Gender identity issues and females on the spectrum

April Griffin "Exhale"
April Griffin "Exhale"

by April Griffin

As far back as I can remember I felt more comfortable around male peers. I have a lot of interests that tend to be male orientated and find them easier to converse with. My generation had strong gender roles and I felt compelled to rebel against them.

April Griffin "Exhale"

April Griffin “Exhale”

As a young woman I resented female gender roles, which were much more defined 30 years ago. I preferred to be in the shop with the men instead of in the kitchen with the ladies. Female clique behavior was a complete mystery to me until I was 36 when I read “Asperger’s and Girls” (Tony Atwood, Temple Grandin, and others). That is the year I was diagnosed.


Tony Atwood speaks about Girls with Aspergers Courtesy of Autism Hangout
I felt embarrassed, and a little angry when I started to understand how girl cliques work. I became selectively mute avoiding females for a while after the discovery.

April Griffin "Hush"

April Griffin “Hush”

I realized the girls had competitive pecking orders. I decided at this age I have no interest whatsoever in competing for a position in a female clique or engaging in behavior used to increase ones status in that hierarchy. I’m better without a group. I tend to be a floater with one or two friends in a group while not actually being part of it. I’m more likely to be found with the guys.

I did have a Barbie collection growing up. I liked to line them up but I didn’t want to play with them or dress them. I liked them just like they came out of the package with perfect hair in that line and I didn’t want other girls to touch them.

I preferred to play with boys action figures especially if they were Star Wars action figures. Building cities in the mud playing with my brothers Tonka trucks was a favorite activity. I liked to build tree forts and play in the bush. I shot pellet guns, played “war” with the boys, rode dirt bikes and go carts. I still prefer fishing over a girl’s night out. You’ll never catch me at ladies night at the bar.

April Griffin "Raven for Company"

April Griffin “Raven for Company Under the Northern Lights”

Not every girl on the spectrum has gender identity issues. I have spectrum friends who point out they are definitely complete girly girls. For myself, as puberty hit, I didn’t like being treated differently than the boys. I didn’t welcome the changes happening in my body.

I especially didn’t like my new growing breasts.

In the fifth grade, I was the only girl in a class of 23. They split the class into good kids and bad kids and I was in the “bad kid” class. Nineteen of us had to repeat fifth grade. I had passed but was held back because of behavioral issues and poor penmanship. That’s the year my breasts made the unfortunate decision to grow.

The boys were relentless in their teasing. I slapped a boy in class who snapped my bra. My bouncy aspie walk didn’t help things.

“Bouncer,” the girls called me.

I was also called a retard because I flapped my arms when I ran.

When I was a teenager one of my special interests was reading university psychology texts. I took my social worker’s psychology texts off her shelf and ran around reading them. I wanted to know what they thought was wrong with me. They had me at the psychological research section at the university hospital from ages 6 to 12. They identified my brother as having ADHD, but I was a difficult case.

April Griffin "Swing"

April Griffin “Swing”

In one of the psychology books I read about Pavlov dogs. I used conditioning techniques to stop my breasts from bouncing. I scratched my face to remind me to stop bouncing. The marks after hurt like razors and I couldn’t hide them. Learning not to scratch my face in a meltdown was very high on my list of priorities.

I would put books on my head and try walking like a model. I also worked on my arms not flapping when I ran. I observed how the NT (neurotypical) kids moved their arms and would copy them. I had to constantly remind myself to keep my arms by my side.

It took me a long time to learn to like my breasts.

April Griffin "Nursing in Seclusion"

April Griffin “Nursing in Seclusion”

In one of the psychology books I read it pointed out differences in male and female thinking and strengths. I realized I had a lot of male areas of talent strengths.

I began to wonder if I had a male mind.

I felt more like the boys than the girls. I was okay with that, although I’ve watched other girls get very stressed out and worry they might be transgender; trapped inside a female body.

April Griffin "String Theory"

April Griffin “String Theory”

I do see girls who don’t love the stereotypical girl stuff become concerned they may be transgender. Not instantly loving being female doesn’t automatically mean you are transgender. Either way, you should love yourself as you are and be yourself.

I wished I was a boy, especially when I was younger. As I got older I decided it was alright to be a girl who liked guy things. That’s when I made peace with my gender. I’m just a Tom Boy and that’s okay.

