Note: This is my contribution to the Ultraviolet Voices anthology. It’s nearly 5000 words long, so I’m going to serialize it here over the next 3 weeks.
At five, I wanted to be a boy. I don’t know what I thought being a boy meant. Maybe I thought it meant playing outside in the summer, shirtless and barefoot. Maybe I thought it meant not wearing dresses.
Dresses were all scratchy lace trim and tight elastic sleeves. Stiff patent leather shoes pinched my sensitive feet. Perfume tickled my nose. Tights made my legs itch and had maddening seams at the toes.
Too young to understand sensory sensitivities, I followed my instincts. While other girls favored frilly clothes, I gravitated toward the soft comfort of cotton shirts and worn corduroys.
Somehow, comfort got mixed up with gender in my head. For decades, “dressing like a girl” meant being uncomfortable. And so began a lifelong tension between being female and being autistic.
For a lengthy stretch of adulthood, I had an entire section of my closet that could best be described as aspirational. Pants suits. Dressy blouses. Pumps and sandals. Skirts, bought and worn once for a special occasion. Dresses, bought and worn never, before being spirited off to the thrift store.
I preferred ripped jeans and running shoes, hoodies and baggy t-shirts. Comfortable and comforting, just as they had been in childhood.
It wasn’t until after being diagnosed with Asperger’s last year that I learned about sensory sensitivities. Suddenly my aversion to dressy clothes, perfume and makeup made sense. A huge weight lifted. I’d spent decades wondering about my lack of femininity. Where other women seemed to revel in dressing up, I saw only itchy skin and painfully tight seams. Instead of making me feel glamorous, lipstick and eyeliner left me counting the minutes until I could wash my face.
Lacking the explanation that sensory sensitivities eventually provided, I spent decades feeling like I wasn’t a “real” woman.
Today I have four dresses hanging in my closet. Made of soft cottons and knits, they’re as comfortable as my worn hoodies and jeans. They’re not aspirational like my dresses of the past. I wear them when my husband takes me out on date nights. No makeup. No nylons. No tight pinching shoes. I’ve found a style that suits me, that makes me feel both beautiful and comfortable.
I’ve learned how to shop in a way that accommodates my sensory needs and I’ve learned that there is more than one way to be feminine.
There are many things I’ve had to learn or relearn over the past year. Mostly I’ve had to learn how to be autistic. That sounds like an odd thing to say. After all, I’ve been autistic all my life. But being autistic and knowing that I’m autistic are two vastly different things.
Knowing that I’m autistic has helped me to reconcile so many confusing aspects of my life. It’s as if I’m slowly reassembling the pieces of myself.
There are few role models for autistic women. There is no Rain Woman, no popular stereotype that comes to mind when you hear the phrase autistic woman. Perhaps that’s for the better. Stereotypes carry with them the burden of proving them wrong.
Still, we face hurdles when it comes to public perceptions of autistic adults. Again and again in my blog’s search terms I come across people searching for an answer to questions that surprise me.
Can aspie women marry? Can women with Asperger’s have children? Do aspies say ‘I love you”?
It seems we’re a mystery.
I hope that when people find my blog, they see that the answers to all of those things are yes. I’m married. I have a child. I tell my husband and daughter that I love them.
Sadly, that wasn’t always the case.
Women are expected to be intuitively skilled at social interaction. We are the nurturers, the carers. To be born without natural social instincts can leave you questioning your innate womanhood.
The first hint of what was to come arrived long before I’d given any thought to what being a woman would mean. At some point in sixth grade, many of the girls in my class became huggers. They hugged when they met each other and when they said goodbye. They hugged when they passed in the hallway. They hugged when they were happy or sad. They hugged and cried and squealed with excitement and I watched from a distance, perplexed. What did all this hugging mean? And more importantly, why wasn’t I suddenly feeling the need to hug someone every thirty seconds?
This was the first of many confusing conversations I was to have with myself.
I was a mother and wife for twenty-four years before I was diagnosed with Asperger’s. Over and over during that time, I questioned not only my womanhood, but my humanity. I questioned why I didn’t respond the way other women did to their children. I watched the other mothers tear up as the bus pulled away on the first day of kindergarten and felt guilty at my relief. Finally, a few hours alone, was all that was running through my head.
Looking back, I bet the other moms walked back to their newly quiet homes and felt a similar relief. The thing is, I never knew for sure because I didn’t talk with any of them. Beyond a friendly good morning at the bus stop, I was at a loss for how adult women socialized. I hovered around the fringes of social groups, watching as other moms made dates for coffee or shopping. They seemed so at ease, as if they’d all gotten the Mom Handbook while my copy had been lost in the mail.
I probably should have been envious but I was too busy being intimidated.
Unlike my difficulties with sensory sensitivities, Asperger’s provided an explanation but little solution when it came to socializing. I’ve had friends over the years, but not, it seems, in the way that other women do. Fortunately, I’ve made one friend who has been a constant in my adult life: my husband Sang.
Again and again as I was researching Asperger’s syndrome in adults, I came across bleak portraits of adult relationships. Broken marriages. Impossible-to-live-with autistic spouses.
Many of the challenges described in the literature were familiar. Our marriage certainly hasn’t been easy. But learning that I’m autistic has given us a new framework for understanding our relationship. Everything from why I find social outings exhausting to why I need to eat the same thing for breakfast every day suddenly had an explanation.
That understanding alone is a tremendous gift. People often question why someone my age would bother getting diagnosed. Especially someone who has a job, a family, a mostly settled path in life.
The explanation that comes with a diagnosis makes all the difference. For years, I knew something was wrong with me but I had no idea what. Most of the possibilities that I came up with made me feel bad about myself. Cold. Unfeeling. Immature. Selfish. Short-tempered.
Getting a diagnosis swept all of those aside. Not only did I get an explanation for how I experience life, I got a user’s guide to my brain. It wasn’t an endpoint in my journey, but a starting place.
To be continued in Part 2 . . .
P. S. I’m having a rough week language-wise so I may be slow in replying to comments for awhile, especially on older posts, but I’m reading and enjoying all of them.
141 thoughts on “At the Intersection of Gender and Autism – Part I”
Looking forward to the other parts! =)
All of that hit home. Minus some of the guilt over not being feminine, I guess I have my parents to thank for that. Again. I am amazed over and over how my parents (both allistic) are nearly perfect for raising my flavor of autism. My dad encouraged us to get in the dirt and play, to work in the garden, to haul firewood, to be useful. Something you can’t do in frills and heels. My mom also found the seams and prickles to be unreasonable, so she didn’t enforce that we girls wear them, and valued comfort over being “pretty”. (But if me or my sister found something pretty that was also comfortable, she was all for it. Heheh.) So rather than mourning my lack of normalcy, I ended up wondering what was wrong with everybody else and why they were so impractical and masochistic all the time! But I did have serious doubts I was meant to be female, being male seemed a better fit, and I still announce myself outright as a tomboy. Now I have to figure out the line between autistic tomboy and transgender…
Think it’s awesome that your parents were so in tune with what you needed, that you thought there was something wrong with other people. 🙂 My dad also encouraged me to help them out in the garden, taught me how to mow the lawn, and spent many hours playing catch with me. I was the consummate tomboy growing up. I’m not sure where I picked up my ideas about needing to be more feminine, but it’s nice to finally be rid of them.
We’ll blame the media and female classmates, they’re always an easy scapegoat. 😉 Me stumbling onto your blog and realizing a day before then I was likely autistic has brought me and my family even closer, because in many ways they really were the perfect parents for my flavor of autism. And with so many traits themselves, I’m now scratching my head wondering why I’m the only one on the spectrum!
I refused to wear trousers that had a button until I was 7 or so. “Too tight”, I would say, even if the pants were two sizes too big, because I didn’t have a word for sensory sensitivies, either.
Classic “feminine” stuff I didn’t understand for a long time – actually, there was a lot of stuff I didn’t understand.
I did my best to fake it and failed miserably.
Religously bought girly magazines for a while – research. But none of those said the basic things – like that the reason my hair was greasy was that I was in puberty and only washing it once a week.
Manufactured crushes to fit in, with no intention of acting on them. (Lead to a few very bizarre situations.)
Bought make-up, but never used it.
I had not worn a skirt since primary school until sixth grade, and there it was for one day, because of a bet involving all girls showing up in skirts, and then I didn’t do it again for at least 5 years.
Now, at 20, I am starting to slowly get comfortable.
I also have the “pile of clothes I don’t really like but thought I ought to”, but I have been purging recently.
I actually own a few skirts – and even like one of them. Now if only I could find more of that one …
Make-up is still difficult – I’d like to know how to do it, because I find it interesting what you can do with it. Anyone there willing to teach me how to get the hang of eyeliner? I just can’t get it to look even.
And now I am giggling at the image of a “girly sleepover” with girls from 20 to 50, doing honest research on make-up and then trying to implement it scientifically.
