An Autigender Perspective from a Nonbinary Autistic Educator

When I came across the term “autigender” for the first time, suddenly a lot of things started to make sense.

I’m a non-binary autistic person, and from roughly 2011–2018 I was involved in trans activism—primarily doing community education to raise awareness of trans experience and advocate for intersectional approaches within trans communities. My classes and talks ranged from teaching kinky people how to navigate gender in their play to helping tech professionals make their data trans-inclusive. I also wrote many articles, blog posts, and book chapters on similar topics.

Conceptualizing Non-Binary Through an Autigender Lens

Nothing goes with a flower in the hair like a vest with many pockets.

While plenty of my work focused on trans folks in general, I was often asked to specifically offer a non-binary perspective, and especially to debunk myths about what non-binary gender actually means. When I started coming out in 2011, very few people outside queer communities had heard of non-binary gender and the pronoun “they” was not yet in wide circulation. Even queer folks often misunderstood non-binary as a synonym for androgny, a transmasculine gender, or a stopping point on the way to transness.

One of the myths I often had to dispel was the idea of non-binary as a “third gender,” something that cis folks generally presumed to fall somewhere in the middle between male and female. My usual way of explaining my gender at the time went like this:

Me: “So you know how gender is like a line that goes between male and female?”
Cis person: [nods excitedly]Yeah! I just learned about that recently!”
Me: “Awesome. So here’s the line, and I…” [moves finger towards the line and then starts zig zagging it randomly in another direction entirely] “…am a pink blob floating in outer space.”
Cis person: [blinks]

I also liked to say “you know how some people are genderless? Well I’m genderful! Full of gender!”

Yes, I am non-binary, but I never really felt like I was the “middle” of anything, nor could I place myself on this mythical line. I couldn’t describe my gender in percentages, either, or with much reference at all to generic categories of “male” and “female.”

My Own Autigender Expression

My typical state of being.

One of the things I’ve always loved about queer expression is the way it takes joy in pastiche, in going over the top, in throwing a lot of different forms of expression together and delighting in shocking the normies. I love seeing how people mix, match, and play with the visual vocabulary of gender. I love the specificity of gender, how gender expression has so much variation and beauty in the details. One of my weird party tricks is giving people’s gender expression complex descriptions like “Lisa Frank retro chic” or “witchy non-binary science museum mom.”

You wouldn’t know it to look at me these days, though. I exist mainly in a bright pink hoodie that reads “GENDER DEVIANT” in black letters and a pair of sweatpants. I enjoy my hoodie, because it brings the joy of bright colors into my expression, and it literally says what I am right there on my chest (a place where one might, mistakenly, try to read a gender that I am not.) But I don’t really make an effort to show my gender on my body anymore, for a few different reasons:

  1. I am tired. I do not want to use my very limited executive function to choose adornments and then apply them to my body. While I can easily daydream about a cool, complex, high camp expression of gender that would suit me, the actual execution of that vision just isn’t worth it for me.
  2. I realized that I actually very rarely look down at what I’m wearing.
  3. As I have unmasked over the last few years, I’ve stopped being so conscious of myself as a performer of identity in the world, and accepted that strangers will never really “get” me.
  4. Focusing on my appearance just doesn’t bring me all that much joy!

Don’t get me wrong: for some queers, including some autistic queers, things like getting dressed, putting on accessories, applying makeup, doing their hair, etc. are an essential part of experiencing gender or feeling like themselves. That’s great! I find arguments that these things are always performative to be tired and boring. I know many queer femmes, for example, who love the ritual of constructing their presentation in the morning, and who feel more authentic as themselves in lipstick and heels than without. I am so into that! It’s just not for me.

What I’ve realized is that for me, a lot of my gender isn’t about presentation, but it is about desire, joy, and excitement. It is about loving things that are pink, sparkly, flamboyant, and ridiculous. I experience my gender in ways that aren’t typically included in the description of “gender.” I live a very internal life, and so what I love and am drawn to and flap my hands about is very much a part of my sense of “me.” That’s my gender.