April Griffin "April and Bruce"

April Griffin “April and Bruce” – I’m holding a guitar made by Frank Louis Allen with my friend Bruce, a Canadian poet. The guitar is to be auctioned to help the village of Love, Saskatchewan, Canada

 

When I read a study that found Autistic girl’s brains had more in common with normal male brains than female ones I wasn’t surprised. It confirmed what I already knew to be true. I had more in common with the guys than the girls.

Some of the typically female parts of my brain just didn’t get wired up. It doesn’t make me male. I’m not a man trapped in a woman’s body. I just don’t want to spend hours talking on the phone or shopping for make up. Understanding women doesn’t come naturally to me. I needed a book to explain it to me.

It’s good to be taught that kind of stuff, even if I am not interested in being a part of a clique. It helps me protect myself to know what bankers are. Bankers are girls who suck out and collect information to be used later (against you!) in order to impress the clique’s queen bee. It’s the sort of thing I totally missed! It also helps me to be a better friend to females to know logic might not be as comforting to them as a hug and being too blunt might hurt their feelings.

April Griffin "Summer Solstice"

April Griffin “Summer Solstice”

If I could give advice to younger girls and women on the spectrum it would be to not be afraid. Be yourself and don’t be in a hurry to fit into a label or a box. Everyone is unique and it’s okay to take your time to figure out where you fit in. A girly girl might not have any confusion whatsoever knowing immediately that she is all girl and attracted to guys. Some of us are not as certain. We might feel more like boys.

April Griffin "Bring it On"

April Griffin “Bring it On”

There seems to be a lot of gay, bi and transgender autistics. In my twenties I realized I’m a mental sexual. I am attracted to minds more then bodies. I’m not too concerned about it. I like what I like.

Try not to get too worked up over societal gender roles and categorization of sexuality. Liking boy things does not mean your gay or that you are trans. You don’t need to figure out if you prefer girls or guys right now today, it will naturally work itself out when you meet someone you love.

If you are a Tom Boy go ahead and be one. You don’t have to act like the girls. You can just be yourself.


April talks about her art

Below is a link to a fantastic book for girls and parents of girls on the spectrum. Its geared towards Asperger’s but the lines in autism blur across the spectrum. It’s useful for ADD, ADHD, Aspies and Auties.

“Asperger’s and Girls” by Tony Attwood (Author), Temple Grandin (Author), Teresa Bolick (Author), Catherine Faherty (Author)
Useful chapters :
The Pattern of Abilities and Development of Girls with Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger’s Syndrome in Women: A Different Set of Challenges?
Educating the Female Student with Asperger’s
Girl to Girl: Advice on Friendship, Bullying, and Fitting In
Preparing for Puberty and Beyond

My experience with sexuality on the spectrum is only ONE experience that this should not be used as proof a child is not transgender. Many autistics ARE transgender and I support them fully. This was written with gender fluid girls particularly in mind. “Gender fluidity” did not exist when I was young. The word I was called was “Tom Boy”.

***

April Griffin is a prolific artist who resides in Canada. She is the single parent of four children; three who are also on the spectrum.

Other posts the reader may like: Mabz Beet: A child of two spectrums – the intersection between autism and transgender

Samantha Craft: Females and Aspergers – A Checklist

13 Comments

  • First of all I would like to state that I am completely shocked that there are no comments to such a thoughtful and well written post. I quite enjoyed reading your post and I get what you are saying. I think your words reign true for many on many different levels. I am an aspie female and am comfortable as such, however I do not see myself in the many layers and specifics that society thinks females should be. I am one who knows that I was born female, I am female and I am feminine, but it’s my own brand of femininity that I exude. I am not one to conform to that which society or parental units require. I don’t believe that I have to dress a certain way…sit a certain way…eat a certain way…play a certain way or with specific kids of toys. I played with toys that I liked. At times I may want to play with dolls and other times with cars, trucks and figurines. It all depended on my mood.

    I too am one who is not particularly fond of dealing with too many females. I have a hard time processing all of the nuances that are thought to be necessary for being female. I don’t know if it is a fact that these things identify one as female. I don’t identify with them and I am still female. The things that I speak of are the social female clicks as you have mentioned, but even more so, the strange manipulation of mannerisms that are called feminine wiles. That is very much a mystery to me and I stand in awe each time I bear witness to such. It seems to work for them, but only because these mannerisms are an expectation which I find to be preposterous.

