with depression, anxiety, and crippling writer’s block. I love to read—I devour novels like I’ve been starved of the written word—but sometimes I like to turn by brain off and watch weird YouTube videos. I wear Timbs or Docs everyday, regardless of the weather. I have very hairy legs, but only below the knee, making it look like I have built-in legwarmers. I have four tattoos, one of which I got when I was seventeen because I’m so rebellious. I prefer to smell like incense, sage, essential oils, and other typical hippie scents. My dream is to be a voice for change, but I black out when I talk to strangers. I love to spend time in nature, but I can’t deal with a spider or an ant crawling on me or being within crawling distance of me. I’ve written five papers—including my two major undergraduate research projects—on how animal shit is destroying everything (Seriously. Look up CAFOs). My sun sign is Sagittarius and my moon sign is Virgo, which makes total sense when you get to know me. Did I mention I’m queer as hell?

2. Realize that who you are, or aren’t, doesn’t make you better or worse than anyone else.

There are, of course, a lot of things I don’t like about myself. I don’t have anything insightful or revolutionary to say about that. However, I realize that most of that self-criticism stems from societal pressures rather than traits that are actually detrimental to my wellbeing. Yes, those do exist as well (the biggest one being procrastination), but most often I’ll find that my brain recites beauty standards, homophobia, transphobia, etc. that it has absorbed and internalized during my nearly twenty-one years as a human on this planet. How do you even begin to parse through what is you and what society has placed upon you? How do you push through the voices of criticism crowding your brain to find the one that only speaks your truth? In my experience, writing and singing has helped me the most with this issue. But seriously, if you have any better ideas, let me know.

3. Keep your space (mental, physical, spiritual, or otherwise) uncluttered. 

I don’t have much to say about this quite yet, as it’s one of my biggest challenges. I’ve gotten much better at keeping my physical space clean, but my mental and emotional space is constantly moving a mile a minute, a freeway jammed bumper to bumper with everything—good, bad, or otherwise—that has driven into my mind throughout the day. I wish I could say that I meditate or practice yoga everyday to de-clutter my mental space, but I just don’t yet.

4. Be present. 

It’s 6:29pm and I sit on a couch in the living room of my small apartment, staring at the screen of my Macbook Air with burning eyes. I’ve clearly been looking at this screen for far too long, but I’m now determined to finish this post. The sky outside is just beginning to darken; whether the sun is setting or it’s about to rain, I’m not entirely sure. I wear a tie dye shirt that I made in high school, a blue flannel, cargo shorts, and my partner’s socks. I question what I’m trying to accomplish by describing my current setting. My roommate sits at the kitchen table working on her laptop; the faint clicking of her mouse, chattering of her two guinea pigs, and tapping of my fingers on the keyboard are the only background noises. But now that’s not entirely true—I hear three distinct birdsongs outside. I wonder what kind of birds they are and if they’ll be headed somewhere else before the cold comes. I wonder how I’ll survive my first winter as a full-fledged (well, mostly-fledged) adult. On the wall in front of me, my fifteen dollar tapestry hangs behind the television and the desk beside it, which contains a record player, a shelf of miscellaneous books and movies, and somewhat of an altar with candles and incense. Memorabilia from my roommate’s life and my own decorate the space, creating a patchwork of our personalities. Although I’m not where I thought I would be, I’m grateful for this home I’ve helped to create.

I hope this has served as somewhat of an introduction to who I am, how I think, and what my writing style is. On this blog, you can be sure to find honest musings on politics, veganism, LGBTQ+ stuff, spirituality, books, philosophical conundrums, and whatever else crosses my mind (hence the name “Soul Rants”). My goal at the moment is to write one post a week and to hopefully create content that people will find readable and interesting.

Thank you for joining me on this new beginning.

– Max