In(ter)dependence: A Trans Autistic Perspective

(pronouns: they, them, their)
Blog Post

For many years I preferred to be as independent as possible because relying on others was … unreliable. I’d observed that people tend to agree to things that they don’t actually have the capacity to do, because they want to be nice and they have a hard time saying no. Being independent allowed me the freedom to do things how I wanted and have my needs met. I figured: I’m the only constant in my life, so the more needs I can meet for myself, the more stability I’ll have.

I saw the beauty of interdependence when I began living in community. In a household full of people sharing food, chores, and even a compost toilet that needed to be emptied regularly, I found that our individual wellbeing is connected to the wellbeing of one another. Sharing the everyday ins and outs of my life is intimate and vulnerable. Communication is key – and communication is tough when everyone is under stress. It’s even more complicated for me as an autistic person even when many of my peers and roommates over the years have been neurodivergent as well. Communication and co-housing were harder when I didn’t know I was autistic and wasn’t as self-aware. Now that I know more about autism and my communication style, and how it fits in with other communication styles, I have an easier time co-existing. On the other side of the challenge of co-living is the love and connection.

I had the opportunity to take care of a friend while they recovered from a major surgery. Lots of people in my broader community are trans and undergo gender affirming surgeries. The network of care and support is strong. There is also a great overlap between trans community and disability community, especially autistic community, and so there is a strong general understanding of what it’s like to need physical and emotional care and how to give it. The friend who I cared for is autistic like me and generally prefers to be as independent as possible with their basic everyday needs. Allowing me to care for them was a big generous gift I was given, and my heart swelled with gratitude from the opportunity. I truly enjoyed the experience and felt the beauty of interdependence.

A year and a half later, it was my turn to have a similar surgery. As I made plans for who would take care of me and how I would get my needs met, I faced immense anxiety about having to rely on others. I know myself, and I know I need lots of alone time and there are chunks of the day where I struggle with vocal communication so much that I am essentially nonverbal. I became anxious about having too much anxiety to communicate properly post-surgery and the situation snowballed on itself. I worried about ruining my relationships in my precious community while they tried to care for me. The dual relationship of having an emotional connection with the same person who I’m giving/receiving practical support from has always seemed precarious to me and has been one of my reservations about interdependence.

The memory of how much I loved taking care of my friend after their surgery, and how much it felt like a gift for me as the caregiver, was enough to give me confidence to go forward with the surgery, despite the anxiety about aftercare. I made plans and arrangements and surrendered myself to the vulnerability of asking for and accepting offers of support.

The same friend who I took care of after their surgery dropped everything to come be there for me as did two other friends. Neurodivergent trans community is like that. Lots of cisgender and neurotypical people supported me as well. My experience was overwhelmingly positive. Having what felt like a whole village of people come together for me was beautiful, affirming, and just plain fun. Perhaps the most beautiful part about it was noticing how interdependent everyone is. What I mean is, it wasn’t one-sided. I was physically limited and that gave me more spoons to give emotional support. I was in a transitional healing space, and that propelled others into a deep meaningful healing of their own. I needed food prepared for me, and that encouraged those around me who struggle with eating to feed themselves as well.

My desire for independence used to be so rigid that it barred me from forming deep meaningful relationships. I still value my alone time and independence in some areas of my life, but I also realize and accept that as humans, we are interdependent. I am learning to find a healthy balance between the two.