I still have a bit of trouble noticing when I am flirting – “You thought he/she was cute, huh?” Ian asks regularly. And when I ask why, he’ll tell me I went into flirtatious mode, and I’ll actually be surprised. But I am getting better at that – mostly by consciously flirting, weirdly enough. At least my subconscious seems to know how it works, so maybe I can pull up the protocols and implement them consciously – or not implement them.
I still have trouble finding tights with seams at the toes that don’t drive me insane, but I have found a few that actually don’t have those seams.
If your feet aren’t visible (because you are wearing boots, for example) you can put on socks under them, by the way.
And I had the same feeling of finally being given a user’s guide to my brain =)
Thanks for this!
As another who struggles with eyeliner, I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of the Imma Be A Panda image: http://www.busybeeblogger.com/2014/07/16/how-to-get-perfect-cat-eye-makeup/ And there’s also a video how to do eye makeup there. Maybe it’ll help?
I do love that image =)
I’ve been watching youtube videos about make-up like it’s my job, I guess now it’s a matter of practice. But I have a hard time telling how far the pen is away from my skin before it actually touches it, which makes it somewhat difficult to “aim”, basically.
I had the same problem when I started wearing contacts. Everybody else can look at a mirror and know exactly how to put them in. I have watch the contact coming so I won’t miss and adorn my cheek or eyelashes or something. And yet, don’t have that issue with eyeliner. How weird…
Guidelines that help me: I never use liquid, gel, or pencil eyeliner. I only use the retractable crayon things. I’m very good at coloring with crayons on paper, so I think this helps me; it also makes it much easier for clean-up. I never use waterproof *anything*. Wet Q-Tips make cleaning up mistakes easy.
I, too, have always wanted to be a boy: a boy who wears makeup, though. *shrug* I insist on comfort, but the over-the-top glittery kind.
Amen to the liquids! The only liquid in my arsenal is mascara and half the time I forget to put it on. So messy! I have this delightful powder as a base/foundation and I like it so much more than the liquid I used to own. I do like the eyeliner pencil though, but I am attempting to be a fine art maker with graphite and pencils, so that probably has something do with it.
I have this kind of felt-tip eyeliner, but might experiment with other kinds when this one is empty (which, at this rate, is gonna take years)
Oilily makes nice skirts if one can afford them. I’ve been lucky enough to find some in thrift stores. Also, another approach to makeup, if eyeliner and more traditional makeup is either difficult to apply or uncomfortable for sensory reasons, are brands like Ilia Beauty or rms Beauty that make products that you can apply with your fingers and that are also very natural and non irritating yet perform well. Luminizers and good subtle lip products can give you a feminine polish without making you feel painted and highly smudge-able. And if you have nice eyelashes an eyelash curler can give your eyes a boost without having to put any crusty goop near your eyes. Also, while it is better in the EU than in North America, many big brands of makeup are contaminated with heavy metals and hormone disrupters so brands with more natural ingredients are safer.
I have to admit I am kinda scared of the eyelash curler. It looks creepy. Luckily, I have been blessed with long, curly eyelashes anyway.
Thanks for your advice!
I spent way too long today looking at Oilily’s website. Gorgeous colors and patterns.
I think my issue with makeup these days is equal parts gender dissonance, laziness and sensory issues. Perhaps some day I’ll give something more than chapstick a go and shall keep your tips in mind. 🙂
It’s so cool that this post generated lots of sensory friendly makeup tips.
Now that you mention it – I have one more tip to give for those who can crochet: Crochet your own Makeup-Removal pads. I’ve got a bunch of them and they make me happy. I use them to clean my violin, or to spread lotion on my face, on occasion even for make-up removal!
Makeup is interesting. I actually go through phases of preferring androgyny which is interesting since the rest of the time I can be quite hyper- feminine … but that’s besides the point. What I actually wanted to say is that I don’t think that people need (or should feel pressured) to wear makeup unless they take pleasure in doing so. I actually quite like seeing bare faces, and, Cynthia, in every picture I have ever seen you in you appear to have a flawless complexion and great eyebrows, so really, unless you enjoy the idea of makeup and the process of application, chapstick is fine.
When I go through a period of enjoying makeup I really, really, enjoy it, but I only started wearing it when more sensory friendly brands came into existence a few years ago and pretty much stuck to tinted lip balm before that.
I see make-up more as the occasional art-project with my face as a temporary canvas instead of, as it seems common, a way to hide (mostly perceived) flaws or even constantly change up your face shape and -details to the point of being unrecognizable without make-up.
Case in point:
What I find very frustrating is that certain jobs require make-up that shouldn’t, and many people consider you unkempt if you show up to a job interview with a bare face. It’s gone so far that many recommend to go to a professional make-up artist for the application photographs. (I know those aren’t common in Britain or UK, but here in Germany, they are required for most applications.)
I agree Cynthia…your skin is amazing! and you have a great bone structure…unless you want to- chapstick or coconut oil on the lips for moisture is all you really need:)
Oh and as for socks…I loathe socks. I can’t stand them. I am barefoot in canadian temps of minus 30 celcius in my boots (which is typical where I live in January)…I NEVER wear socks…and I can’t wear nylons either…makes me feel like my skin is being sucked dry…but I did find a happy alternative if needed which is knitted leg warmers that can be tucked over boots…I can wear these with skirts ( not that I ever wear skirts- if anything I wear shorts inside in the winter and these with them if my legs are cold) or on top of yoga pants or something… I do like certain types of tights but not anything that touches my feet:)
I also can not handle nail polish. It makes my nails feel like they are suffocating and I only wear it about once a year when my daughter begs me to do it with her…but I scratch it off as soon as possible and it almost makes me panicky. I guess we all have our things…coconut oil for me has saved the awfulness of dry skin…I put it on (lightly) after each shower and I no longer struggle with dry skin and gently pat it dry a bit…
I completely understand the nail polish thing. it makes my fingernails feel like they are getting tighter and coconut oil is lovely for skin care but for the unfortunate few it can cause acne and clogged pores. I can only use it on my body (not my face) and only occasionally.
I don’t mind socks as long as they’ve not shrunk in the wash (which many of mine seem to do!) I love brand new socks – there’s no tightness. And I buy mens socks because they’re bigger. Women’s ones always seem too small regardless of the size. I couldn’t do tights again – tried that conforming routine for too long.I can’t see how women cope every day with them….
I know exactly what you mean about the nail polish thing! Sometimes I paint my toenails in the summer. They seem to be much less sensitive.
Coconut oil is amazing. So many uses. I have a giant jar of it in the house at all times. 🙂
And thank you for the compliment. It must be good genes or something.
Aw, thank you. If nothing else, I’ve been blessed with good skin. 🙂
It’s great to know that there are sensory friendly brands out there. It sounds like makeup has come a long way since I was a teenager.
I still have a bit of trouble noticing when I am flirting – “You thought he/she was cute, huh?” Ian asks regularly. And when I ask why, he’ll tell me I went into flirtatious mode, and I’ll actually be surprised.
I can totally relate to this. I have no idea when I’m flirting (actually I’m never intentionally flirting with people who aren’t my husband) and it causes uncomfortable misunderstandings. I think in the long run it’s made me unusually guarded around strangers. Better to err on the side of caution maybe?
Oh, socks under tights is a great idea! Brilliant. 🙂
Socks with leggings also works depending on the look your going for.
Love socks with leggings! I finally worked out that with tights (nylons?) not only can my skin not breathe but the foot makes the tights work down, with no foot, the leggings stay up (YAY). At the moment, I’m working an ‘uber-librarian’ look (soft, lots of layers, cardis, spectacles chain for my glasses, so I don’t drop them). Does anyone else make up characters for their clothes – I’ve been the tomboy as a child (way easier to access toilets on time that way), but I dearly love wearing short dresses without waists (hence the leggings) – they are just much more practical than you’d expect and so easy as they look like I’ve made an effort even tho I’ve only stuck a dress over my head.
I love this idea of dressing in character. Also, my daughter is a huge fan of comfortable skirts and dresses and every time I compliment her on them, she answer is along the lines of, “This didn’t take any effort and it’s way more comfortable than pants so don’t be too impressed.” 🙂
Oh my god yes! I dress like whatever character I am currently writing which is why I sometimes go from girly and made up to jeans, sneakers, button shirts and no makeup overnight. Short (but soft and skin tight) dresses with leggings and socks is my default setting. Either that or I go on ‘princess’ mode (a little scary). Oh and the secret to being comfortable in tights is to buy them too big and with a high cotton percentage. I am a size 2 and I often buy my tights in a large, but socks and leggings are still my preference,
Flirting is weird, anyway.
Where is the line between just being nice and being flirtatious?
Where is the line between harmless flirtation and conveying actual interest?
I honestly have no idea.
I am stil trying to find out what does flirting means… I still have no idea when someone is flirting, and when I am flirting…because I don’t. I am being friendly…
In me enthusiasm often looks like flirting. I don’t think that I *actually* flirt…but i’m not actually sure.
