Autigender – What does it mean?
I was in my 20s when I consciously started to think about my gender. Why was I so uncomfortable being called a woman? I eventually realized that I lacked the ability to follow the rules that society laid out for me as someone who was assigned female at birth. I could force myself to show some traditionally feminine traits, and I do naturally have some feminine traits. But I could not force myself to follow all of the “rules” of being a woman. I do not have the skills to do my hair and makeup in a traditionally feminine way and I am unable to safely carry a pregnancy, for example.
Today, I identify as autigender and nonbinary because I cannot meet the expectations of being a woman or a man and I no longer want to. If I am going to be my genuine self, then neither woman or man fits for me.
What does autigender mean?
There are many words that can describe a person’s gender, but there are a few broader terms that are important to understand in relation to gender:
- Binary genders such as man and woman are genders that fit within these two traditional categories.
- Nonbinary is an umbrella term for people who identify with both genders, neither, or anywhere in between.
- Cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity matches with their assigned sex at birth.
- Transgender refers to a person whose gender identity does not match with their assigned sex at birth.
Autigender commonly falls under the nonbinary and transgender umbrellas; however, each person has a unique relationship with their gender and it is important not to assume which category a person identifies with.
Autigender is a gender identity that describes the relationship that an autistic person has with their gender. In other words, it is for autistics who see their gender as being intimately connected with their autism. It is not autism as a gender. All people who identify as autigender also identify as autistic or neurodivergent; however, not all autistic people identify as autigender.
Since autigender refers to a person’s relationship with their gender, people who idenitfy this way often include other words to describe their gender identity. An example is an autigender person identifying as nonbinary as well. The term nonbinary would be the word that describes their gender identity while autigender refers to how being autistic relates to and informs that gender identity.
Many people who identify as autigender use they/them or neopronouns. Neopronouns are any pronouns that are not the standard ones, such as xe/xem/xyr and ze/hir/hirs. It is important to remember that a person identifies with pronouns specific to them, not necessarily ones that usually go with a specific gender identity.
I use they/she pronouns.They/them feels most fitting, but I understand that I present as someone who was assigned female at birth and I’m not offended by people who unconsciously follow the societal constructs that they were taught throughout their entire lives.
Some people who use they/them or neopronouns can get gender dysphoria from being referred to by the wrong pronouns. Being misgendered can cause someone discomfort and pain which is why it is so important to learn and use a person’s correct pronouns.
There is some controversy around the term autigender. Some individuals feel that this term invalidates others who identify as nonbinary or otherwise gender diverse. However, autigender refers to an individual’s relationship to their own gender. It does not mean that other people cannot identify with the gender that fits for them. Part of this controversy may be because autistics can be blunt or more direct than others tend to be. The controversy around the term seems to be fueled by the ableism that is saturated throughout our society.
How could a gender be related to someone’s neurodiversity?
Autistics do not interpret societal expectations in the same way as an allistic (non-autistic) person. We (autistics) may not realize there is a societal expectation for a given situation or we may not understand why there would be a societal expectation in the first place.
This can relate to any topic that people may expect another person to act that would be socially acceptable. Examples of societal expectations are etiquette, how to treat others, how to express emotional reactions, when to let others talk in a conversation, and when to jump into a conversation. A specific example is not knowing when a person is expected to apologize.
Gender identity and expression also have specific societal expectations. In the United States, women are treated differently overall if they look or act masculine. The same is true for men who look or act feminine. The definitions of masculinity and femininity change with time and across cultures, which makes gender a social construct.
Autistics are more likely than allistics to experience their gender outside of traditional societal expectations. In a study of 641,860 participants conducted by Warrier et. al in 2020, those who identified themselves as transgender or gender-diverse on average scored higher than the cisgender participants on self-report measures of autistic traits and sensory sensitivity.
Social constructs have societal expectations. Therefore, gender is sometimes a concept that either doesn’t make sense to us or is something that we don’t feel in the same way as allistics.
Why is there a link between gender diversity and autism?
It is important to note that people can identify as a gender, not follow all of the rules, and never question their gender. Women can have short hair and choose not to be mothers. Men can wear makeup and be stay-at-home dads. Unfortunately, this doesn’t easily change the actual rules and expectations. I am still reminded daily of the rules I should be following as a “woman.” This can be in subtle ways that many people don’t notice — like when the car dealer didn’t look at me throughout the entire conversation with my partner and me, despite my name being the sole name on the title. It can be in more painful ways as well, like when I’m asked about when I’m going to get pregnant.
Autistics can have the tendency to logically deduce the rules of a societal expectation. We do this through consuming media (books, shows, movies, etc.), observing how others are acting, and even through being punished or shamed for not knowing the rules in the first place. It can feel like there is a book of rules for how to act around people that everyone else has read, but we haven’t had access to it.
Autistics can have a tendency to follow the rules that they know immaculately. Sometimes, we can’t make ourselves forget the details. Mental health uses terms like rigidity to describe these tendencies. When I have tried to identify as a woman, my brain can get stuck on the times that I clearly didn’t match expectations for the rest of the day. I identify as autigender and nonbinary, because I cannot meet the expectations of being a woman or a man and I no longer want to. If I am going to be my genuine self, then neither woman or man fit for me.
This is the reason why many people identify as autigender- they are allowing themselves to be their true selves. This can give our brains permission to move forward with our days without being constrained by expectations that fall under our assigned sex at birth.
Blog written by Sentier therapist, Mary Maggie Devorak, MS, LMFT.
Warrier, V., Greenberg, D.M., Weir, E. et al. Elevated rates of autism, other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric diagnoses, and autistic traits in transgender and gender-diverse individuals. Nat Commun 11, 3959 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17794-1