“I Have No Peers” — ASD and Trans in a Cishet, Normie World

Alexander (Sascz) Herrmann
Translucidity
Published in
7 min readJul 18, 2020

It happened again just recently: a group of people I’d tried to embrace as peers let me know that I was unacceptable. I stepped back, angry but also deeply shamed, trying to figure out where I’d gone wrong.

Sorrowful child. Thanks to Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

This has been happening to me literally since I was a toddler. Nothing that I was, or did, or said, was acceptable to the people around me, whether they were adults, older children, or people my own age. I didn’t understand how other people interacted so effortlessly. When I asked, in kindergarten, why nobody liked me, my mother told me that it was because they’d all been in preschool together, so I had started school an “outsider”. As I got older, though, I knew that couldn’t be the case, because new kids had it too, that something that I did not have that allowed them to be accepted by the other kids. Sometimes it was something obvious — the girl that moved from England and had a Lady Di haircut, making her an instant celebrity for her accent and hairstyle alone — but most of the time, the reason for my lack of popularity in the face of these new kids’ instant acceptance eluded me.

Make no mistake, I was not an attractive child. My various illnesses and the treatments for them assured that, even if I’d had any natural beauty to begin with. I was the bloated, scaly-skinned kid with the weird haircut who wore bandages around my legs and gloves on my hands to conceal the terrible eczema that I’d had since birth but that got much, much worse after a case of chicken pox in first grade. I was unfashionably pale, with colorless eyes and fine mousy hair that would neither lie straight nor curl. I was a pariah, and being smart only made it worse.

I tried everything: insinuating myself into groups; getting to a popular play area or picking up a popular toy first so that others would want to play with me; trying to lead in innovative techniques. Nothing worked, and some of it got me into trouble with teachers. I wanted to hang out with the boys, whom I identified with more than the girls, but adults thought it was so cute that I was “flirting”. Encouraged, I tried to do what I actually thought was flirting, only to have the boys — accepting of me for approximately five minutes of my life — reject me as soundly as the girls.

I gave up and isolated myself. When we were instructed to work in groups, I moved my desk to where I was told, but I refused to interact. Sometimes, I refused even to move my desk, instead choosing to sit away from everyone else. This alarmed the adults in charge, who tried to force the other children to interact with me. As children will do in such a situation, they reacted with cruelty. I withdrew further, refusing to participate in any activity that I couldn’t do by myself.

One year, I went to a different school, where nobody knew me beforehand. For a while, I had friends, but I’d managed to ruin it somehow within a few months, trying to push for more acceptance. By the end of the school year, none of my friends were speaking to me anymore, and I still didn’t know what I’d done wrong. I started seventh grade with literally no friends, not even anybody would would allow me to sit with them at lunch. I was still a pariah.

In eighth grade, for some reason, we had to evacuate the school. I left with the rest but stood by myself, closer to the teachers and administrators than the other students. One of the teachers said, “Go stand with your peers.”

I turned and looked him in the eye. In a flat voice, I answered, “I have no peers.”

This is what it’s like to be ASD in a neurotypical world. Nothing you do is right, but you have no idea what you’re doing wrong. Given that I was also being raised as the wrong gender, I was never going to find my peer group. It’s not that I thought I was better than everyone else; that clearly wasn’t the case, since they had friends, and I didn’t. It’s that I knew, without knowing why, that there was literally nobody like me, or even similar enough to want to interact with me.

It wasn’t a complete social desert. While I was working and riding at a stable near my home, I was somewhat accepted by the other riders. They were horrified, like everyone was, by my eczema — my instructor would literally have to pry my hands from the reins at the end of every lesson because they’d stuck, and then later, at home, I’d have to literally peel off my gloves off my hands, along with most of the inflamed and pus-covered skin on them — but at least they were nice to me most of the time. In high school, I had a friend, similarly a pariah, to whom I stuck like glue, although towards the end of our school career she revealed that she had absolutely no respect for me in any way, and by the time we graduated, she wasn’t speaking to me (I think because I’d won an award she wanted). In my junior and senior year, I actually dated a little: first a boy who’d dated my sister a while, and then a boy who, in his quiet, slim, nerdiness was the boy I’d always wished I was.

I went away to college and had a lot more success socially. But I found that, as time went on, nothing had really changed. I was generally on the sidelines, desperately trying to mimic the social behaviors around me, and eventually failing. Men found me physically attractive (something new for me, and hard for me to handle), but only as long as I didn’t say much. I was valued only for my looks, not my thoughts, and my looks weren’t going to (and didn’t) last forever.

All my life, I was willing to believe it was me. I was the problem. I was a bad person, possibly evil, in fact, and nobody would ever like me beyond a point. I married twice, I gave birth to and raised children, all while trying to keep everything that I was completely under wraps, because I was “crazy” at best and “terrible” at worst. I don’t want to say I had no friends at all, but I had no *close* friends, and in fact, people whom I thought were close friends spent a lot of time telling me that I just really was not a good person. Even as the Internet was pulling diverse and far-flung people closer and closer together, I drifted further and further away from everyone, sure that it was the kindest thing I could do for anyone I cared about. I even tried to push my third husband away, early in our relationship, by telling him that I was not the kind of person whom anyone could love. (I’m still waiting for him to leave me, which is unfair to him, I know.)

In my fifties, I realized — so very belatedly — two things: 1) I was transgender; 2) I was ASD. All of a sudden, my entire personality, which I’d despaired of ever understanding, made sense to me at last. I’d been trying to relate to girls and women as one of them, and I never had been. I’d been blaming myself for not being able to understand “normal” human interaction, when I wasn’t neurotypical. The fact that I was still alive, never mind that I was successful in my career and had any social contacts at all, was a MIRACLE; somehow, I’d accomplished a huge amount despite the setbacks I’d had. (I’m proud of that, if I’m proud of anything.)

Can you even imagine what this was like? You can’t. I’d spent FIFTY YEARS repressing my gender identity and my neurodivergence. FIFTY YEARS. Let it sink in. FIFTY. EXCRUCIATING. YEARS.

There are some ways in which I will never recover. I’ve never been exactly healthy, but the fibromyalgia I started to suffer from in my 20’s and 30’s has progressed to the point where I’m fully disabled. I can’t stand long enough to cook a meal; I can’t walk more than about a block. My career has become stagnated compared to where it could be if I were healthy, and I hold myself very, very lucky that I can work at all. This illness is directly traceable to the trauma of repressing everything about my identity for — let me just say it again. FIFTY. YEARS.

I’m living as a nonbinary masculine now, but can you imagine beginning a physical gender transition in your mid-fifties? I am, technically speaking, an adolescent both physically and emotionally, plus I’m still neuroatypical and just learning, at this age, how to cope with that. The people around me have no idea how to react to me. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say that. They do.

For the most part, they reject me. I’m something they can’t understand, so I’m bad. I’ve got to be ostracized, hushed, and erased, because it’s just too hard to like me or relate to me, to understand me, and it’s just not worth the effort.

I have no peers.

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Alexander (Sascz) Herrmann
Translucidity

I’m a disabled transmasculine cybersecurity specialist living in Berkshire County, MA, USA. I like to write, sing, do fiber art, and play video games.