My name is Olivia (She/They) and I’m a 24 year old, autistic, transgender woman. Actually, scratch that. That sounds really clinical, and I feel like I’m anything but clinical. I’m a weird sandwich, of tics, stims, non sequiturs and interesting perspectives that shape my existence and color my world. I like that better.
A Meandering Road
Having intersecting identities makes for an existence where I often don’t know where one part of myself ends and another begins. One way I conceptualize my existence is on a continuum. I will always be transitioning, discovering, redefining and reinventing myself. Gender to me, doesn’t look like fixed points, or a straight road from destination A to B. It’s more like a meandering backroad, hopefully with some scenic overlooks along the way. Being an autistic individual has directly influenced my view of gender and my understanding of how that sits within myself. My head is a noisy place with lots of thoughts competing for my attention, so when individuals, particularly neurotypicals, need a quick answer I tell them, “I’m a transgender woman.” But I know internally that’s barely scratching the surface.
A Maker of Things
I’m more of a creative and a maker of things than I am anything else. My friend I met at university when I was abroad in the UK once told me, “Olivia, you’re basically music personified.” I think that’s closer to how I view myself than anything else. Music and songwriting is one of my special interests. It feels playful in my body, and it feels like a buzzing sensation when I listen to good music or when I’m performing. I don’t ever want to stop playing. The act of being playful feels revolutionary to me, and why shouldn’t I be playful with gender as well?
Growing up as a neurodivergent child, I used to reenact some of my favorite scenes from movies for a captive audience (i.e. my parents.) I adored melodrama, and I still do. In particular I remember doing impressions of different accents from various films. My favorite was a transatlantic accent like Katharine Hepburn’s. (By the way, this has the most fascinating origin story, because it was actually an accent fabricated for films of the 1940s and 1950s because film executives thought it sounded “more intelligent.”) As an adult, for all intents and purposes, I often wear “cat eye” makeup and the reddest lipstick I can buy, not in an effort to “appear more femme” or anything like that, but because I want to feel like I’m in a 1940s film noir feature when I’m buying Chobani yogurt at the grocery store.
Notions of “masculine” or “feminine” I can honestly say rarely factored into my experience. When I made the decision to start HRT (hormone replacement therapy) in the middle of my undergrad, it bothered me how often I heard it referred to as “feminizing hormone therapy.” In all of the three or so years I’ve been on HRT, I’ve never had many conscious thoughts like, “I’m becoming the woman I’ve always wanted to be,” or stuff like that. Most of the thoughts I had were thoughts such as, “I want to start HRT, because I think that will help me feel more me.” It definitely has. I made the right decision for myself.
I think I view my gender as a vessel. I was born with this vessel that I get to decorate however I think is best. A common experience among many autistic individuals is struggling to verbalize how we feel on the spot. We could struggle physically, emotionally, or anything in between. That’s often why I feel like it’s easier for me to have some phrases or ideas in my back pocket to draw on when I’m in the rather inconvenient position of having to answer the dreaded “are you a boy or a girl?” question, or similar remarks. I say, “I’m transgender.” But what my colorful, kaleidoscope of a mind wishes I could verbalize is something like, “I am forward momentum, I’m a swing set on a clear blue day, I am a tall oak tree with a vast underground root system, and I am a liquid that takes the shape of any container it’s poured into.” I think because I’ve always seen the world as so colorful, the notion of simply “boy” or “girl” feels too black and white to me.
Autistic Gender Joy
Autistic struggles are often discussed, but rarely do I see a lot of discussions about autistic joy. For me, autistic joy comes out in playfulness. I play with makeup, I create characters, and I walk about this weird world as those characters, and sometimes I step back and realize just how distant and removed I feel from these often neurotypical driven ideas of gender, that my only way of contextualizing those ideas for myself is through performance of gender, like reenacting scenes from Casablanca with red lipstick and a billowy hat of some kind. I just find gender strange, because I am strange. Gender really hits different on a Tuesday versus a Friday. Maybe that’s just me.
Keep Being Playful
Young kids seem to really like me. I feel like we can learn a lot from how kids play, and how they go by feel, and just innately listen to what feels good in their bodies and for their souls. Some of the most fulfilling conversations I’ve had are when young kids come up to me after performances and tell me about why they wear the clothes they wear, and most of the time gender doesn’t factor into any part of the conversation whatsoever. Their faces light up and they describe the same kaleidoscopic feelings I get from playing characters, and wearing things that feel good. It’s beautiful, and it’s free. I don’t ever want to stop playing.