    I think society’s greatest flaw is the encouragement of being like minded. That is a great downfall. We don’t have to be like each other, think like each other or look like each other to get along or to agree on more pertinent matters. Oh well, maybe one day society will evolve into something better than what it is now. One can only hope.

    I very much enjoyed your words and your art and look forward to reading more. Thank you for sharing your truth.

  • April says:

    Autism’s Love, thank you for your comment, I appreciate feedback. I agree there is too much emphasis on being the “same”. I think that can be very confusing for youth and hope that this helps some people out especially teenagers.

  • Lori Shayew says:

    Hi April,
    Thanks for this authentic share. I can relate to some of it. I love your art work and your video where you share your gift and insights. Much appreciation and respect. Keep creating and sharing.

  • April says:

    Thanks Lori! The TV documentary was about my art, but I used the opportunity to mention being on the spectrum to help raise awareness here where the word “Autism” is still being said in a whisper.

  • Idell Wadley says:

    Hi April
    We have a beautiful 9 year old with several challenges including Autism which is why I was interested in reading your article. The only issue I have is this label of having a gender identity issue. It seems to me you simply did not enjoy some aspects of being female but you don’t seem confused about being female! I am not Autistic and wanted to be a truck driver when I grew up. I played sports and had cars and action figures as well. No confusion there I was simply someone who liked those things. I was and am just me and you are simply a wonderful you! In my home my nephews are free to wear wigs and make up if they choose too esp when playing with their girl cousins and my girls fling themselves on the wrestling pile up. I think people just mistake originality and individuality for “Gender identity issues”

    • April says:

      I spend a lot of time explaining to autistic teens that feeling like a boy does not mean they are transvestites. (and its ok if you are). A lot of us on the spectrum are Asexual. I’m nearly 40 so no I am not confused about my gender identity NOW ~ but my daughters are going through this now. It is confusing to a lot of our youth because you feel like a boy trapped in a female body and have a hard time understanding females. It is my hope to help out the younger ones who may be having some confusion. Also to let them know its ok to be a tomboy.

  • Holly Cooper says:

    I enjoyed reading this article. I identified with it so thoroughly. I have always had girls/women in my life to protect me; even if I didn’t understand what was going on. For that, I am grateful.

  • Jen says:

    I am so glad to have stumbled across this article. Your situation and feelings describe me exactly. Including being attracted to one’s mind rather than body. I was also diagnosed on the spectrum as an adult, so finding all of this information clears up a lot of questions about growing up. Thank you for sharing.

  • Isadora says:

    Holy shit, are you me? That is exactly what I’ve been through. When I learned about sex and gender when I was around 9 or 10 I realized I definitely didn’t feel like a girl. So… that must’ve meant I was a boy, right? I’ve thought for quite some years that I may be transgender, just like you. I have experimented with female looks but I felt like I was forcing something the whole time. Eventually I had an epiphany: I didn’t feel like a girl. But I also didn’t feel like a boy. I just felt… in the middle. A bit of both. When I stumbled upon an article regarding female Asperger’s and androgyny it made so much sense.

    Also, the thing about being attracted to minds instead of bodies. It actually has a name! Demisexuality. Asexual when regarding primary, physical attraction, but sexuality that can be ‘unlocked’ so to speak, when you’re attracted to who someone is, their personality.

  • beck says:

    interesting article. unfortunately my mother is using it against me to ‘prove’ that i am not trans.

  • Al says:

    Oh
    my mom showed this to me
    but I’m a transgender
    She does not understand this apparently-

  • Dahlia Alsalih says:

    I really enjoyed this article & truely identified myself in it , I am a civil engineer & I enjoy my proffesion I found myself in it , a male mind proffesion & my colleages being so supportive & protective but also competitive .

  • Francesca de Paoli says:

    Hello April,
    I am from the UK and am in my final year at university. I am currently writing my dissertation on girls with ASD and Aspergers. I find this article fascinating as it opens up a whole new world of information and ideas for me. Thank you! If you have a minute and have any information or ideas and could drop me a message or email that would be amazing!

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