Tuesday, 4 September 2018
What do we mean by autistic females? A third are Gender Diverse.
We need to talk about autistic females, and what we mean by that.
Rita George has been working on this subject for some years. The picture above is from her 2016 paper, Here.
I'll talk us through it. It shows the results from 216 autistic people ("ASD" on the chart) who have 'female' on their birth certificates, and 158 non-autistic people ("TD (Typically developing) who likewise have 'female' on their birth certificates. They were asked what their gender identity is.
For the autistic people that many have been referring to as females, a third do not use the word 'woman' to describe their gender. Some identify as male or as Transgender. Some as BiGender, fairly large numbers identify as Genderqueer or couldn't find the right word from that list so ticked 'other'. So, 1 in 3 of the autistic people we're calling female or woman may not identify with those words.
Why does it matter? Because we get all these conferences for 'autistic females/women', and all those books for 'autistic females/women'. There are blogs about autistic females, videos about autistic females...
...and the rest are erased from view by nearly all of the big reports, budget holders, major charities. In most cases there's not a mention of gender diversity. There's mention of males. There's not mention of the other gender diversities.
The other gender groups may be missed from research, because there aren't studies that ask for their participation too. So we are missing up to a third of our data set, and the research on 'all autistic people' may not be correct.
Pretty much everywhere they go, they are missing from the list. A full third of autistic people many may think of as women (but who identify otherwise) are being routinely ignored in the places where it would matter to their lives and survival.
Why in particular does it matter? Because we know from research that individuals who are autistic and have a different gender or sexuality are at far greater risk of bullying, exclusion and really, really bad outcomes from that. Greater risk of suicide. Greater risk of poor health. It matters because if we are trying to improve outcomes, we need to know what our starting points are, and we need to work with autistic people in collaborative and good ways.
We're not doing our best for autistic people until we look very seriously at gender identity, instead of only using the male/female binary and thinking we've done the job. Do I mean that conferences for women should call themselves something else? No. Do I mean they should give equal billing to other gender IDs when it's a conference about males or females? No. I mean that when someone's on that platform talking about "men and women" it would be good to remember the greater diversity too. I mean when people commission books, they might want to commission more on gender diversities. I mean when people set budgets for a conference series, they might want to set one for gender ID differences also (and some have - thank you). I've worked for decades to raise public aknowledgement, diagnosis and inclusion of autistic females, and I also raise the same for the other marginalised gender IDs now.
I've focused here on what we mean by females, because this is the subject of this blog post. More than 1 in 5 of the autistic people we're perhaps calling male don't identify as male. We're not assisting them either by failing to notice or include them.
Autistic people are immensely diverse. We need to be mindful of this, and of our collective responsibilities to seek good outcomes for all. We need more good research for, by and with autistic people in partnership. We need more support for those who are struggling to survive, in a society where hate for autistic people is too common, and hating gender-diverse individuals is too often seen as OK. Seen all the stuff about 'Oh my, there could be a gender-diverse person in the toilets!". Imagine that life of non-existence for our young autistic Trans individuals, struggling to survive, for example. The only time people notice them is to hate them for needing to pee....? Is this the best we can do?
Too many of our loved and wonderful autistic young people pay for all of this with their lives.
Every single life is precious.
Thank you for reading.