The Agency of Hardwiring

A friend sent me this article on the correlation between transgender identities and autism spectrum disorders. (Please read on before clicking.) I don’t ever want to say that being trans is an autistic thing – although it happens that all the trans people I know are also autistic, which is a bias most likely explained by the habit of like-minded people flocking together – but when I look at the significant amount of non-binary (which, I remind everyone, is a transgender identity) autistic bloggers, I’m all for acknowledgement. It meets my lived experience, after all.

What I didn’t quite expect was some scientific bullshit about “extreme male brain” and lack of empathy used to rationalise the existence of binary trans-masculine autistics, i.e. the assumption that female-designated autistics are “more masculine” in brain function and therefore it’s reasonable for many of them to be trans men. This invalidates every conversation I’ve ever had with another autistic person (whom I generally find to be more empathetic towards me than the average neurotypical), ignores the fact that autistic trans women exist and furthers an assumption that often denies female-designated people diagnosis (because if we’re not autistic in ways commonly expressed by men, we’re not seen as autistic). It also comes with a massive misunderstanding/mislabeling of the trans experience and forgets, entirely, about non-binary people when it’s not contributing to even more gendering. It’s okay; we non-binary folk are used to not existing. It’s the story of our lives.

(It’s bad enough, frankly, that most of the dialogue about female-designated autistics uses the words “woman” and “female” and once again excludes me even though my late diagnosis and designated gender/sex mean that this is my history, too. I’m not a woman, but I’m seen as one and I bear most in common, in terms of expression and experience, with other female/female-designated autistics. But, hey. I don’t exist, right? There aren’t non-binary autistics blogging online who … oh, who am I kidding? I don’t exist to the scientists; let’s move on.)

The problem is that this assumption about autism being deemed “male brain” so therefore we female-designated trans people are just going along with our male-brained divergent wiring bears absolutely no relationship to how I make sense of who I am.

(I say it this way because I’m not entirely comfortable with the trans-masculine label, that being another bloody binary imposed upon me. I’m not transitioning to a gender in opposition to the one I was designated. I’m transitioning out of gender altogether.)

My belief is this: we live in a world where autistics need to follow an awful lot of nonsensical-seeming rules in order to be safe and accepted. We know these rules, to our viewpoint, are absurd, but we’re forced to examine, copy and follow them. Why shouldn’t we see binary cisgender as another stupid rule, one that forces us into behaviours that make little to no sense, one that doesn’t feel comfortable or correct the way it is taught to us, one we question as to whether it even needs following? We’re already seeing the world from a different angle, so why isn’t it natural that we see the construct of gender, too, in such a way?

(For example, I find saying “Hello” to people as they enter the shop to be rude at best and even cruel: I’m forcing a social interaction on somebody who may not even want to talk to me. A kinder approach would be to let them come to me and then have a social interaction on their terms. I hate walking into K-Mart/Target/Big-W stores for this reason. I hate sales assistants asking me if I need help. If I want you, I’ll find you, now leave me alone! But no, neurotypicals think it’s polite and friendly, not damn obnoxious, so I do it, even though it’s something I find morally abhorrent. It’s a rule. A bloody stupid rule, to my mind, but a rule nonetheless.)

We know that gender isn’t static: gender is a shifting, evolving state and we can change both the words and our conception of our gender however many times we bloody well want to, be that either from a realisation that the words didn’t fit or because our gender itself changes. The scientific language for neurotypical trans people is also strongly rooted in this notion of gendered-brain and predisposition, so it’s not just us being divested of agency.

This dialogue, through, strips us all of choice.

Why are we so fascinated with the biology of difference? Why do we need to justify it by gendering brain function, which may validate some binary trans people but leaves anyone with a non-binary gender identity out in the cold?  Why are we still assuming that binary cisgender identities are the natural and normal default and anything else is a strange divergence imposed upon us? Until we can use brain function as a tool to validate all approaches to gender and alienate nobody, what’s the point of it? What’s so wrong with the idea of people just choosing to be whatever best suits them? Sure, this dialogue might make the cishets be fractionally more accepting – the scientists say it’s correct! – but what’s the worth of it when it alienates other trans people? The dialogue in the article is supposed to validate me, but it doesn’t get anywhere close!

