An Autistic Woman

What is it about being a woman that makes me happy? I don’t know if I can answer that. Being a woman just is. It carries some burdens and some joys.

I’ve spoken about Bras before (Link here), and how much I loathe them, I’m not sure I’ve really written much about my experience of being an autistic woman, perhaps the time has come.

I grew up wild. A farmer’s daughter with hundreds of acres of mountainside as my playground. I spent my days with muddy knees, riding my bike with a stick as a gun, or hunting through rusty old farm tools to find treasure – metalwork bent into a pleasing shape, a long-abandoned tool, so many treasures.

I would run, surefooted, along high walls, battling pirates and orcs. My writing reflected my play; punctuation had no place in the stories I wrote. They stretched on for page after page of blood and battle, nary a comma or full-stop in sight. Breathless and urgent. There was so much to do and say, I had no time to attend to such trifles as “being understood”.

I refused to wear dresses. You can’t climb trees in dresses – well you can, but you skin your knees on the gnarly bark, and they tangle and trap you – they were impractical for the things I wanted to do. My eighties jeans – ripped by action, not by fashion – were my clothes of choice.

I hated to be hugged. I didn’t understand why anyone would want to play with dolls when they could be fighting the forces of darkness. I was rough and tumble, and free. It was a girlhood from a bygone era, and I loved it.

Puberty brought problems. Menstruation is a combination of practical and autistic issues. Tell a girl that at some point her body will change (When? No one knows), tell her that it will set into cycles of change for decades (How long? No one knows), give her minimal information about what it will be like (How will I feel? No one knows), use euphemistic language and present it all in hushed whispers (Is it natural? It is shameful), and you have a recipe for confusion and fear.

I always prefer honesty. I want a dentist who tells me, “This will hurt”. I want a midwife who is clear in their language. I want to know how bad it could be; not because I’m a pessimist, because I’m a pragmatist. If I don’t know the worst-case scenario, then I won’t be properly prepared.

Puberty didn’t make me feel womanly, it made me feel confused, it made me feel sweaty, it made other people react differently to me, and change is always bad.

I was a slow learner when it came to fashion. Secondary school brought strict clothing rules. I would have to wear skirts for the first time in years. I found a way around it by wearing the thickest tights I could find beneath them. Even in the height of summer, you would find me wearing them. I was already known for my quirks, bullied for my oddness, I didn’t understand the rules, so I forcefully rejected them.

I remember when a group of girls decided to give me a makeover. If I’d been in an American Teen Movie, this would have been the point that the geeky, strange girl, shakes out her hair, puts on some makeup, and everyone swoons at her permanent change.

It didn’t stick. I laughed at my new face and clothes, and crept back to my grungy bagginess. I didn’t know how to play that part, it would need practice. I hated the sensory feel of the clingy clothes, and the new positioning of my hair, and the dangly earrings. It all felt so very strange, and of course, it was change.

What did being a girl mean to me then? It meant strange and illogical rules. Your skirt length was linked to your levels of promiscuity, with no evidence. Your body shape was a subject for boys to discuss and critique, as though it was theirs. You would be ignored by your maths teacher, and you would go from loving it, to bored by it. You would be top of the class, but never have Maths A Level suggested to you.

What kind of teen was I? I was weird, and because I didn’t want to be weird, but couldn’t escape it, I had to pretend that weirdness was my choice.

There’s one thing I’m grateful to my autism for; because I don’t take on social information automatically, I was never as susceptible to gender stereotypes.

Back then the rules of it didn’t seem as strict. Walking through toy shops I don’t ever remember there being a “blue aisle” and a “pink aisle”, the way there often is today. I’m glad no one told me that I shouldn’t like wooden swords, or that I was unladylike.

It didn’t mean I didn’t take on some more conscious messages about my sex. In my day “Girl” was a well-worn insult. “You’re such a girl.” It didn’t specifically mean that you were female, it was code for a weak, squeamish, performative distortion of feminine.

I knew being a “Girl” was a bad thing. I didn’t associate it to my sex, but it did form the basis of my utter rejection of all things pink and frilly.

I would not be a Girl, I would be a girl, I would show how I wasn’t like those “Other Girls”. I would be tough and brave and strong. You needed a spider moving? Give me a shout.

I would be just like all the other women in my life, and my friends, a real person, and not a caricature. It didn’t occur to me that I was rejecting something pretend, in reaction to something I couldn’t make logical. I’m glad that the rules around what you are allowed to like, were more flexible when I grew up.

I was never going to get married. I loved boys, I usually had a boyfriend, but I never wanted to fall into the trap of femininity. I would not be a Girl.

I was never interested in babies either. Strange, alien things that people cooed over. Why could they not see that they were just wrinkly blobs? Why did they think them beautiful? What was I missing?

I would never be tied to children, I would be too busy having adventures.

Oh how I laugh now with the benefit of hindsight. Instead of saying “I’m a girl, that’s not being a girl!”, I just agreed that being a Girl was an awful thing to be. I didn’t squeal, or wear makeup or care about fashion.

