Tag Archives: gender

To Be or Not to Be — The question of “Passing”

Passing is an interesting concept. Before I learned about autism and started reading up on it, I was familiar with the term only in the context of race. And to tell the truth, it still whizzes by me as something to consider when thinking about autism and Asperger’s. One of the taken-for-granted traits of females on the spectrum is that they are better than males at passing. Girls are more likely to want to please, to be part of a group. They are also thought to be better at “faking it”. And failure to pass is a source of considerable unhappiness.

I’m not questioning any of this, but it doesn’t ring any bells with me. As I look back over my life, I can see that there were occasions when I wanted to do some of the things that my age peers were doing. More often, I was stubbornly going my own way. It was paradoxical, really, because I was an extreme introvert, and also very shy to start with, and my deliberate refusals to do the “right thing” often made me stand out in uncomfortable ways.

What I can see now is a girl who, for the first few years was frightened and confused by school and by the activities that seemed to be normal and even enjoyable for other children. My goal was to retreat and remain unnoticed, as much as that was possible. And yet… Where did the ability to “defy” the normal ways of behaving come from? The pressure to be normal came from my mother as well as teachers, so it wasn’t as if I had any psychological support.

What I can see now is that I was developing an unusually early sense of self-identity. There were no Barbie dolls or Disney princesses when I was growing up. TV didn’t exist, and movies were few and far between. There were no models for me to follow — except… Fairy tales. If I had one real obsession, right through junior high school, it was folk and fairy tales. Those were where my models lived. Heroic characters, both male and female. I didn’t realize how powerful an effect they had on me until I read an article, many years later, by Bruno Bettelheim. Yes, he of the terrible “refrigerator mother” who was responsible for her child’s autism. But when it came to understanding the impact of fairy tales, he was spot on.

Let me not forget: there were also no autism diagnoses. With all this as background, I sometimes wonder if the current emphasis on diagnosis and support is always a good thing. For the majority, very possibly. Even necessary. But as this blog has mentioned before (and will mention again, ad nauseum) for a small population of spectrum inhabitants, it might be interfering with normal emotional growth and the construction of a strong, life-affirming self-identity.

That’s all I’m going to say about it right now. It’s one of the topics I’m still mulling over, and it will come up again, hopefully more fully developed. Is “passing” a valid goal?. Can the attempt to pass short circuit individidual development? In the meantime, it’s here to provoke thought and introspection.

Women and Autism Over the Life Span

This is a theme I’ll be getting into now and then, but very carefully. The lives of older women on the spectrum have hardly been touched on, so it’s something that’s going to be difficult to do right. I’m skimming over a research study that is a rather sad commentary, since it was conducted recently, with a group of only 14 woman, and limits the age range from 22 to 30. That’s what they consider late diagnosis. And, “To our knowledge, this is the first study to specifically investigate the experiences of late-diagnosed females with ASC…”

One reason I’m not rushing into writing about older women on the spectrum, particularly those who have never been officially diagnosed, is that I want to avoid using my own experiences as the template. If this blog’s readership grows large enough that I can construct some sort of questionnaire, or just ask for personal experiences, I might have enough data to draw useful conclusions. The alternative, not an entirely bad one, would be to theorize broadly.

Ideally, I’d like to work just with women who grew into adulthood and even into old age before the possibility of diagnosis even existed. Most of the women in the study said that their lives would have been easier if they’d been diagnosed earlier. In contrast, I’m mostly glad that I never even heard of autism until I was well into seniorhood. One of the themes I’d like to explore is the pros and cons of diagnosis, at whatever age.

So this is just a little introduction to what will be coming up eventually, I don’t want that single issue to dominate the blog, though. The blog’s central theme is creativity, intellect, and Asperger’s, not gender.

The Experience of Late-diagnosed Women with Autism Spectrum Conditions: An Investigation of the Female Autism Phenotype

Not Properly Female

So now everyone (almost everyone) knows that female autistics don’t usually present the same way that males do. A little step to the side here to tackle that word: present. We don’t present. We behave. Everyone else in the world behaves; they don’t present, so let’s drop that piece of medical or psychiatric jargon where it belongs — in the trash.

Instead of expecting female autistics to behave the way males do, the experts on how autistics function have now weighed females down with a different set of standards. We are more adaptable, and we work harder to adapt. We socialize more easily and try to fit into the social groups around us. We’re more concerned with how we look. Overall, we’re less likely to have the strange traits and behaviors that make autistics so weird.

I’m sure there aren’t any statistics to back me up, but I suspect that those standards are just so much BS. Another set of stereotypes to hang on to for people who have trouble understanding a concept like individuality. I suspect there is a point in almost every autistic girl’s or woman’s life when they say the hell with it, and set off on a path that’s comfortable for them, rather than keeping on with the struggle to fit in. That may happen early, in which case the girl avoids a great deal of the grief that occurs when you spend all your energy trying to emulate people with whom you have nothing in common.

Finding your own way of being female may very well mean that you will never be a “proper” female. And this can be a good thing. An excellent thing. Every time you let go of an expectation that others have for you, you gain a measure of freedom. Every time you give up one of those expectations, the next one becomes easier to let go of. And once you realize that you are now living a life designed by your own needs and preferences, you are free to accomplish whatever is important to you. Even if that means the rest of the world will never consider you a “proper” woman.