‘I thought this site was about autism, not gender’ said one irate visitor to my page after I posted a meme about gender diversity and autism earlier this year. In fact, the way I see it, if you are talking about autism you need to be talking about gender diversity too. Recent research shows that autistic people are 7.5 times more likely to be trans and gender diverse than the general population. That is a lot of trans autistic people! Anecdotally that statistic is borne out in my own experience. I know a lot of other autistics who are non-binary, Trans, Genderqueer and many other gender identities. I also know a lot of autistic people who have non-heterosexual sexualities.
I am a non-binary autistic person and I love my identity and being able to be who I am. I had no language for my gender until quite recently but when I came out and embraced that side of myself then it was a huge liberation.
Autism sites and groups which were in the past the exclusive domain of cis gendered women are now being rebranded to be inclusive of trans and gender diverse perspectives which is a very good and very necessary thing. I am going to be editing a new LGBTQIA+ topic called The Pride Page on the Spectrum Women site. I am delighted to have this opportunity to share different perspectives from LGBTQIA+ autistic authors. (And if you want to know what the letters stand for, they are Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Intersex, Queer and Asexual. The plus sign is for anyone who doesn’t identify as cis gender or heterosexual but whose identity is not included in the preceding letters. This includes people who are questioning their identity.
There are some key concepts which I would like to unpack around gender diversity and sexuality. There are four main elements which relate to gender and sexual attraction. A diagram called the Genderbread Person is a great place to find out more about these concepts if you want to look it up. Briefly, the elements which relate to gender, sexual attraction and biological sex are:
- Gender identity – This relates to how you feel about your gender (identities are things like Trans, non-binary, cis gender ) Gender diversity describes when people do not identify as the same gender as the one recorded on their birth certificate / that they were assigned at birth.
- Gender expression – This relates to how you outwardly express gender, such as the sorts of clothes you wear. You do not need to wear traditionally ‘masculine’ clothes in order to identify as a man. It is good practice not to assume a person’s gender identity based on their gender expression. For example, I am very strongly aligned as non-binary but my expression is sometimes viewed as traditionally feminine. This does not mean I am a woman. A good rule of thumb is that however a person identifies is their identity.
- Sexual attraction – This relates to who you find sexually attractive (such as being gay, lesbian, hetero, pansexual, asexual etc.) This is a separate thing to gender identity and gender expression. Within this heading is a consideration around romantic interest as well. The objects of romantic attraction and sexual attraction can be different.
- Biological sex – This relates to the biological sex characteristics you have – vagina, penis, particular hormones etc. It is important to note that body parts themselves do not have a gender and you can be any gender identity and expression with any biological sex characteristics.
These four elements are all distinct things which exist independently. For example, you can be cis gendered and gay. It is important to not conflate these four elements around sex, sexuality and gender as they are very separate things. This is a good lens through which to understand gender diversity, sexuality and related concepts.
There are some particular considerations around gender diversity and sexuality for autistic people. There are the unhelpful myths that we are all cis gendered and either asexual or heterosexual. This is a long way from the truth but is a persistent stereotype. Autistic people can struggle to access medical interventions to help them transition / affirm gender as they may be considered less credible around their need to transition due to being autistic and the ableism of some clinicians. This is often highly damaging to a person’s mental health, not to mention an unethical practice by medical professionals. LGBTQIA+ autistic people can be dismissed and invalidated in all walks of life.
Despite this – or maybe because of this LGBTQIA+ autistic people often have a strong identity and sense of pride in who we are. Recent social changes have meant that different gender identities are defined and that inclusive cultures have sprung up to support and promote pride. There is still a very long way to go but pride is a good thing.
I am delighted to be editing this topic on the Spectrum Women page as all autism sites need to include LGBTQIA+ voices. I intend for this topic on Spectrum Women to contribute to making positive change. I look forward to sharing articles from a great group of autistic authors who are LGBTQIA+. I hope you find this topic helpful, enlightening and empowering, however you identify.
 ‘Cis gender’ simply means the same gender as you were assigned at birth. It comes from a Latin term meaning ‘on the same side as’.
About Yenn Purkis
Yenn Purkis (formally Jeanette) is an author, presenter, autism advocate and community leader. Yenn is the author of six published books on elements of autism and has contributed to a large number of journals, books and websites. Yenn is a presenter and facilitator and regularly gives keynote presentations including at the 2013 TEDx Canberra conference. Yenn is a member of a number of committees and reference groups and is has a number of awards for leadership in the community, including the 2016 ACT Volunteer of the Year.