Autism, Gender Dysphoria, and the Search for Identity
Amanda Roman

About 11 days ago, I commented that a great deal in this piece resonated with me. I intended to go into more detail but it’s taken me until now to do so.

I too read The Big Short and had a reaction similar to yours. However, the true eureka moment for me had happened earlier, about 15 years ago, when I read Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It’s important to recognize, as Haddon himself has reminded people, that he’s a novelist, not a diagnostic expert, so his portrayal of a young person with autism may not be entirely accurate, yet I seemed to recognize myself in it.

I didn’t try to get a diagnosis. Google searches at the time led me to believe that diagnosis was difficult unless one’s parents were still alive and available to be interviewed, and that it wouldn’t make any practical difference anyway.

I definitely have the eye-contact-avoidance thing. I’ve occasionally tried to “correct” it but I can’t keep it up: it just feels as if I’m staring. I’m not particularly sensitive to fabrics or touch but I have noticed in the last few years that other people don’t seem to be as sensitive to sound as I am. Although I get jokes and understand why people lie — and why I lie — I can be strangely literal-minded and this has sometimes caused me disproportionate difficult in dealing with people. And — the kicker — I’m really bad and uncomfortable in social situations. I hate parties and similar types of gathering.

Almost as soon as I accepted my new identity, I began doubting it. There were other people who had it worse than I did, who hadn’t or couldn’t develop the coping mechanisms I had.

Don’t forget that ASD is on a spectrum, so you’d expect other people to be more adversely affected than yourself. It doesn’t follow that, because some people suffer from it worse than you do, that you don’t have it.

I may not understand other people, but I know my body, and it is male. The compulsion to cross-dress was just one more thing I had to hide in order to fit in and appear normal.

This is familiar to me too, except that I wouldn’t say I’ve felt a “compulsion” to cross-dress. I’ve never resisted the impulse for long enough to need to be compelled. Like you, I don’t have an “internal sense” of being male or female but I know from observation and experience that I am male. I don’t think this lack of a strong sense of gender identity is unusual. Siobhan O’leary explains this well in her Trans 101 when she says that usually people become aware of their gender identity only when it doesn’t fit, when chafes and becomes uncomfortable.

As for wishing one had a female body, one of the very few memories I have from early childhood is of reconciling myself to the knowledge that my body would never be female. I’ve assumed that that recognition is a universal (or at least very common) male experience, though it’s hard to be sure of this without having a lot of awkward conversations with people one doesn’t know very well!

I’m writing a short story at the moment in which this wish for a female body plays a part. I’ve nearly finished the first draft but I think it will take a lot of reworking before it becomes a publishable story.

I also want to write more on gender identity and gender dysphoria.

In the meantime, best wishes on your journey and thanks for publishing your illuminating and thought-provoking posts.

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