There are dance tights that, while not seamless are convertible. They have an elasticized hole in the bottom of the foot so you can wear them as footed or footless tights and come in many colours. There’s no toe seam so if you can deal with the hole on the bottom of your foot they’re great. I have a pair from Eurotard that I love. They also didn’t hurt my torso which is another thing I hated about regular tights. Good luck!
I feel so much like this blog is written especially for me! The thing that bothered me the most before I was diagnosed was the feeling I was somewhat lacking in “mommy-ness”. I am not a nurturer nor do I feel much like a mom even though I have three amazing children whom I love very much. This was the specific trait I zeroed in on when an article appeared in our newspaper in November 2012, about women with Asperger’s. Four months later I had my diagnosis at the age of 56. Ever since then I have been “learning how to be autistic” as you have written. It has been difficult at times, getting easier with CBT and reading your blog, which has been invaluable to me because our journeys are so similar ( my name is also Cynthia!😊). Many thanks!
Another Cynthia! We’re all of a certain generation, aren’t we?
The motherhood thing was so hard because I think I’m a great mom and really love my daughter but I’m so nontraditional in my approach. It was hard to reconcile all of that for a long time. It’s all worked out rather well though in the end.
It’s great to hear that you were able to get a diagnosis and things are getting easier for you. So many people ask me if a diagnosis is worth it and increasingly what I find myself saying is that it’s a great starting point.
Oh yes, the weird hugging thing. Just that it started at church in youthgroup, not at school.
I only began to get involved in it in my late teenage years, and it took me some more years to become somewhat comfortable with it. With people I really like it’s awesome now and sometimes I really look forward to meeting someone the next time because there will be hugs, but with other persons it’s a still not something I’m interested in. And even with the handful of people I want to hug I’m unsure about appropriate timing in many cases …
I had to “learn” many instincts in my early adulthood, if the idea of learning instincts makes any sense. Reading faces, listening to my intuition (subconcious pattern recognition … funny fact: I included it in a story I wrote many years ago, so I guess my subconcious mind was already beginning to figure itself out), empathy, all that stuff. I guess deep down the instincts had been there, but they needed to be kickstarted by concious, logical knowledge about them.
I still don’t get the hugging thing! Like, why does my real estate agent need to hug me after our first meeting? That just seems overly familiar and unnecessary.
I agree that there are a lot of instincts that seem to come out more strongly if they’re nurtured a bit and/or jumpstarted by conscious effort. That’s been a nice revelation.
I agree with that being a bit over-the-top though, and I seem to have gotten the hang of it 70% of the time.
People who are (nearly) strangers or only business partners or whatever trying to be overly familiar are weird and creepy! And a huggy non-friend real estate agent sounds double creepy.
I think I can count all the persons whose hugs I truly enjoy and look forward to on my ten fingers – and these are the people whose touches are an important part of our communication. Some other people are okay to hug once in a while because of something we share. Hugs without any meaningful sensation of a connection can be pretty awkward, though. Awkward = cringe-worthy = weird sort of psychosomatic pain and triggering flight instinct.
Interesting. I wonder if this might explain why I sometimes gravitate towards girdles, since I sometimes like compression around my hips and middle.
Compression or pressure can definitely be a sensory seeking thing.
I wonder if that’s why I’ve always been drawn to corsets. Not the lingerie ones, the body shaping/waist training ones?
I can so relate to this. Clothes, makeup and hugging are things I’ve always been seen as being a bit ‘odd’ about, and it’s only a few months since I twigged I probably have Aspergers and it all fell into place. I wear gym kit a lot: I go to the gym, but wear the kit for hours either side too (particularly if I’m alone in the house and there’s nobody to be offended if I haven’t showered after my workout). When I was 12 I had a loose, dropped-waist dress made from sweatshirt material that I wore and wore – it was a bit of a joke in the family – but it was so comfortable. I have knitted dresses now (no wool content – too scratchy) because they’re similarly unfussy.
As a kid I always wore my favorite clothes either to shreds or until I had obviously outgrown them. I still remember how painful it was to part with a particular pair of striped (it was the 70s) corduroys.
My mum bought me a make-up box once when I was young – it stood on the side for weeks untouched till I finally binned all the make up and started using the box as a storage box. I’ve never used make up (except for dressing up as a clown etc. as a kid). Gave up wearing skirts aged c22/23 – couldn’t wear them now because it feels like wearing drag. I don’t know how much that has to do with being gay, if at all. I don’t have the desire to be a man (although all my clothes are mens – more comfortable) but equally I don’t really feel like a woman either. More like something undefined. So many of my clothes felt uncomfortable as a child – now I know why.
I’m not into hugs except with my pets (and they get lots). And it’s the same with expressing affection – verbally or physically – people no, animals hell yes. I’m always telling my furry family I love them, and I use their names (plus a lot of alternatives) but rarely do with people.
Have you ever looked into non-binary identities? Basically, some people identify as something other than male or female (or as some combination of the two, or of no gender at all). I don’t know if I’d consider myself NB, but I have a few good friends who are and being privy to that sort of discussion and terminology has helped me be a little more at ease with my own gender weirdness to some degree.
I’ll look into that, cheers. It’s not something I know anything about so it might well be anothing well-fitting label. (Strange how I hate labels in my clothes yet love hanging the identifying ones around my neck!!)
I like to say that I’m broody – but for cats or dogs, not babies. I LOVE the affection you can bestow on an animal and that they will return with the utmost sincerity (when they are good and ready, if it’s a cat). How much I enjoy physical contact with humans depends very much on my mood. In the right one, I might accept a hug from a complete stranger. In the wrong one, I’ll run away from my husband if he looks about to get into my personal space.
As for clothes, I am very jealous of my husband’s wardrobe. It is stylish, simple, comfortable and so practical. He has a pair of shoes that, while very expensive, have a lifetime guarantee on them because they are so well made. They look amazing and he says they feel like slippers. I would pay double the price if I could get something like that. Apparently women don’t want practical things, and if they are practical they must be ugly – no pleasing colours or materials… I have a coat with actual fake pockets. And that is not uncommon. It looks lovely but is pretty much useless. I am learning now to shop with comfort in mind. The benefits are many. I get overwhelmed by choice and what I should wear, how I should look: by concentrating on my physical comfort, and then shapes and patterns that appeal to me, I limit my options. I might also eventually achieve a simple, smart style, rather than something trendy and transient. It’s a win-win.
I definitely felt, and to a certain extent still do feel, about equi-distance between male and female. There is a certain amount of societal pressure/p’enis envy’ in that – I wanted to be one of the more powerful. But I also just couldn’t relate to some attitudes and apparent instincts that seemed forefront in women. I found relationships with females tough, and though I wasn’t much better with guys, my best and healthiest relationships happened first with men. That combined with a ‘hormonal condition’ means that I never really felt fully female. I’d look in the mirror and a woman was far down the list as a descriptor of what I saw. The binary seemed needlessly harsh. Interestingly, I feel more comfortable in my femaleness now than I have ever done in my life and I think it’s because I’ve stopped making myself meet a huge list of criteria. I accept my femaleness with very few conditions these days.
I’ve always been a bit envious of men’s wardrobes, especially the simplicity of the accepted dark pants/dress shirt combination for most work situations. Not so envious of things like neckties and wool suits though.
I accept my femaleness with very few conditions these days.
Yay! That’s wonderful to hear. It feels good to reach that place after a great deal of uncertainty, doesn’t it?
You can’t beat a hug with a cat! I love it when my eldest cat lets me pick him up and cuddle him and he rests his head on my shoulder 🙂 To be fair he’s probably then too lazy to hold his head up or is looking over my shoulder but it feels great and totally connected. My dog prefers the thump against me approach or sitting on me – warm and cosy but not as tender…
You’re absolutely right. When a cat wants a cuddle they devote themselves to it entirely and it feels very special. We looked after a semi-feral cat who used to stand on our seated laps and try and get as close to our faces as possible for a good sniff and a nuzzle, and even though we’d be sitting outside and it’d be freezing and we might be late for work my husband and I were loathe to move the cat on until he was ready. We felt very privileged and he was just like a big squirming teddy bear.
You’re as bad as me! If my eldest cat is snuggled on me having a cuddle then the world has to wait till he’s finished. The pooch might want to go out, the phone might ring, I might be desperate to change channels on the tv or drink a cup of tea… Tough, he’s the priority at that point. He’s just a big ginger cuddle waiting to happen!!
This made me cry – with relief, with empathy and with total understanding. Thank you.
Thank you so much for posting this; as always, you’ve put into words something that feels innately connected to some of my own struggles.
I don’t know that I ever wanted to be a boy, but I do feel a bit… odd, shall we say, when it comes to gender. I guess my gender could be summarized as “definitely not male, probably not anything else, so female, I guess…?” Knowing some people who are all over the gender spectrum is a lovely thing that’s taught me a lot, but it also puts me in a bit of an odd situation where I don’t identify nearly so strongly with my gender as most of the people around me seem to.
I know for sure I’m not male, intuitively, and non-binary identities like agender or bigender or third-gender or genderqueer don’t really fit me, either. I feel like I identify more with being female than anything else, but I don’t feel strongly attached to it. If I’d been DMAB (designated male at birth) instead of DFAB, I wonder if I would have felt a strong desire to transition to a female identity or not.
