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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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