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The Strange Case of "Autigender"


Obligatory Disclaimer: This article is just my personal thoughts and observations on an odd phenomenon that I have seen described in the autistic community, known as autigender. Autigender is not a gender, and has nothing to do with transgenderism, a topic that I will be avoiding entirely save for a brief mention in this article both because I make a point of steering away from politics in this section (except when directly related to autism), and because I do not consider it to be at all relevant to the topic at hand.

There is much debate over the nature of "autigender", including whether the term has any validity or if it's just another preposterous word coined by certain people that don't have enough real problems to worry about. For my part, I believe that it is a very real phenomenon, and something that deserves more limelight in discourse for reasons that my own personal anecdotes in this article will hopefully illuminate. As I will explain later, I believe that it is a sort of common confusion resulting from how autistic people's brains react to neurotypical norms that are not at all intuitive to us.

The common definition of autigender is admittedly very strangely worded, enough that I feel that I must provide a more sane sounding metaphor for it before describing it, in order for it to make more sense. "The term driving drunk does not imply that alcohol is a vehicle, but rather that excessive alcohol consumption so heavily influences a person's driving abilities that the two cannot be unlinked. Not all drivers who have alcohol in their system are drunk drivers, only those whose abilities are impaired by it."

For the record, the common definition of autigender (heavily paraphrased) is as follows: "Not autism as a gender, but rather a view of one's gender that is so heavily influenced by a person's autism that the two cannot be unlinked. Not all autistic people are autigender, only those whose views of themselves are influenced by it."

Essentially, autistic people tend towards a radically different perception of gender than neurotypicals do for two main reasons. The first is that autistic people are biologically-wired non-conformists that are prone to both not naturally learning and adopting social norms, and to despising being told to do something without a logical reason.

While many people can acknowledge that societal gender norms, such as pink being for women/girls and blue being for men/boys, are largely arbitrary codswallop, they still feel obligated to conform to said norms in order to avoid sticking out and risking ostracisation. I daresay it is decidedly autistic or at least neurodivergent to wholly reject such notions, out of a complete lack of concern for other's perceptions as opposed to one's own desire for self-expression.

Indeed, it has theorised that a comparative absence of motivation for social approval and acceptance is one of the fundamental pillars of autism. Neurotypical children pick up on and internalise societal norms, including gender norms, in the interests of attaining social approval whereas autistic children are likely to grow up without ever absorbing such minutia. To generalise a little bit, autistic people do things because they make sense to them, while neurotypicals do things because it begets social approval.

As anyone who has gone to almost any page on this website can tell, pink is overwhelmingly my favourite colour. I enjoy expressing myself with it both online and in real life, and it has always annoyed me how there exists so much stigma around this mesmerisingly beautiful colour, simply because of its association with femininity. The notion of pink being for girls and blue being boys is an arbitrary idea invented by fashion designers less than a mere century ago. The fact that such arbitrary social norms have such a powerful influence on neurotypicals is one of the many things that disturb me about them.

I've been told multiple times in the past that if I wear pink, people will assume that I'm homosexual. Although I have yet to receive a concrete answer as to why I should care what assumptions people might be making about my sexuality, I am far more bemused by the notion that homosexuals have a gang colour. Presumably there must be people out there getting gunned down after unknowingly wandering into a gay neighbourhood in a blue shirt. Stranger still is that my father, a Russian, is one of the people who has told me this, and in the Russian language, galuboi - the word for "light blue" - is also slang for "gay"! Oh what a tangled web we weave...

Preferences for aesthetics aside, I am also naturally quite sensitive, emotional, and artistic; traits that are often for whatever arbitrary reason described as belonging to the female gender. I feel no shame in admitting, for instance, that I have cried while reading every single story linked to on my Creepypasta reviews' Feelspasta section. I don't understand and never understood what exactly is so negative about being able to feel strong emotions in the first place. To me, this is akin to wanting to have abysmal hearing or poor eyesight. Ancient Greeks actually thought it was heroic for a man to cry, because it showed that he did not fear being perceived as weak, and I am in agreeance with this.

To return to the topic at hand. I slowly discovered in my adulthood after I began practicing self-acceptance, that the aforementioned traits are aspects of myself that I had repressed due to being bullied for them as a very young child and for the longest time only really allowed myself to express by living vicariously through fictional female characters. Outwardly I developed a persona of a tough and potentially dangerous man so well that even I believed it. This did serve to protect me, as I now have a resting stare so formidable and "serial killer-esque" that I still accidentally intimidate people with it. I suppose this is a valuable life skill however, so I have no plans to train myself into getting rid of it.

Lamentable as it may be, it's impossible for most people to entirely free themselves from the shackles of caring about the opinions of others, most especially during childhood. While some autistic people who dramatically diverge from gender norms repress their way of being and live as someone else, others go in a different direction and begin to suspect that they may in fact be the opposite gender.

Early on in my journey of self-discovery, I watched a lecture by famous autism psychologist Dr. Tony Attwood, Could it Be Asperger's? which really stuck with me. Approximately 31 minutes in, he mentions cases he had encountered of autistic children who were mistreated by kids of the same gender for their social oddities but accepted by kids of the opposite gender. These experiences then led the children to believe that they may be of the opposite gender, and that their issues might be solved if they transitioned.

Although I have no such preferences online, I have always found interactions with women in real life to be in general easier and more pleasant than with men, perhaps because they are more accepting of social oddities in the opposite gender. I have read a number of personal anecdotes about autistic people having a much easier time after moving abroad to a foreign country due to the people there being more accepting of their autistic eccentricities, attributing them to cultural differences as opposed to a mental "disability," so there is that to think about.

For me personally, the meaning of autigender is essentially that I live in a world of strange people who have molded themselves around the aribtrary expectations and roles that were set out for them in their formative years by society based on their gender, while I might as well have not even known there were expectations. Hence, while I obviously do not, and would never, even remotely seriously consider myself to be a woman, I often choose to play as one in video games when given a choice because "generic woman, per societal gender norms" seems easier to relate to than "generic man, per societal gender norms."

I encountered a number of rattling revelations in the journey of self-discovery that came with learning I was autistic as an adult, that answered many life-long questions of mine. While I touched on a number of them in my aforelinked page on the subject, I felt that autigender needed its own page devoted entirely to it, both because I wanted to dispel negative, misinformed notions about the subject, and also because of its massive impact of the autigender phenomenon on me personally.