I have come across the term ‘demigirl’ (identifying partially but not wholly with a female identity), and I’ve wondered whether or not it applies to me before. I don’t know, though; maybe I’ll grow to be more comfortable with the identity later on (like what happened with my asexuality) or decide it’s not for me. For right now, my own gender doesn’t seem terribly important to me, comparatively speaking; I’m female enough for most people’s purposes, and it doesn’t bother me overmuch. I think between Asperger’s, asexuality, mental health issues, and regular teenagehood-young adulthood issues, stuff like gender has sort of taken a backseat in priority for me. 🙂
“definitely not male, probably not anything else, so female, I guess…?”
I totally get this. I think I’ve finally settled on genderfluid because there are times when I feel more toward one side of the spectrum than the other or am in a mood to embrace more typical social markers of one side of the spectrum. And there are times when gender feels irrelevant or nonexistent or unimportant.
” Do aspies say ‘I love you”?”
Yes, but if you are told often enough that since you’re an aspie you’re incapable of love, eventually you will come to believe it.
I hate lying. The rest follows.
This is a really sad outcome of the stereotyping and stigma that we get hit with from all sides.
Oh how this is me. Eyeliner. I cannot fathom that. I can nod and say I’ve got it in the shop but get me home by myself in front if the mirror and I can’t replicate it. I don’t have the patience for make up. I think my mother was secretly disappointed. Mascara ok for special occasions, Lipstick yes. Lipstick IS my makeup. Moisturising SPF cream doesn’t count does it? Contact lenses. Not a hope. I tried and I tried for a couple of hours but no luck. (They were coloured contacts for “fun” but I had no fun trying to put them in. Sadly I never wore them.)
I was definitely a tom boy growling up and I think your take on the comfortable clothes was spot on. I think I liked the freedom that boys had, the movement and running around. I too have a closet of clothes I should purge. How different is the image of what we are and what we wish ourselves to be in terms of clothing and style. I need to be more honest with myself.
Femininity and feminism are words that have a whole lot of confusion and they are defined by people so differently. We each have our own take on it. I have never been feminine in the frilly girly way. I accept that. But I have always questioned my take on being feminine and whether there was something odd about me, but Aspergers gave me a whole lot of ah ha. Your post today made a whole lot of sense and it clicked about what I felt as a child growing up, as an awkward teenager and now as a woman with Aspergers. I am becoming comfortable in my own skin.
Being married with Aspergers is oh so possible and I’ve been married for over 20 years. Hubby also happens to have Aspergers. I didn’t realise about Aspergers until this year. No wonder we got on so well! I recognised and gravitated towards Aspergers without knowing. This has been an enlightening year.
I have requested the book as a new purchase at our library. I want to read more!!!! I am a sponge to read anything on Aspergers and women.
How different is the image of what we are and what we wish ourselves to be in terms of clothing and style.
I still go back and forth with this. So often I’ll buy some item of clothing that I swear is going to be great and something I really want to wear and then it just hangs in the closet unworn for a year or more. It seemed like a good idea in the store but I think what you say of having an image of ourselves that is different from reality is really true for me.
Femininity and feminism are words that have a whole lot of confusion and they are defined by people so differently.
So true. I was a bit nervous posting this series because throughout I use female in a way that some people might find problematic but I couldn’t come up with another word that said the same thing (“girlhood and womanhood” felt too cumbersome). Hopefully because I’m speaking about myself, it works and isn’t offensive or exclusionary.
And I’m so excited that your library is ordering the book for you! Libraries are one of my favorite entities on earth. 🙂
When my daughter was in her early teens, I asked her to please tell me if and when she needed advice on make-up. I offered – as I do not know anything whatsoever about it and can’t be bothered to take an interest – that I would buy her lessons from a professional on the matter. She never asked. She did though experiment in her early university years. Even with high heels… I admit commenting quite harshly on those, I might have done better just quoting scientific evidence. Now she has grown up and developed a style of her own, hardly any make-up, no high heels anymore. Comfy is what she prefers and even with formal clothing, she manages to find what best fits and suits her. So it seems that I have managed to make her grow up not bothering too much about seeming female in the popular sense through my example and leaving her free to experiment, the experimenting phase being rather short and leading to discarding quickly what did not suit her needs.
Yeah, sometimes I do manage to do things the right way…
My daughter is the opposite – super girly and stylish. She’s the one I go to when I need to buy something that’s outside my comfort range, like a dress for a fancy occasion or a put together looking business outfit. I have no idea where she learned it all – friends I assume – but she’s quite good at it.
I’m glad you are doing this. It is very thorough.
… wow. I think you might be my Aspie twin sister : ) every time I read something you’ve written it’s like lookin’ in a mirror to my mind.
So here are some things …
•I was very androgynous minded as a kid – teen. I much prefered boys company to girls. I was a bit of a tomboy. I learned that boys pretty much said things plainly, while girls said things that required a lot of reading-between lines. Something I could never do. I take people quite literally – but that occurs much less these days as I have learned all the meanings of most colloquialisms … still, I am not good with certain people who can not express themselves with some semblence of logic. Listening to them talk is like trying to put a puzzle together. I have to take a personal mental aptitude test to decide on the best logical sequence of questions to ask them which will actually succeed in clarifying their illucid scramble of communication …
I also, to this day despise any kind of itchy clothes – my mother constantly fought me to be more feminin the time I could walk. I loved hand-me downs bc they were worn & soft. My mom wouldnt dream of goin’ to a thrift store – after I left home at 16, I discovered thrift stores & never looked back. After I was grown, I still never got my mom to shop at thrift stores or yard sales, but she WAS fairly impressed with things I found.
After I became a Christian, my parents were somewhat more pleased with my appearance as I did try for a while to ‘fit in’ with other ladies – however, Ive never been one to really care about my appearance – so I typically still go about in my old paint clothes bc its very practical to not be changing for every trip to a store or what-have-you.
I did have crushes on boys I never revealed- I was just ‘a buddy’ – I wondered at the girls I knew (no lasting freindships) they all seemed shallow & interested in the most mundane things. I tried to act like them to ‘get a boyfreind & ‘fit in’ – so I went ‘steady’ a couple of times – got married to leave home at 16 – married a total of 3 times… looking back now, I realize the impact Asperger’s had on all my relationships, particularly the 3 marriages at 3 distinct phases of my life. I can now summarize these relationships in one sentence: I had some very unrealistic expectations about what marriage was, and no skills whatsever to cope with guenuine intimacy.
Actually, for years I was convinced sex was THE only reason to marry.
It also did’nt help that all 3 husbands were chemical dependents of one sort or another, as I was in those early years.
I was also a very disconnected from people in my youth socially (still am to some degree) I knew my social interaction was ‘learned behaviour’ – a little like acting. Most people would describe me as outgoing & freindly.
My mother had a bookstore when I was 10-11. I grew up with books (very heavenly) By the time I was 15- she was grooming me to work in the store – training me how to greet people, etc.
I know she realized I did not seem to have these skills – but I was not necessaril
y shy – I was overtly opinionated – blunt to a fault. She smoothed a lot of that out – to the point that I began ‘acting’ overtly cheerful & freindly – to appease her – until I think I became a manipulator.
I’ve been fond of people watching at times – trying to figure out just what makes us tick.
There seem to be no solid governing rules, yet we are all so similar, while being so strikingly different.
This pastime of trying to define all humaness has long left me – I’m rather enjoying finally understanding myself to such endless degrees.
I was also a disconnected mom – never sympathetic, emphathetic – too logical – and too focused on the obvious & pragmatic to be aware of emotional needs – regrettable. But – there it is.
And I STILL am working on this. It’s very helpful to learn, and understand – it’s good to be aware now.
So now when one of my daughters tell me something theyre going thru or dealing with – I do not blurt out the logical obvious thing … but I do nothing. Then, a few minutes later I will really think about what they said – then I think “oh! Here’s an opportunity to show them I care and JUST listen, or JUST say ‘oh honey, I’m sorry you’re having a bad day.’
I do try to hug more too …
But while this is good – it can not make up for years of what THEY percieved as hardness – and too many needed hugs that never happened …
And I STILL am working on this. It’s very helpful to learn, and understand – it’s good to be aware now.
I think this is the best we can do. We can’t change the past, must as we wish we could. And hopefully as our children become adults and have relationships and perhaps children of their own, they’ll come to understand that there’s nothing magical about parenthood that makes a person suddenly perfect in every way.
I too am learning to say, “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day, that sounds rough” rather than trying to fix things. My daughter helps by sometimes starting out a conversation by telling me that she just needs someone to vent to. That’s always a welcome “social cue”.
I used to dream I was a boy (with a specific name too) when I was a kid, and generally didn’t really identify as a girl – but not as a boy either, I didn’t really grasp what makes many girls girlish and many boys boyish. My social play preferences were probably boy-like … because I liked physical play with chasing and running, such as “cowboys and Indians”, tag, and other games with very simply, physical rules and plenty of movement, tree climbing et.c. My solitaire play preferences looked typical girlish I suppose: creative; making things, drawing, writing, inventing stories.
In my case, clothes & sensory sensitivities was not relevant in relation to gender identity. My other has sensitive skin and fixed principles about what is healthy to wear (cotton, generally), so we kids wore comfortable clothes. She is also not fashion-conscious, and neither is my dad (and generally my larger family isn’t).
I don’t identify strongly as either feminine or masculine, I feel like I’m “outside the system”. However, other people have pigeon holes me as “tom boy-like” and as adult: “man-like”. Also I think because I’ve had a lot of stereotypically masculine type of work such as farming and within farming, not necessarily primarily the kind of work typically given to female farm assistants. Within the family, the kind of relation I had to my much younger half brothers was “like a play-uncle” – physical play, moving around et.c, and when they were smaller they confused the pronouns and called me “he” or (the youngest one) “my big brother” (and then was corrected). Probably also because their mother & all women they know are so stereotypically female, and I didn’t fit the box.
Today I’m more in the “woman box” than earlier, but I still feel easier around men and feel I can relate better with most men than most women. I almost always feel awkward around women, mostly because they often seem to assume a “sameness” that isn’t quite there.
Me too! I can relate more to men in general although my best friend is a girl… In high school I was surrounded by guys as my good friends…with a few girls but their roles in my life were like a roller coaster compared to the girls…and I have never identified as a specific gender…as I explain below though I did have a complicated relationship with “pretty” and with those gender expectations I guess I present a little more traditionally, but emotionally and inside…i feel genderless when it comes to my opinions and thoughts, and perhaps “masculine” in some of my logical view points but “feminine” in my preferences of likes…i feel uncomfortable even putting those labels on it though which I guess shows how much I really don’t see gender unless it is pointed out to me…And you are right- even though I may look it sometimes and I CAN wear heals for occasions I am uncomfortable the whole time and kick them off as soon as I get home and it baffles me how other women can wear them all day to work ect.. I just can’t relate:)
I always wear women shoes with (fairly low) heal for work and other outgoing/social activities, and aim for a “classic” fashion style = female but not girly, mature and timeless. My work shoes are actually very comfortable, and I prefer to wear them above sports shoes whenever I need to be professional, interactive and composed, because (this might sound odd) they improve my balance and proprioception a lot, and thereby my professional demeanour and confidence. I’m much more conscious of myself (in a positive way) and deliberate in the way I move when I wear them, because they provide sensory feedback that is very helpful. For example: somehow they gently adjust my gait to be more elegant and deliberate. They “tell me” how to place my feet, stand, and move; provides a rhythm that is specific and easy to relate with. It is primarily tactile, but their sound is very helpful too, because it tells me precisely where my feet are (and I like the sound too:-) They have a nice round, discrete, yet concise “clack” tone). The echoes of my steps when I walk in a place helps me to know precisely how I’m positioned in that space relative to other things, so I can “position myself at a correct distance” from other things, the distance that feels right. So they improve my spatial orientation and spatial relationships (a lot), they help me fit in spatially. That function is so important to me that when I buy shoes to use for work, I’m being extremely thorough and their sound is an essential purchase decision criteria. I don’t want shoes that sound too loud, hard or sharp, but I don’t want silent work shoes either because I really appreciate the auditory feedback. (The underlay matters too of course. Places with very / many hard surfaces amplify the echoes too much so it is tiring and overwhelming, and I feel significantly more clumsy and insecure if the floor is soft carpets so I can’t hear my steps at all)
Sports shoes don’t provide that feedback. I actually occasionally fall when I run or walk even sometimes on flat smooth ground, because I misjudge distances, or trip over, or make similar errors… I’m sometimes not 100% aware of where my feet are and then when distracted during movement … oops.
Sorry I know your comment wasn’t primarily about shoes:-) The shoe topic sort of took off with me, I hope it is OK.
I get called “Sir” a lot and it’s not unusual for a server in a restaurant to address my husband and I initially as “you gentlemen” and then look chagrined when they realize that I’m not as much of a gentleman as they first assumed. 🙂
I like “outside the system” as a gender descriptor. I guess that’s similar to nonbinary but it feels a bit anarchist too, which appeals to me.
Do you think it’s also possible that many of us don’t feel as comfortable around other women because women seem to have more highly developed social vocabularies? I often feel like I’m missing something in communicating with (usually nonautistic) women whereas men often seem to communicate in a more straightforward way.
I’m not sure sure what you mean by highly developed social vocabularies. Like many words for emotions? I generally like when people have highly developed vocabularies… so I can learn some new words & expressions. However, if you mean the volume of talk, then yes… women tend to be more chatty especially in groups.
I also like a straight forward communication style way better:-) and also, the actual voice sound may play a role… I don’t like high frequent sounds, and most women have higher pitched voices than men. Some tend to have occasional very high pitched, loud, sudden laughter bursts in groups, which I find startling and very uncomfortable / sometimes painful.
However, I think one of the big factors that make typical female-to-female communication more awkward is that many women tend to assume a sameness that isn’t really there. For example, regardless of whether they like me or not, they’ll try to chat me up by reference to some shared types of past experiences they presume all women have in common, or by shared references to / bitching about “men”‘s typical vices (the whole gender, not just specific men). I can’t see any value in that, because while there are some men who fit the “jerk” category most men I know don’t at all. Or they assume that we’ve seen the same TV programmes, are interested in the same kind of topics, experience the same feelings, and so on, and that is typically not the case. When I say that, an awkward silence follows and they seem to sort of not know what to do with me if I’m not in the “we’re all the same” box.
I’m no more “like” men than women, but what makes many men easier to relate with is that they usually assume difference instead of assuming sameness. (Quite possibly because of the gender difference:-) When they assume that they don’t already know how I am, they’re often more open minded and therefore soon discover that I’m not like the women they know either. I’m just me. That works better:-) in the sense that it is more comfortable and interesting while it lasts.
However, I don’t have many male friends either or have any particular tendency to befriend men. I’m good at being friendly, but not good at befriending anyone (~ progressing from acquaintance), regardless of gender:-(. I just tend to approach men more easily, feel more comfortable in their company et.c.
I have seen your photo/s and video, and you do look very boyish or gender-neutral, so I can see why that would happen:-)
I think I feel more childlike than gender-like. Like I haven’t grown out of the stage where gender is not really a defining thing yet.
On the other hand, I’ve noticed that even very young kids are very gendered today. I wasn’t, and in regard to that I think it matters that I grew up in the 70s in Denmark. My mother’s family was quite influenced by trends like feminism, comfort (~ comfortable and functional clothes with little emphasis on gender signals… e.g. my little brother had fairly long hair and was sometimes by strangers confused for being a girl!), believing in kids’ competency to manage themselves and make their own choices et.c.
Thank you for bringing up the notion of ‘assumption of sameness’. I know that I do this to people sometimes if I am struggling to make small talk and it’s a habit I don’t like and must conquer, but some people take it even further and appear to be quite miffed, even offended, if you do not confirm to their assumption of sameness, based on anything from gender to nationality to class to age. I also have a real hate of the ‘oh aren’t men useless/jerks/silly/lovable-but-dumb?’ line of ‘conversation’. Females in my family do it a fair bit and as I am also female I am expected to join in, and even make these complaints about my own husband – the one person who truly loves and supports me. I ended up fighting the men’s corner a lot, which my brothers found quite funny, especially since I used to get accused sometimes by female family members of being a feminist – and therefore must be man-hating. Go figure…
I see now that while gender can defintely play a role in how people communicate and therefore the way in which my friendship takes shape with them, I make friends with particular types of characters, and they usually fall outside the ‘norm’ in some way or several ways. I definitely can’t say categorically that I find a gender, or nationality, or social class easier to make friends with.
I have also been in that situation many times… Two of my female colleagues in the office used to invite me for lunch with them for a period of time (in the lunch break), and they bitched about their husband / ex-husband quite a lot, then asked questions about my husband “fishing” for replies that fitted in that context. However, I just didn’t have anything bad to say about my husband, and even if I’d had anything compromising to say, my loyalty to him is much more valuable than scoring a few cheap conversation points to try to pretend to fit in. Me not delivering the expected inputs created an awkward distance, almost as if I was a suspect person (a spy for the enemy? ;-).
Anyway, it seems very common… Also, I have noticed that if going out with other couples as a couple, then a typical “social template” is that the genders divide, and the men talk together … while the wives are expected to entertain each other and talk about… the men? Or make-up? or something. It is an awkward situation. Luckily my husband knows it doesn’t work for me and “keeps a space open for me”, a way to hang out with him and whoever is with him, regardless if there are no other women in that context.
Oh my gosh, I so relate to all of this and my husband is very good at including me in whatever conversations he’s having if I’m floundering about.
while the wives are expected to entertain each other and talk about… the men? Or make-up? or something.
I laughed so hard at this. Are you familiar with The Bechdel Test? I’d never thought of applying it to real life situations, but this happens so often that perhaps we should.
