Today I saw yet another person trying to make a statement about “atypical”/”female” autism traits, and I’m a little frustrated. I mean, it’s good that people aren’t taking either the assumed femaleness or the assumed rareness of these traits at face value, but… can we not go around claiming to know definitively what does create those traits or make them a distinct subtype? Because we don’t know. Has anyone studied this? In a way that acknowledges that gender and assigned sex are different things? No? Then how do we know whether these traits are actually more common in women, or more common in AFAB people, or anything?
(I’m guessing no one has actually studied this even in a trans-erasing way. This dividing people up into highly-detailed ~types~ is very tempting… and it’s basically what psychology is built on… but it’s kind of hard to turn it into a falsifiable hypothesis and I’m guessing nobody has bothered.)
People are answering this question based on what they think should be true. People who think everything is biological are calling it a biological difference. People who don’t believe in sex-based brain differences are saying it can’t possibly be biological, it has to be social. People who are concerned about respecting trans and nonbinary people are saying a lot of different things depending on what they think about gender.
But it’s all so reductive! Even if we knew for sure that (a) these traits were associated with gender, and (b) that the association was becaues of learned social norms, saying “These traits are caused by this experience which is caused by having this gender” is so so so oversimplified.
This is very personal stuff to make such broad, simplified statements about. Avoiding TERF logic re: gendered socialization is good, but by asserting a one-sentence explanation of why people have these traits, you’re explaining people’s genders and personalities to them and not giving them any room to disagree.
And also, again, you don’t actually know what causes this. You just know that some people have noticed what seems like a gender-related pattern. That’s all.
Some factors that might affect whether someone is perceived as having “typical” or “atypical” autistic traits:
- Their actual internal experience of autism, not everybody actually has the same set of autism “symptoms”
- Their internal experiences of some other mental illness or disability
- Other brain differences maybe IDK, who really knows how brains work?
- Gendered norms/stereotypes they’ve internalized
- Cultural norms in general they’ve internalized
- Smaller-scale norms they’ve internalized or lessons they’ve learned (e.g. things about their family that aren’t typical for their society at large)
- Their own individual fucking personalities
- Other people’s internalized cultural norms, assumptions about autism, and personal opinions and biases, which affect which of an autistic person’s traits they notice and how they interpret those traits.
And this category that we’re sorting people into is so fuzzy anyway! How can you possibly say there’s one definitive explanation for it?