Imagine my surprise when I met a group of autistic women. Imagine my shock at discovering just how similar we were in Girliness. Or lack of.

I’m not saying that there won’t be many an autistic woman out there, whose special interest is fashion or pink, but as ever, I’m only ever speaking from my own experience. It is all I know.

I got married. I had children. I sometimes even bake cakes, and it makes me really sad that I tried so hard to avoid Girly things, for no logical reason at all. Rejecting it diminished me.

I will never enjoy menstruating. I don’t think you’re supposed to. It’s an inconvenience, something else to think about. I find my sensory issues are heightened when my hormone levels are high. My temperature fluctuates. Executive function is needed to be prepared, and I’m terrible at that. I’m already nervous about the menopause too, but I will cross that bridge when I get to it, and hope more research is done on ageing autistic women in the meantime.

I’m no good at remembering to take hormonal contraceptives, I’m no good at remembering when my period is due, I’m no good at wearing white trousers whilst trampolining – like the women in those old tampon adverts – my Hypermobility combined with my pregnancy put me in a wheelchair for a while, there are lots of womanly things that are hard for me.

There have been many additional challenges for my autistic womanhood, but for all of them, I am so very glad that I am one. This old body of mine has grown whole people, it is a funny old thing. I am just me. Quintessentially me. I am the only me I know, and all I know is how to be me. I love my strengths and my weaknesses. My softness and my hardness.

Rules around roles are so dangerous for autistic people. We’re a non-conformist bunch, and that is just fine.

I am reclaiming “Girl”. I am going to be such a Girl today, I’m going to split some logs with my Girly axe, then I’m going to do a Girly run around the garden with my youngest, after that I will excel at some Girly writing and if I managed to fit it in, I’ll be Girlily watching something with Girly fighting in it, and Girlily imagining that I’m still out there battling dragons with my Girly battle-axe.

I might even bake a girly cake. Imagine that.

36 thoughts on “An Autistic Woman

  1. HA! Ha! Ha! Loved this! It sounds just like my life growing up (in the suburbs). For a moment I could see my father having an apoplectic fit at the dinner table because of my disheveled clothes, my mud-caked face and my trouser pockets( hand-me-downs from my older brother, 2 sizes too big and a treasured possession (finally an item of clothing with pockets!)) bulging with pebbles, insects, snails and whatever did not manage to crawl out on its own. I never had any problem with the girly things though. My dolls were doctors, engineers, adventurers, WWII pilots….. I could do the pretty dresses and the cakes. Hated the make -up though. It felt weird on the skin and it made me look like a racoon….
    I was a girl but I just didn’t want the expectations of others to limit me in any way

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sounds like a much healthier version! Love the image of you and your pockets. I still have pockets like that. Filled to bursting with “stuff”.

      I was once chatting to my husband and paused to say “That reminds me!” Before fishing a small ceramic cup out of my cleavage. He looked bemused, I just shrugged and said, “I ran out of pocket space.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so happy I found your posts. I always love reading them because they are so beautifully raw and vulnerable. I allow my children to be free and who they are so the recent diagnosis has not scared me about her future even though I know she will have some struggles. I’ll be here for her and I’m trying to learn as much as I can about how to best be the best advocate, support and just solid love for her. I have found that the best information I can get are the things I find from women like yourself. It means the world to me that you put so much of yourself out there and I believe that when my strong, silly, creative rough, sweet animal loving girl is old enough to read them that they will mean even more to her. Thank you, from a mom always searching to learn more!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I am so very happy to have been found. I share the things I wish I had known, in the hopes that all the little girls like me can be understood. Comments like this mean the world to me, they really do 💐

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  3. I can relate to a lot of this. I played with boys a lot growing up. We played cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians. We raced bicycles. We explored the woods. I also played with Barbies, but they weren’t fashion-obsessed. My favorite was one with a little crown that was supposed to be a ballerina. I made her a Queen.
    I always felt like there were rules for social interaction that no one would tell me. I knew I was weird but I didn’t know how not to be. So I pretended not to care. Now (age 49) I really don’t care.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s been my favourite thing about ageing. Every year it gets clearer and clearer that it really doesn’t matter. Not caring is a huge freedom.

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  4. Girly things physically nauseate me. Familial disappointment that I was not born male, way too much violence I would not have ever seen if I had been born male, and a bunch of other things contribute to the whole emphatic rejection of all Girliness in my life.

    HOWEVER: (are you sitting down? this is a shocker!) I now own a more form-conscious knit tunic (I can’t call it a dress yet) and it’s YELLOW! I’ve only worn it 3x, but at least it’s soft. And I can call it a tunic. It’s Roman Military Regulation length for under the armor skirt thing the legionaries wore. I am *trying* to get more comfortable in my female skin. #Taking9Forevers

    Thanks, again, Rhi, for sharing your stuff. You help me process my stuff and also the AHA moments are almost every other sentence when I read your blog.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing that with me. Those reasons for the rejection make perfect sense, and I want to shout something about it not being fair, but that is rarely helpful.