(According to this construct, my body is gendered female and my brain is gendered male. No, I don’t consider this opposing combination of artificially and unnecessarily imposed binary gender on my sexual characteristics and brain chemistry to be validation of my genderlessness: I consider it people imposing binary gender on things that don’t require it.)

Science searches for reasons and causes. It defines and categorizes.

Do we actually need this? Do we even want it?

Queer (sexuality) dialogue isn’t much different. It’s not a choice is still said as justification for the acceptance of queer people, the implication being that queerness (in terms of sexuality and gender) is so divergent it therefore must not be a choice because nobody rational would ever choose it. Scientists still look for causes as to why we exist, the implication being that we’re not right, that we’re something that’s trackable and therefore fixable, that we are always in contrast to the normal, rational, expected, correct-human-being approach to cisgender heterosexuality.

This is thoroughly, laughably irrational. It’s downright nonsensical.

The fact is that queerness, gender, autism and any other state of divergence from the assumed status quo of being human (read: white, able-bodied, cis-masculine, straight, neurotypical, etc) is only by-default-difficult because society treats us as though we’re unnatural, wrong, damaged, broken and inhuman for just being who we are.  Would I struggle less with my mental illnesses and chronic pain in the world if society acknowledged and supported those conditions because it doesn’t assume me to be able-bodied and decide that not-able-bodied-me is a too-expensive, too-demanding problem only to be dropped in the too-hard basket? Yes, a thousand times yes.

We are not wrong, but we live in a world where, in the past hundred years alone, we have been murdered, massacred, imprisoned, assaulted, beaten, violated, dismissed, ignored, denied and abused, as an introductory list, for the crime of not being the right kind of human. Other humans have taken it upon themselves to judge us and tell us that we are wrong and they’ve been doing so for thousands of years.

Then they tell us, of course, when they’ve come around to the idea that we might be halfway human after all, after a great deal of dialogue and action on our part no less, that it’s not our fault we are who we are: it’s not our choice.

(Personally, I find this as condescending as fuck.)

I haven’t chosen to be autistic. I haven’t chosen chronic pain or mental illness. Those things are outside our ability to choose. The best we can do is work our way to a point where we might (and this is a highly individualistic position) decide that we’d take our crosses even if we could have chosen. (For example, the empathy gained by being all of these things might, for some of us, be worth it. Likewise, the community.) I haven’t chosen to be attracted to women and I haven’t chosen to see androgyny when I look at my body in the mirror. I haven’t chosen my lack of interest in romantic relationships or my partial interest in sexual ones. They’re just who I am and that should be okay.

I have chosen to be genderless even though nobody takes it seriously. I have chosen to be pansexual.

I object to the notion that sexuality and gender identity is a fixed concept we cannot also choose to be.

Sex isn’t about procreation. Marriage, historically, has often been, but sex isn’t or else we wouldn’t have a history of religious precepts telling us the correct people with whom to have sex. (Usually, someone of the opposite sex to whom one is married.) Marriage, to my mind, is society’s way to control and direct the procreation that sometimes happens when the right combination of people fuck. We’re humans, not animals. We know an awful lot of us have sex for connection, interaction, sensation, entertainment and expression (in addition to less positive reasons), and that’s right, natural and awesome. Viewed in this light – where we separate sex from the illusion that it’s only for purposes of procreation – heterosexuality as the assumed default is at best irrational. Not only are we taught that our partner comes from a gender opposite to us, thereby cutting our options in partners to half, we’re confusing it with procreation even though it’s an optional extra. How is this empowering to uterus-equipped people who can’t have “correct” heterosexual sex without the worry of pregnancy? How is it rational to teach us that the right kind of sex (heterosexual sex between opposing cisgender partners) comes at such a high risk of physical trauma in a world where overpopulation is a significant issue and then shame women for even fucking in the first place … but this is still better than two women in a sexual or romantic relationship? The fuck? The advent of birth control has helped, but there’s still a great many places in the world where this isn’t the case, yet heterosexuality is prized as the one way to be human!

Is it so strange for anyone to look at that and go fuck that, I’m going to be fucking queer?