I’ve been called ‘sir’ etc. loads of times – it’s obviously a short hair thing (though the mens’ clothes don’t help!). It doesn’t bother me but I can’t help wonder why people in that situation don’t play safe and omit any gender identifiers completely. Why set yourself up for potential failure…
I don’t get it. Even the generic “guys” (at least in most parts of the US) is less risky than “gentlemen” in a group situation.
Exactly – guys is gender-neutral (to my knowledge) over here and covers everyone. Why risk it?? Or ‘folks’, that could work.
When I was teaching ballet in northern Canada I would call my students ‘guys’ to get their attention. My Older students (14+) didn’t seem to mind but the 9-13 year-old classes hated it and insisted that I call them ‘Girls’.
I don’t form lasting relationships with mainstream, straight, neurotypical women. My best friend Is bisexual and has family members on the spectrum. She is very direct and always says what she thinks. I always know where I stand with her. I’ve known her for over half my life and the only fight that we have ever had was a very aspie fight in which her black was my white. I get along quite well with men. My husband and brother are my other two good friends, but so far my attempts at friendship with men who are not related to me or married to me have ended badly as all three individuals tried to cross a line with me. I also get along with my likely aspie asexual mother.
I have been in that situation where two other women expect me to join them in whining about husbands but I usually can’t join them as I don’t have much to whine about and my own style of communication could be viewed as more male. I do Identify as female, but it does seem to be a different kind of female.
By highly developed social vocabularies I meant that women seem to have a lot of social cues and meanings within meanings (both verbal and nonverbal) when it comes to social interaction and I think I miss out on at least 80% of it all. I always feel like there’s the actual conversation (in words) and then there’s a whole other higher level interaction that’s happening on a kind of meta level, if that makes sense?
Yes, the assumption of sameness always leads to awkwardness because I too just straight out tell people when we don’t share things in common and that nearly always leaves them looking taken aback. And then I realize that I wasn’t “supposed to” say that and try to make some sort of goofy sounding conversation repair that only leads to more awkwardness and so on.
I’ve noticed that even very young kids are very gendered today.
Yes! There are some posts on Tumblr about this and it seems like a lot of parents are very intent on strongly gendering their children from a very young age. Like, people saying that their son can’t have an Avengers birthday cake if it has one of the female superheros on it or can’t have the pink Kinder egg like his sister because pink is for girls. That just feels over the top for preschoolers. Or anyone, really. 😉
Sometimes when people see others that are outside of the gender system, they tend to catogarize them as musculine and/or feminine, even if they are neither.
People are just so stuck in the gender binary state of mind, thst they can’t see that someone in just not on that scale, even if the person shouts it.
I think the binary categories are also self-reinforcing, actually quite like Cynthia describes in the post. For example, when some (sometimes more or less random) factors make you feel that you don’t fit into one of the categories (in her case the typical female clothes was uncomfortable), then you try to fit into the other…
That’s what happened to me when I worked in farming. I was so far from the female stereotype that the male stereotype seemed to be a better fit, and this made me try to be more masculine than I am naturally.
A moving and insightful post as always, Cynthia!
“Mostly I’ve had to learn how to be autistic.”
I see it as learning how to work around being autistic. For instance, I’ve always been an extrovert, but didn’t realize it for the longest time. Lots of unpleasantness went with being an autistic extrovert. I had to learn how to work around my slow responses to social events. Like learning how to deal with convos with two or more other people without interrupting. And how to manage things when I did interrupt. Lots of social learning is involved when you’re autistic.
I loved this post. I can relate except for the make up. I have always loved Mac make up…other make up gave me rashes but the Mac line ( especially their mineralize light foundation, their Let me Pop gloss for lips and eyes, and their painted on eyeliner) make me feel normal every day. I only wear foundation in winter or if its a special occasion with a little bit of bronzer, but I can not start my day without a little bit of eyeliner and mascara….that’s my standard. I started make up in 9th grade after 8th grade I got picked on a lot. Make up became my shield. I became the sought after one…the popular one…Its sad to say but I was very good at copying any actress at the time because of my attention to detail and it was a personal obsession which helped…my face and clothes were also my canvas. I had a unique eclectic style of comfortability but always within the margins of fashion…so it worked. Now however, after my diagnosis , on most days at home you can find me in yoga pants and a t shirt…or jeans and sweaters or the same very soft muscles shirts. I used to wear dresses in school sometimes but I NEVER wear them now. I also have to remind myself to brush my hair but in school days it took me an hour every morning to do some elaborate hairstyle. I am really good with hair and make up and did a lot of make overs on friends…but it was about fitting in and artistry…it never was to follow a trend and I always put my unique stamp on it. I can look VERY different if I want to with make up and sometimes it is fun to “be someone else”- I find I can pretend more that way and I guess in high school that pretending got me through the stress of always wearing a mask. One day I was Audrey Hepburn, the next confident Marilyn Monroe, and the next I was copying Anjelina Jolie…I was ridiculous enough to even adapt some of their voice in notations, laughs and walks. So after grade 9, while I had my socially awkward moments I never was bullied again. In fact, I became one of the quieter popular ones…but it still came at a cost. I think that is perhaps why I am now mostly a hermit. I had my moments of popularity and honestly- not as great as one thinks…it was fun sometimes, but I MUCH prefer this life and doing what I want…and sticking to comphy clothes all day and my eyeliner:)
I think I was more girly because from the age 3 on I noticed my relatives constantly telling me how pretty I was…but I got in trouble for my personality…a lot…so I found out pretty quick ( or I thought I did in my misplaced youth) that my looks were my ticket to being accepted…even by family. They doted on me with barbies and dresses ( I did not play with the barbies typically and some of the dresses were scratchy) but I did LOVE to play a role. I think I could have been an actress but it wouldn’t have made me happy. I still love sparkles, rich colours, pretty things, and I even wear false eyelashes to special events ( though my toleration for them is about 6 hours before I get VERY cranky and want to rip them off). I guess I developed a longer tolerance to the uncomfortable if it got me the loving attention I seeked. Which is sad but also a privilege too I guess. In our early years when my husband got mad at me at something awkward I said he joked,”good thing your pretty”…a lot…and that wounded me and I felt a sense of panic…because I always felt the panic whenever I was sick and did not look good, or tired or aging or whatever…because beauty is fleeting and adaptable and depends on a lot of factors….we talked about it and worked it out…but it reminded me of all the boys who had crushes on me and I didn’t know and hurt them a lot…or the boys who I had crushes on who would say to me, “If it was just on looks alone I would go for you but we are better off friends…you are so quirky…” yup, I guess there are different problems with different things.
All that to say, I agree with this, but I find I would probably be pegged as a girly girl and most often, even in the Autism community, I feel I don’t really fit…because people see my picture or some of my comments and think that I am a little different and not the typical picture of an aspie girl…I know none of us are but sometimes I feel that because I do not look how i am assumed to look that I am thought of as…I dunno how to explain it…I suppose an example would be…the other day I was acting particularly autistic and awkward in front of my husbands co worker…when he left I started crying that it felt like high school all over again and my husband took me in his arms and said, “It is SO hard to remember you are Autistic. I love it. I adore you. You are so amazing…but it’s hard to remember because you present typically so well so when you don’t its a shock.” And this is coming from a man who hears me speak about autism every day, calls me his little aspie, reads every blog of yours, and has walked the path with me…and HE says that…sometimes it just feels like even when I fit into something…I don’t fit….
Ok Im blabbing:) sorry! Great post!
P.S. I am not saying I am stunningly gorgeous- lol. I am about average, but with the right make up I can play a role…and with the right outfit I can look quite different from my every day…and my every day is not awful…probably just pretty i think…from what Ive heard from everyone around me…the problem with pretty is it is not typical and it is not gorgeous…it is always in between and its hard not to attempt more or less to fly under the radar…I hope you did not take the above as bragging…i was simply sharing my personal experience:)
I have no idea what the difference is between pretty and beautiful but I remember the first time I looked at the photos on your blog I though were very striking. And it didn’t come across as bragging at all. In fact, I felt bad for you after reading your comment and like I should be comforting you, so there’s that.
Thanks…yea I actually felt really sad writing it…but I tend to be taken wrong when Im sad so I thought Id clarify. Thanks for getting it:)
Brushing my hair in the morning after I’ve dried it is part of my routine so it gets done but it seems that looking in the mirror doesn’t come automatically. Normally, because my brush is by the basin (and the mirror is over the basin) I look once I’ve spent the standard 3 seconds on it. But because I’m decorating the bedroom & shower room at the mo I’ve taken the mirror down. I’ve still brushed my hair but it’s not occurred to me to find a different mirror to look in. I’ve trotted off merrily with the dog and there could be anything going on with my hair. Just goes to show that I really don’t give a toss about what I look like as long as I feel comfortable!