Autigender and Gender as a System

I believe they call this a “statement earring.”

The other thing I’m realizing is that whenever I was giving those talks, teaching those classes, and writing those articles, I got really nerdy about deconstructing gender because I thought of gender as a system. Perhaps you could call it a language, or a taxonomy. And taxonomies, boy howdy are they a special interest! I love theory, curation, figuring out the purpose and meanings of words…

The way I came to understand my own non-binary identity wasn’t directly through dysphoria, exactly, but through an interrogation of the categories of “man” and “woman.” My entire approach to gender, I realized, needed an overhaul, and for me this was very personal. At that time, some feminists were making the argument that if gender doesn’t make logical sense, then folks considering transition who were socialized female should deconstruct the meaning of woman instead—it’s not about our individual identities, in other words, it’s that the system needs to change. But I could not separate my gender from the system used to construct it.

In fact, the thing that felt most non-binary as I came into my identity was my relationship to gender as a system.

I feel my non-binariness in how I don’t understand the binary. I literally don’t know how to use it as an organizing principle for the world. When I tried, I experienced a lot of pain, shame, confusion, and disappointment. I can identify that in hindsight as my attempt to mask, which led to falling short of societal expectations because I didn’t know how to perform the binary correctly (according to neurotypical standards).

My workshops often referenced the idea of social scripts: scripts for how we do gender, relationship, sex, and sexuality. I loved helping people to see these scripts and the possibility and creativity that could exist outside of them. I also often found myself frequently leading participants through exercises of identity deconstruction, where they could consider the pieces of their identity puzzle and how they were likely way more complex than a single word like “woman” or “straight.”

In hindsight, a lot of what I was doing was walking people through an autistic and ADHD way of seeing gender and sexuality. An autistic person uses bottom-up thinking to understand labels and categories from first principles, which is how I’d tried to understand gender, tending to get frustrated by concepts that don’t really make any sense. An ADHD person tends to use associative thinking, and work at multiple scales at once. For me, identity can’t be divorced from social context, and from bigger theoretical ideas. I understand gender associatively, like a mindmap of all the pieces, but I struggle to break it up into any simply explainable categories.

Now that I understand myself as AuDHD, I look back and go “ohhhhh.” The way I understand and explain gender is probably very different from how a neurotypical person would, and I think my neuroqueer lens added something new to a lot of folks’ understanding of gender. I think it probably also made absolutely no sense to a lot of people.

Autigender as an Inextricable Link Between Gender & Neurotype

Get in kids, we’re queering the binary.

Similarly, my felt experience of gender can’t really be divorced from my neurodivergence. My gender is informed by my autism and my ADHD. The preferences I hold for particular aesthetics and presentations, for example, tend towards stimulation (bright colors!) and novelty (whoa, check out that combination!) while I also prioritize comfort on my own body because of sensory issues. I like clothing and accessories with a label or statement, because it’s a very direct way to quickly communicate my intention. Even the behaviors and roles I occupy are hard to describe along more neurotypical gendered lines, because what actually matters to me is alignment with my special interests, the impact on my executive function, and various cerebral concerns.

The idea of gender being inextricably linked with autism, therefore, makes a lot of sense to me. I’m autigender in my worldview, and as an educator. And thus it’s probably not shocking that I’m finding my way back to exploring relationship, gender, and sexuality topics from time to time in my broader work as a neuroemergence guide. I’m excited to continue digging into neuroqueer possibility, and to theorize these topics but also to think about how these ideas might be applied in our lives and in the application of the tools I use such as tarot, astrology, and human design.

Queer & Magical AF has always been an intentionally neuroqueer experiment, and I’d love to connect with more neuroqueer folks to share ideas and support! Sign up at the link below for e-mail updates, and or drop me a line and tell me what you’d be excited to see in this space about autigender, neuroqueerness, or any other related topics.

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