      I love your description of your tunic! I am a huge fan of tunics (especially those with pockets – extra practical!).

      I think it’s easier to reject yourself. I know that I am the first person that I will aim my anger at when I am hurt. It takes great strength to embrace ourselves. I feel the sudden need to own a yellow tunic 💐

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t think many people do. At least no one I know, autistic or not, does. I think we tend to pick up the roles less than others do, which can make us more visibly different.

          It’s a funny thing Girliness, or it shouldn’t be, but it’s been made into something strange. Logic tells me that everything is just stuff, and which stuff you like is not relevant to anybody else.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Exactly. Although many of the neurotypical folks I know get very put out when you ask them if they ever felt not what their bodies are designed as and the social roles their society assigned to that particular set of bits. Like I’ve questioned the very nature of reality and I’m the alien (oh I’m more sure day by day I must be one! LOL). But I think you’re right. If humans were honest with their own selves about their innate sense of identity, there wouldn’t be so much the biological sex having anything to do with the inner sense of gender.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Exactly. My husband is a lot more likely to cry at a film than me, we both like a bit of DIY, I also love embroidery and crochet, and he loves to draw. That’s just our personal preferences, and personalities. When people take messages in automatically, they never analyse those messages, so find it hard to even see them when they’re pointed out.

              Keep questioning! My favourite people all make me think, and thinking is always a good start!

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Your post reminded me of growing up in the Midwestern US. I lived in a suburb, but had a rugged, wooded yard. I had a few branches that I used as fishing poles or horses. I had a hill to sled on and a swing to swing on for an hour straight. I also loved dressing up in dresses (with tights to apply pressure) and patent leather Mary Janes when going to visit my grandparents. How narrow minded it is to assume “girl” means frilly and pink ONLY. What an insult to women for guys to tell other guys they act like “girls”. I can see why this line of thinking could cause a person to hate their gender. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. So much here that I relate to. I hated dolls, I hated pink, I hated skirts, I hate make-up. Periods – well, after 30 years of painful ones (the doctor put me on the pill at the age of 14 to try to control them) I was both relieved and joyous when I had a genuine excuse for a hysterectomy at the age of 40.
    I still struggle to shop for clothes unless there is something I actually need – and then, it needs to be practical and comfortable – but if I don’t like the colours, or the fabric, I’d have be absolutely desperate to buy it. And being short means that happens more often than not.
    As for being a girl . . I’m me, I was brought up with mixed messages of equality and ‘girls don’t do that’. I rebelled, left home as soon as I could, and went into a male-dominated workplace – dairy farming. Not much is dirtier or less feminine that that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Excellent. No I can’t imagine much grubier than dairy farming 😄 I love that you chose the right path for you, regardless. I’m never happier than when I’m muddy. It means I’m doing something that makes me feel connected.

      Fabric feel is far more important than look. Always. I have a couple of things that I bought because they are visually pleasing, but I cannot wear them, they drive me up the wall. They’re all wrong.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Sorry to hog blog space Rhi, I am just struck by the similarities of all the respondents’ histories. (I suddenly hear angry echoes of all the people who told me that I should behave like a little lady and not a boy.) It is such a shame that being a girl comes with a long list of preconceived notions of what it is to be a girl and how a girl should behave/dress/ etc. It would be so much more liberating if children ( both boys and girls) were allowed to develop in sync with their natural temperaments and abilities, rather than the dictates of familial / societal expectations ( And if we in the post- materialistic west find it difficult, imagine growing up in a society which is strictly patriarchal?!)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I couldn’t agree more. It hurts both sexes to limit tastes like that. I hate the whole “boys have to be tough and not caring” just as much. It’s all illogical and damages everyone.

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  8. Interesting comments. I am not autistic myself, at least I don’t think I am, but sometimes I wonder, and my interest is through association with a little boy who is autistic. I spend time with him drawing together, always with at least one chaperone; I am a man. He loves it and asks every Friday when his mother collects him from school: ‘Pa-pa Rodney coming drawing tomorrow.’ He is of African descent and this is reflected in his approach to drawing; I want to keep it that way, let his natural propensities develop according to his disposition. He is a wonderfully happy little chap and thriving on the one to one contact.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Thanks, all things considered he is great. We’re taking him with some other African children to Chester Zoo during the coming Easter holiday to see African animals. He was born in the UK so has never seen any in real life, but neither has his mother who has lived most of her life in Africa. I’m looking forward to seeing his expression when he comes face to face with a real giraffe and how his drawings from life turn out.
        A problem I foresee is that he has never known his father who is absent and he is becoming aware of my wife and curious of our relationship to one another. I know each autistic child is different but is there any tried and tested way of explaining how mums and dads go together? Or, do I play it by ear?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Simple and factual is always best. Some people are in relationships. Others are not. I’d leave it to his mother to deal with any questions though.

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