I can tell when my hair is getting too long because I’ll realize mid-day that one side is sticking up or out in some odd way. I’m so in the habit of not having to brush it anymore that I seem to just walk around all day with it looking however the toweling off leaves it. 🙂
You’re definitely not the only aspie who enjoys makeup and looking great and dressing up and having fabulous hair. I think that might put you more in the minority in that area, but I know of other women who feel the same, including one who doesn’t leave the house without her eye makeup. 🙂
It’s really interesting that you used a kind of roleplaying to overcome social stress and find a niche for yourself. What an ingenious coping mechanism. It also struck me that you used your looks to distract from your personality (autistic traits, I assume?) because I felt the same way about my grades/school performance. Being the “smart kid” made up for a lot, it felt like and that’s been something that I still feel sneak up on me at times, much the way you described being seen as the “pretty one” as being a vulnerable spot. Strange how those things appear to be so different and yet are probably rooted in the same parts of our psyche.
yea…it was in response to Autistic traits…Yes it is funny how those things are rooted in the same parts of our psyche but just based on our environment how it comes out…
Just so everyone who replied to the last comment here is aware, I deleted it and all of the replies because I’m not going to moderate a 50-comment argument here (among other things) and that’s where that was going fast.
Glad this can be a safe space, thank you.
You’re welcome. 🙂 Thank you for being understanding about my approach.
Good thinking. I was mid-post and feeling very stressed. It’s not a feeling I want to have when I’m here. This is our warm & fluffy place where everyone plays nicely. And where the lambs frolic, the rabbits skip and the sun always shines – well that’s how it feels 🙂
It is and I have zero spoons for trying to figure out where to draw the line so I just incinerated the entire playing field and called it a day. Everyone is free to continue discussing on their own blogs as they see fit, of course. Just not here.
good idea…I think a lot of it was probably well intentioned and miscommunication…it was smart to just leave it so there is not any upsetting remarks for anyone:)
Yes, totally erring on the side of caution and warm fuzzies.
I am loving your blog and it’s been resonating with me so much since I started reading. Your post about sensory issues with changing seasons hit home for me, and I think you saw that I linked to it on my blog with the comment “I don’t think I have Asperger’s, but…” But, then I started thinking about that.
I’ve taken the AS Quotient online so many times, always getting the same NT result but always questioning it. Finally someone in a FB group commented on how tests like that don’t screen women very well, and I googled Asperger’s in women. Bells ringing everywhere! So many things I’ve struggled with all my life suddenly had an explanation other than that I was just shy, weird, awkward, etc. I read that Aspie females often feel sort of androgynous and/or don’t understand what to do with hair and fashion because of how those things tie in with social norms that can be confusing – just one of the many things I could relate to.
I have always had “issues” with dressing that I knew were weird but didn’t know why I was like that – for example, wearing dark tops and light pants makes me feel top heavy, I rarely wear dresses because I also feel sort of upside-down to have exposed legs and a covered-up top, etc. I keep my hair super short partly because hair itself kind of weirds me out. When I was a teenager I had so many meltdowns over not having anything to wear, I actually broke my wardrobe door in a rage that I immediately regretted – which is otherwise so not like me! I don’t break things!
I guess I’m babbling on but just want to thank you for all you have written, please never stop. 🙂 I am happily married with two kids, my husband is definitely my best friend and understands me well. Still I struggle with not being able to change things about myself that bother me – and wonder if I should seek a diagnosis, just to know.
I actually did see that link and almost commented suggesting that maybe you should reconsider but it felt too forward. 🙂 And here you are, saying the same thing!
It’s true that many of the traditional tests are gender biased in some way. Have you seen the female aspie traits list? That was a huge revelation for me. I don’t relate to all of them, but so many of them rang a bell that I remember reading all of them aloud to my husband.
I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog and finding things you can relate to. With or without a diagnosis, there’s still insight and understanding that you can gain from reading other people’s experiences and seeing how they line up with your own, etc.
Yes, I have looked at female Aspie traits lists and was amazed at how much I could relate! Especially when I thought back to my teenage years. I am 36 now and I have actively worked to compensate for my social deficits and blind spots for years – have had to as a small business owner, and wanted so I could make friends, have a healthy marriage, etc. (the sensory issues less easily worked around as they can’t just be stuffed down). Still, even with how hard I try I know there is usually a disconnect between me and other people that frustrates me. After I read the female Aspie traits I sat down and wrote out every instance in my life where things had gone weird and I hadn’t been able to understand what I did wrong!
The gender stuff is so interesting. I can’t really say I’m a tomboy because I don’t particularly like boyish stuff either. For a while (teen years) I thought I was sexist, because I kind of thought man=person woman=woman, like for example, I’m an artist, and it bugged me that if I were famous I’d be a “woman artist” or “female artist” instead of just the thing itself: an artist. Don’t know if that makes sense even now. Maybe it’s feeling just to the feminine side of gender neutral. In college people would occasionally ask around to see if I were gay (I’m not), perhaps because people tend to really play up their gender at that age and I did not at all??
It’s a relief to have a possible explanation for why I’ve always felt so different, though I’m reluctant to tell people about it because I am afraid of being seen as narcissistic or hypochondriac or something (thinking of the Seinfeld controversy as one example of the backlash). But I’m looking for the right person to dx my son on the spectrum so I may look for myself as well.
I understand your reluctance to bring up your suspected aspieness with others. I was really nervous about telling anyone before I had an official dx for the same reasons.
Perhaps the person who diagnosed your son will be able to help you find someone who works with adults if you’re interested in pursuing a diagnosis.
As an autistic (with a female phenplotye and genotype) genderqueer, I can relate to many things in the post, althoght for me – it is hard to tell where the gender dysphoria ends and the autistic wierd relationship with my body begins.
I like my clothes to be baggy and cumfy, if they are not, I find it really hard to concentrate – and sometimes I don’t even realize it is because of my clothes. With make-up it is the same. I just hate the feeling of powders on my skin and mascara on my eyelashes (although, I put sometimes mascara on the small and transparent hair my jawline, if I want to pass better as a guy).
Geder-dysphoria(GD) drove twards wearing men clothes on almost daily basis, and I was actually was surprised to find out how much I feel better. The GD almost disappeared, and I felt much better in my skin. I was quite happy on the ocations I was mistaked as a guy or just confused people (althoght, not that happy when I was harrased…)
Men clothes are more comfurtable. But sometimes, I do wear lacy dresses, frilly skirts and ruffly blouses, because I am into lolita fashion. Actually, it is the onle feminine fashion I don’t feel GD in, although, I can’t wear in for long, because in is quite constracting. And since the lace is a good quolity, it is not strachy at all. Enother good thing is the huge volium of the skirt, that gives me my autistic need for more personal space.
So…gender and autism…it is comlicated. :-p
I was actually talking to my husband about something similar this morning – how I don’t have GD but also don’t strongly relate to a gender, which seems contradictory. It is all very complicated.
I don’t see it as a contradiction. Gender is about the way we see oursrlves and the world, and GD can be really variable (I have a genderqueet friend who don’t exerience GD, although, they used to).
I wish I could send you the text I wtote about gender, but it is in hebraw and translating it will take a lot of work…:-/
I think I’m still becoming comfortable with ideas of gender that are fairly new to me. Thank you for the input – each comment here has added a piece, big or small, to the puzzle for me.
Oh, and thanks for replaying me! I appreciate it very much. 🙂
Desperately wanting to comment on gender identity (and hugs and makeup too while we’re there) – but apparently can’t. Lost for words – alexythymia or something…
❤ I'm glad you said this much. Sometimes words are hard.
Well I’m going to try anyway… Not sure why this is so hard – over the summer I wanted to go back and fill in one of your quizzes on a similar theme and couldn’t do that either. I’m not sure I have anything to say that is so astonishing – other people’s comments echo my experience.
When I first found your blog this was one of the things that made me wonder about myself, the list of female traits and one of them being about not identifying as female or identifying as neither male or female.
When I was a kid I played with a mixture of boys and girls toys – dolls houses, but lego and cars too. I often took a male/hero role in imaginary games with friends, but I don’t remember ever wanting to actually be a boy. I wasn’t a tomboy in the way I dressed or behaved, but I wasn’t particularly girly either and I was a bit of a maths and science geek. I did and still do sometimes have dreams where I am male, and don’t find these particularly odd.
As a teenager I initially had a couple of crushes on women, but then seemed to settle on being attracted to men and am now married with kids, although I sometimes still find women attractive. I still don’t really identify with or get on with the type of women who wear high heels, mini skirts and lots of make up. If I am reading a book, watching a film or advert I may well identify with a male character if the female characters are unsympathetic to me. (But I love characters like Aria Stark in Game of Thrones). I work in a fairly male environment (IT) and tend to get on well with men.
I don’t wear makeup – partly because I have allergies, partly because I feel it makes me look like a clown, same for high heels and tight skirts – not comfortable and not me. So I tend to dress fairly androgynously – very short hair, sensible shoes, jeans, fleece, and wear a trouser suit or stretchy knitted cotton dress if I need to be smart for work. I do have scarves and earrings which I suppose soften it a bit.