Some of us, maybe a lot of us, are so fixed in our sexual desires (although I wonder how fixed we’d be if we didn’t live in a world that shoved heterosexuality as the default down our throats: would we as human beings be more inclined to bisexuality/pansexuality if we lived in a world where that was the norm?) that we’re limited in to whom we’re attracted, and that’s both out of our control and okay. (As long as we’re never preaching that any one way is the right way to be a sexual or even asexual human.) Some of us, though, probably aren’t. Some of us, maybe, looked at the mess that is the norms for sexual identity, rolled our eyes heavenward and decided we don’t want to operate in a world where we’re denying sex or love based on gender. Some of us, perhaps, looked at the restrictions of opposite-gender relationships, or the difficulty in connecting with someone whose sexual experience and/or gender identity is so different from our own, and decided that same-gender relationships make so much better sense. Some of us chose.

Some of us looked at the gender binary as a ridiculous concept of telling people how to be and think and behave dependent on the bodies we get at birth and the gender associated with them, and went fuck that. Some of us might feel, irrevocably, that we are a gender that may or may not match the body we possess that is usually and erroneously associated with another gender. Some of us might feel that our body is wrong; some of us might feel that how others gender our body is wrong. Some of us might look at gender and find power and identity within one set of characteristics … or identity in being one particular gender and defying those assumed characteristics. Some of us might look at the socially-constructed, misogynistic disaster that is the gender binary and decide, in a rational and sensible way, that a system by nature that represses expression, change and freedom is a fucked-up mess … so we’re going to create our own understanding of gender.

In a more celebratory viewpoint of gender, being trans means an exploration, possession and understanding that I don’t think cisgender people get. It’s a dangerous, frightening process (although it just shouldn’t be) but we get to know ourselves and our desires and our inclination to expression through not taking something like the gender we’re designated for granted. We get to confront gender, fuck it, twist it, play with it, distort it, claim it, discard it, manipulate it, break it, cuddle it, honour it, embrace it. How is this not empowering to look something in the eye and decide for ourselves what it means to us and how we’re going to live with it?

We are choosing, every day, what kind of person we wish to be.

A butch lesbian might not consciously choose to be a woman or a lesbian, but she chooses both to live as those identities and how she expresses them. Is it so far out there to think that people can just choose to be queer or trans?

Why does this have to be hardwired, a state beyond choice? Why do we need to find ways to scientifically justify something that is only irrational and unnatural in the eyes of cishets? Why does our safety, security and acceptance have to be based on science finding ways to make us real when the only thing that should make us real is our own voice?

Oh, we’ve all heard homophobic, heterocentric, transphobic and ciscentric people use this against us: being queer is a (lifestyle) choice. I understand the need to push back against this, I do, and the easy argument is simple: being queer isn’t a choice, so stop using this to deny us basic equality, safety and acceptance.

The correct answer, though, is this: being queer is sometimes a choice, and sometimes it isn’t, but, choice or not, there is no reason to deny us basic human rights.

The correct answer is that we don’t engage in this bullshit argument at all.

I chose to be pansexual on the basis that, while I’m not naturally attracted to men, the idea of not choosing a partner who might otherwise be perfect for me on the basis of gender is downright nonsensical, and I’m not going to discard a male partner out of hand. I feel androgynous and not-female, and gender dysphoria is part of my experience, but I choose to be genderless on the notion that gender is an oppressive construct I don’t want in my life or identity: trying to be a man made me less, not more. For me it is entirely rational and logical to choose to be both, however dangerous that choice might be. If we accept that gender isn’t static and is in fact a matter of experimentation and discovery, how is gender and even sex – in this day and age where sex is almost as mutable as gender, and this is where medical attention should be going – not to some degree a choice?

We have so much choice, even if not entirely in who we are, but in how we express it.

Some of us choose to be trans and choose to be queer, and, quite frankly, the only rational reasons I see for choosing to be cishet are those of safety or acceptance, and they should never have been allowed to be reasons in the first place.

I’m tired of scientific dialogue that’s set on taking my agency to be different away from me.

I choose.

I don’t need or want your ham-fisted, limited attempt at validation.