By Oscar S.
Even seven years after coming out as a trans man, I find it nearly impossible to put words to my gender identity. Gender has felt like something I’m forced to perform rather than something that is an inherent part of me. That’s not to say my gender isn’t important to me — performing womanhood was unnatural and painful, and being trans has offered me so much solace, comfort, and community. Yet after a name change, hormones, surgery, and years of insistence that I am not a woman, I feel almost no attachment to being a man.
Autistic people can have a hard time navigating gender transition. Often, confusion around the concept of gender is mistaken for uncertainty in ourselves and what we want. Our potential struggles with communication mean that it’s hard to convey our experience and emotions. Fifteen year old me sitting in the Tavistock clinic in London didn’t have the ability to explain my gender beyond the grief I felt surrounding the body I was in.
Throughout my teenage years I became obsessed with performing masculinity perfectly to convince everyone that I was deserving of my transition.
Since I have achieved the transition goals I wanted, and learned that I am autistic, I’ve felt my performance of gender slipping. In trying to understand who I am when I am not “masking” my autism, I’ve learned that my gender has been a huge element of that mask. The first stage of my transition involved me clinging desperately onto masculinity to convince everyone, including myself, that I could perform manhood well. And I don’t regret that at all. My insistence on masculinity was the only way I felt able to communicate my certainty in my transition. I feel now like I’m in a second stage of my transition where I can embrace the parts of myself that don’t fit society’s expectations of what a man is. I can separate myself from that performance – I now feel able to be a man only when it suits me.
Of course, nonbinary identities exist. It’s not a case of choosing between two options: gender exists on a spectrum. But to some extent I feel detached from that spectrum as a whole, and I am increasingly coming across autistic people who feel the same.
Learning that I was autistic explained how I could be so sure of my transition and still thoroughly confused about what gender even is.
Gender is one of those things that seems built for neurotypicals that I can never hope to fully understand, and yet am forced to live within.
There are elements of gender I can understand: I much prefer my body post medical transition, I like my name, my pronouns, I like being a son and a brother. I’m happy for people to look at me and conclude that I am a man, but I hope that everyone who truly knows me sees that I am just the person that exists beneath that social role. I much prefer performing as a man, but I have come to understand that I will never be one.
I absolutely love being trans and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I spent so many years battling against people’s gendered expectations that my gender was hugely important to me. I am as passionate about my transition now as I was seven years ago, and yet, understanding how autism has impacted my understanding of gender reassures me that I don’t need to know everything. I think many trans people, including myself, are eager to dispel the myth that we’re simply confused. I wish I could tell my past self that it’s okay to be confused about what gender is and absolutely resolute in your decisions at the same time.
I hope that as a community we can begin to make more space for uncertainty and that trans autistic people can have our gender identities celebrated even though we may feel like gender is a game that is foreign to us.
— Oscar S. is a campaigner and a second year student studying Sociology and Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge.