A friend of mine recently posted an interesting result from a survey he cobbled together for a class project. The survey itself determined that, among the survey-takers (Who were autistic people mostly in the college-age demographic) non-mainstream sexual orientations and gender expressions were more common among autistic people than neurotypicals. No surprises for me there, my girlfriend and I are both autistic, and we’re both in a minority sexual orientation, and my girlfriend is of a non-mainstream gender expression/identity as a trans woman, and I know more autistic trans people than neurotypical trans people. But that may just be the company I keep, so I’m glad surveys like this exist.
Someone pointed out, interestingly, that in the survey demographics section, more self-identified autistic women participated than men (a staggering 76% of the participants were women) That’s bad news for the balance of the survey, but it did raise some interesting questions in my mind about the role of the internet in the life of the autistic person, self-reporting and discussing autism on the internet, and how your gender identity plays a role in participating in these conversations.
It’s well established already that there are more autistic men than women, but nobody is really sure why this is, and the debate rages on. The sex gap in autism diagnoses has been closing more and more in recent years, and I suspect that soon it may close entirely, but the discussion wages on. Some suggest that it is biological, due to a different way autistic genes interact with XY chromosomes. Others say that autism is a form of “hyper male brain” (lol wut?) hence, more males on the spectrum.
Finally, some believe that, because autism manifests heterogeneously, and women are expected to be more sociable, tender, and matronly, autism in women is not being detected. They argue that women with the ability to do so are more likely to hide the more unacceptable or blatant symptoms, lest they face greater scrutiny and shame for not conforming to what’s expected of them as women. As a woman on the spectrum, I lean towards this final explanation, because I’ve felt the heat of judgement on my back if I act outwardly autistic. “Be a lady!” “Stop doing that, you need to be quiet!” “You’ll never get a boyfriend/husband if you act all weird!” “Stop that, be more ladylike!” were common sayings in my childhood. I learned to internalize my emotions, to mask the autism as best as I could. I still slipped up, but I passed for the most part.
After I got diagnosed, I couldn’t talk about my symptoms or autism in school with my peers, and I definitely couldn’t discuss it with my family. So I turned to the internet. I could discuss my symptoms in detail without fear of judgement or being told I was weird or unladylike. I’ve participated in a fair amount of those surveys as well, and been more honest with them than I ever could be with my family or my “Real Life” friends.
It makes perfect sense to me that other women would turn to the internet and specifically, these types of surveys in order to talk about their autism. It’s one of the few places we are offered where many of us are not judged and not punished for our autism. It’s a release for all the times when we were forced to “pass”, or were told we had to stop whatever we were doing because it wasn’t right for a woman to do that.