June has been LGBT+ pride month for several decades now. To this day, representatives of this group often face a lack of understanding or tolerance. One group that is repeatedly discriminated against is transgender people on the spectrum. Only by building public awareness, dispelling myths and educating can we make the world a better place and fulfill the mission of the JiM Foundation.
In recent years, more and more studies have been appearing on transgender people, including those on the autism spectrum. Their results show that among autistic people there is a significantly higher(studies indicate from a few to even about 15% ) percentage of people identifying as non-binary and/or transgender than among neurotypical people.
"Among people on the autism spectrum, there are many more people than in the so-called general population who contest the gender binary, question the sex assigned to them at birth, or refuse to define themselves through gender categories at all." Ewa Furgal "Entangled in Gender. On dysphoria and gender identity of people on the autism spectrum."
Also among those with gender dysphoria, 14% to 25% are autistic. Gender dysphoria can be described as a feeling of discomfort resulting from a discrepancy between one's gender identity (i.e., what gender or lack thereof one identifies with) and one's assigned gender (assigned at birth, based on physicality). What is different is gender expression (clothing behavior, interests socially identified with a particular gender). Transgender people on the autism spectrum can still experience gender dysphoria strongly. This happens so often that there are suggestions that gender dysphoria should be considered one of the spectrum's co-occurring phenomena.
I felt I was a boy rather than a girl, but a different boy than the others. My gender expression was blunted by my family - I was forced to wear dresses, I couldn't play with cars, I was discouraged from playing soccer with my friends. In elementary school I edited the school newspaper and signed my name with a male pseudonym. I didn't like my name, I dreamed of having a male name." Ewa Furgal "Entangled in Gender. On dysphoria and gender identity of people on the autism spectrum."
Similar stories were presented by participants in a study Coleman-Smith, Smith, Milne and Thompson conducted in 2020. The researchers interviewed 10 transgender people on the spectrum. Although they differed in age, gender and identity, most shared the same experiences. Dominant among them - hatred of one's body, the feeling that it belongs to someone else, and anger at oneself.
"I never felt that I was a girl and I never... wanted to wear girly clothes or things like that, I always saw myself as a man... [I thought] everyone else was weird because they saw me as a girl."- says Sama
"I sometimes attacked him ... once, when I was particularly depressed, I scratched and scratched. I skinned myself, my mother caught me and sent me to the doctors," - admits Rihanna
For most, it becomes salutary to define one's self as a transgender person. Just as an autism diagnosis is the first step to getting to know oneself - or one's child - better, it is also the beginning of the journey. The road to knowing one's gender, or social transition, comes with many challenges. What transgender people gain is the answer to the most important and oft-asked question of "why?" over the years. Why am I like this/feel this way/behave this way and not that way?
According to research, although biologically gender can be determined as early as 7 weeks of age (while still in the womb), awareness of belonging to a particular group does not begin to appear until the second year of life. A child should be able to determine this affiliation by the age of 7 at the latest. If not, the time comes to find and know oneself. The road to determining one's gender is not a sprint, but a long-distance run. Periods of uncertainty, doubt, or searching and trying are normal. Any of us, on the spectrum or not, who have doubts can try with different forms of expression so as to feel our best and take care of our well-being to the fullest. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to gender, and there is no way to make gender "wrong" in relation to dress or appearance.
The reasons for the different gender attitudes of people on the spectrum are not clear. Researchers have several theories on the subject. The first one speaks of the influence of hormones (the overproduction of testosterone in the fetal period is supposed to be responsible), another relates to the perception of identity (many autistics perceive their own identity differently, so also their gender identity), another is based on the theory of ignorance of social norms (according to it, gender is another set of social norms and behaviors).
Regardless of the reasons, transgender people often face the additional difficulties of prejudice and stereotyping. They often find it harder to gain social acceptance. In the case of transgender people on the spectrum, additionally, there is talk of the problem of double discrimination - they are much more likely to experience aggression, hate speech, physical and psychological violence, discrimination in employment or health care than people belonging to only one minority group.
To fight prejudice and stereotypes, education and ever-growing public awareness are needed. Among other things, special holidays drawing attention to people who are often excluded on a daily basis are helpful. Thus, March 31 is the International Day of Visibility for Transgender People, which is called a day to celebrate the courage needed to live openly and authentically. The holiday was first put on the calendar in 2009 by activist Rachel Crandall of Michigan. The day was intended not only as a much-needed opportunity to build public awareness of transgender people, but also to protest the exclusion and intolerance of this group. On the calendar, May 17 marks the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The holiday was established to commemorate the events of May 1990, when homosexuality was officially removed from the International Classification of Diseases by a decision of the World Health Organization. November 20, on the other hand, was established as the Day of Remembrance for Transgender People. The holiday draws attention to the problem of violence suffered by transgender people and is dedicated to those who have been victims of murder as a result of transphobia.
There is no single model for being transgender, one cannot claim to be "more," "less," in a "good" or "bad" way. One can simultaneously feel and identify as a boy, but wear dresses. One can also not fit into created frameworks or stereotypical patterns and have a fluid identity instead of being pigeonholed into them. Gender, like autism, is a spectrum. Each person is an individual and has the right to decide his identity. He or she has the right to search, to doubt, to try: different names, labels, personal pronouns or clothes, so that he or she can ultimately find himself or herself and happiness.