Couldn’t really begin to place myself on the multitude of gender definitions that seem to be around – all the cis definitions etc aren’t really in much use in UK so I don’t understand them – but – I’m not gay, not asexual, I identify as a female and like my body – so not body dysmorphia – but somehow I don’t seem to relate to gender as the rest of the world understands it. Maybe I’m just me!
Also on hugs – I love squeezy hugs with people I know well – I am driven nuts by having to half hug and air kiss acquaintances and new people. I can never get it right and make a fool of myself frequently, bump noses etc, and I forget to shake hands at the end of interviews. Greetings and goodbyes have always been stressful – even if I can pass the rest of the time – this is where the act slips. I can remember as a kid being in trouble with my mum constantly for not being able to look people in the eye and say thank you when we went to people’s houses. (Hmmm – might know why that was so difficult now).
So – that’s probably all a bit garbled but you get the gist.
You did it! I hope you treated yourself to something nice afterward. 🙂
I can relate to so much of what you said here. Finding a label that works is so hard. It’s kind of funny how much research I had to do to figure out which one I liked and I’m still not even sure it’s the right one!
I share your anxiety about greeting and leave takings. Generally I can tell that I make “huggy” people uncomfortable because I give off really strong “don’t touch me” and “don’t even get in my personal space” vibes to people who I’m not comfortable with. People who are huggers or touchers just don’t get that.
Greetings and goodbyes are so hard for me too! Have you ever heard of an “Irish goodbye” or “ghosting?” It’s when you leave a party quietly without saying goodbye to anyone – which is what I always want to do! I feel the worst with my husband’s family because they are all about the protracted hugging goodbyes but it makes me extremely anxious. I don’t know who to hug when, and I just want to BOLT. I think they take it personally and feel I don’t like them, but I can never seem to explain why this is hard for me.
Oh, I’d never heard of that! Is it considered polite to leave quietly like that? I don’t think it would fly in the social circles I’ve been part of.
Unfortunately it is not considered polite, but enough people do it that it has a few slang terms! I think “Irish goodbye” has a bit of an ethnic slur element as it often refers to something people do when drunk at a party… from the Northeast US area that I’m from.
I don’t like to give offence so instead of leaving quietly I just don’t turn up instead 🙂
darn it, I didn’t know it would show my name, can you take it away please?
I deleted it. Thank you for the kind words and I hope things improve for you and your family. Sending positive thoughts.
Reblogged this on TRANS RESEARCH and commented:
“At five, I wanted to be a boy” – the viewpoint of a woman with Aspergers.
This is a great essay with interesting insights into gender and autism.
The essay is featured in the book Ultraviolet Voices: Stories of Women on the Autism Spectrum.
The only bad thing about this essay; it’s part 1 of 3. We’re going to have to wait to read the rest.
Thank you for the reblog and lovely comment. Parts 2 and 3 coming soon! 🙂
I relate to this entire post but I am not autistic. I do have OCD. My eldest (15) has autism and my middle one is in the process of being diagnosed… Girls didn’t get diagnosed when I was young… I was gifted with anger problems, flunked out of school, and generally wished myself dead for most of my life. Now I wash my hands 40x a day 😦
My OCD is firing on all cylinders these days and it’s the pits.
I can really identify. Diagnosed-as-adult female Aspie, happily married w/kids (more Aspies, which is how we figured me out). I collected eye shadow for a long time (all the pretty, sparkly colors!) but rarely wore makeup. Comfortable shoes and clothes and never, ever, heels. Or panty hose. Girls’ nights out will, I am quite certain, forever remain a mystery. And that’s ok. 🙂
Panty hose . . . I haven’t owned a pair in decades. Tights are not quite so bad and I think I have pair stashed away somewhere.
Girls’ night out is a mystery to me as well and I’m fine with it too. 🙂
I felt the same way when I was 5. I remember seeing the movie Paper Moon, and wondering if I cut my hair and parted it just so if I would fool anyone.
Also being a teen in the 80’s I felt like androgynous looks where in.
That being said hair, makeup and clothes where my special interest, along with music. I think I’ve perfected my look over the years, definately tomboy, somewhat classic in a vintage way with a rock and roll edge. Shoes must be comfortable.
I love nail polish, but I am always aware of how it feels.
Tatum O’Neal! Yes! 🙂
Your aesthetic sounds very cool. I was an 80s teen too but I went to an all-girls school so I missed the whole androgynous thing. Mostly it was all about big hair and even bigger shoulder pads among my classmates. 🙂
Oh god – flashbacks! Even I tried that whole shoulder pad idea 😦
Shoulder pads were an unfortunate idea. And parachute pants. . . what were we thinking?
For the longest time I would also wear jeans, a t-shirt, and some kind of hoodie. My grandma would always make me try the latest fashions-just didn’t work. I think it wasn’t until she passed away that I started really getting into fashion and looking feminine, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. Turns out, it wasn’t that I preferred jeans and a t-shirt; it was that US fashion tends to be really, really drab for me visually. I like clothes with bright colors that pop and some kind of special detail that really stimulates the vision. I like shiny jewelry. And most of all, I like clothes that can be casual or professional at the same time. I still don’t want to put too much effort into choosing between daytime and evening wear.
Cynthia, I am most definitely a groupie now! I just finished reading “Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate” this morning on the commute to work and wrote a raving review on Amazon. Your book is a “must read” for every Aspie woman diagnosed later in life. It felt like I was reading my own thoughts! Aside from the fact that I am not a mother and really suck at Calculus (for lack of interest in the subject), we have a lot in common and shared similar experiences. My husband read a few sections I had outlined and now wants to read the whole thing to understand me better.
I am returning to school in the upcoming year to study translation, from English to French, to change my career, my life and support my newly discovered “superpowers”, using my passion for words and languages to carry me forward on my journey.
Should you feel the need to have your book translated to reach a broader market, I am willing to do it for free as a practice project! Having translation done by someone who “gets it” and processes emotions the same way you do would ensure the integrity of the thoughts behind the words. In the meantime, my blog needs a lot of work, and you have inspired me to take it to the next level.
Thank you, and please keep writing, I am looking forward to Part 2!
Thank you for the rave review!
It’s fantastic that you’re going back to school and embarking on a career change to capitalize on your “superpowers”. I have no idea how translation works, since the book is published by JKP (and not me directly) but what a lovely offer. I’ve had some blog posts translated into Dutch and someone is currently doing some Portuguese translations, so I feel a bit like a celebrity author now! 🙂
I will investigate some more about how a French version would work and will be in touch if it’s feasible. Thank you so much and best of luck on your new venture. What an exciting time!
My name is Seun. I am from Lagos, Nigeria. I am a school psychologist and I work with children who have special needs etc. I have worked with quite a few children ranging on the spectrum from mild to severe. The one thing that strikes me as far as Autism is concerned is the gift of honesty that comes with it. My fiance’s two brothers have been diagnosed with autism and I suspect my fiance is also somewhere on the spectrum. I enjoy reading your posts and I wanted to let you know.
Oh, I feel like crying. I so empathize!!!
Reblogged this on Sisters of Frida and commented:
Many thanks to Cynthia for letting us repost this !
I hear ya 😘
A cousin was going around the room sharing her memories of everyone, and, when she got to me, all she remembered about me was, “Don’t touch her hair.” I’ve always hated dresses and socks or tights with lining at the toes, cut out tags, never worn lace or scratchy clothes, and never wear makeup. It’s so hard for me to know what I am supposed to wear to events, and am asking my mom and sister for help constantly. I once said “ouch” when my sister turned the light off, because the change from light to dark was intense. I stiffen when my cousin tries to hug or cuddle me. I jump when touched unexpectedly, or when people open doors at my work, or the gas tank starts hissing, or someone walks past because it’s all so loud. It’s like I’m constantly on edge.
I also would go into the woods by myself and play until dark or mom called me in for dinner. She used to ask what I was doing out there by myself and never understood. I got a cat when I was about 7, and he was my best friend. Besides him, I’ve never really had a close friend. My mom complained that I “never opened up,” but I never really had anything to share. No drama.
I’ve never had a diagnosis of autism, but from everything I’ve read online, it sounds like me. I was homeschooled and then went to a small school with only one or two other girls in my grade. One girl in particular was my “friend,” but she would give me the “silent treatment” for days on end stating “you know what you did” when in reality I had no clue! I’ve wondered now if there was some cue from her that I was not picking up on. It’s always been hard for me in settings greater than one on one. It’s seemed like I missed some sort of memo. I remember being surprised that a girl I was talking to had somehow already gotten close socially with several other girls and wondering how she had done it. There were times when I found out that the other girls in our small class were getting together after exams to cook meals together and hang out, but I was unaware until I overheard them talking about it. At church, I tried to befriend a girl who was new, but then when other options for friends came around, she stopped talking to me completely. When I came up to her and her new friends trying to join the conversation, she turned to me and asked what my problem was and don’t you have other friends to talk to? I didn’t, so I went to the bathroom to cry alone.
Wow. I’ve never talked to anyone about this, and didn’t plan to actually post anything. Just type it out to express myself.