Neuroqueer: Gender Identity and Autistic Embodiment
This article was co-authored by David Gray-Hammond and Katie Munday
Neuroqueering means to subconsciously queer yourself by way of your neurology. One’s neurology is queer and therefore so is one’s Neurodivergent or Disabled embodiment (Walker, 2021). So, what does this mean for gender?
There appears to be a large overlap between LGBTQ+ identities and being Autistic, including being trans, non-binary or otherwise gender divergent (see references below). Autistic folk grow up with our own distinct culture, language and communication. Perhaps due to this that many of us are disinclined to take up prefabricated gender identities.
Our understanding of gender (like many things) is queered by our Autistic neurology. We simply do not embody non-Autistic gender. If we are male, we are Autistically male, if we are female, we are Autistically female. Whatever gender we are (or are not), we embody this Autistically.
Even cisgender Autistics have a tendency to construct our own versions of our assigned gender. “Traditional” gender roles often make little to no sense to us, especially for those of us in same gender and/or polyamorous relationships. We extend the boundaries of gender, devising a path toward neuroqueerness (Katie Munday discusses this in their article on neuroqueer cartography found here).
Exploring gender off the beaten track, starts with us engaging differently in social learning. A lot of us take an anthropological stance, studying those around us so we can better shield ourselves, challenge norms, and live more authentically. Through this deep thinking, structuring and restructuring we find where we belong, or more typically we create where we belong. We understand structures as entirely malleable and make identities which make sense for ourselves, not for other people (see Doing gender the Autistic way).
Some of us see the binary boxes of ‘male’ and ‘female’ and run for the hills – we are both, neither, in-between, some of us are spinning around in our own genderless galaxy. ‘Male’ and ‘female’ are strange arbitrary categories used to oppress those of us who are not men, or not considered masculine enough. So, many of us look at these categories of gender and throw them out the window – they are meaningless to us.
We are neuroqueering the very perception of the self.
References and further reading
Barnett, J.P., & Maticka-Tyndale, E. (2015). Qualitative exploration of sexual experiences among adults on the Autism Spectrum: Implications for sex education. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 47(4), 171–79. https://doi.org/10.1363/47e5715
Bush, H.H. (2016). Self-reported sexuality among women with and without autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Massachusetts.
George, R., & Stokes, M.A. (2016). Gender is not on my agenda: gender dysphoria and autism spectrum disorder. In L.Mazzoni, and B,Vitiello (Eds.), Psychiatric symptoms and comorbidities in autism spectrum disorder (p.121-134). Springer.
George, R., & Stokes, M.A. (2018). Gender identity and sexual orientation in autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 22 (8), 970-982.
Van der Miesen, A.I.R., Hurley, H., Bai, A.M., & de Vries, A.L.C. (2018). Prevalence of the wish to be of the opposite gender in adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 47, 2307-2317.
Walker, N. (2021). Neuroqueer heresies: Notes on the neurodiversity paradigm, Autistic empowerment, and postnormal possibilities. Autonomous press.
Walsh, R.J., Krabbendam, P., De Winter, J., & Begeer, S. (2018). Brief report: gender identity in Autistic adults: associations with perceptual and socio-cognitive profiles. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1-9.
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