A long time ago I had a manager who said to a colleague ‘Yenn shouldn’t say they are autistic, They are too mild’. The colleague passed this on to me and I felt dreadful. I also felt angry. How could this person with a very limited understanding of autism pass judgement on my experience of being autistic? In fact anger was the correct response in this situation because what the manager said was known as ‘micro-aggression’ and autistic people – among a large number of other groups – face micro-aggressions quite frequently and this is not OK.
Despite my outrage at the comment I still felt that maybe they were right? Maybe I wasn’t very autistic, although how was such a thing calculated? How can a person tell how autistic another person is? Is there a scale for autism? Of course there isn’t! Being autistic is an individual thing and all autistic people experience their autism differently. The problem – well, one of the many problems – of saying someone ‘isn’t autistic enough’ is that it ignores a range of things that are going on. For example, many autistic people mask and camouflage in order to survive in a predominantly neurotypical world. Masking can make people seem somehow less autistic to others meaning that others don’t see what they are really experiencing. Someone might be having a very challenging time but will hide it to avoid judgement. Also autistic people have fluctuations in the degree of difficulty of navigating the world. For example, I am a highly-paid and sought after professional employee. I work in government administration and wear suits to work and things like that. People see me as incredibly ‘high functioning’ and not just as an autistic person but as a human being. I am a huge overachiever and outside of my day job I write books and give presentations. I am a TEDx speaker. I have a worldwide profile. You might think that I am ‘very mild’. However there are a few things at play here. I don’t mask any more and am 100% out loud and proud, at work as well as in the rest of my life. This means I can archive a lot as I don’t have to spend all my energy trying to seem like someone I am not. The other thing is that I can be extremely challenged in life but it’s just that most people don’t see it. I was in hospital once and I was so unwell and frazzled that the doctor was trying to find my support worker! And what happens behind closed doors at Yennski HQ looks very different to who I am at work or at conferences.
And finally it is not up to others to pass judgement on how autistic we may or may not be. Our identity is our own and it is not up to anyone to question or challenge this. If I am autistic then I am autistic enough!
The other thing I want to look at is gender identity and ‘not being trans enough’. I cam out as non-binary and transgender in 2018. This was an absolute liberation and I was so proud to be gender divergent. I wrote widely on my experience and I actually have two books on autism and gender diversity which I wrote since coming out. I loved my trans identity so much I felt that I needed to share it with the world. However one thing which made me very stressed was worrying that I somehow ‘wasn’t trans enough.‘ This mostly centred around my gender expression. Gender expression relates to the outward expression of one’s gender identity. For example, society views someone wearing a dress as being female – well, in Australia that is, not necessarily everywhere else. My own gender expression has changed over the years. As a teen I had a shaved head and wore flannelette shirts and work boots. I was viewed as being ‘male.’ In recent years I have developed a specific Yennski stye which has some traditionally ‘masculine’ elements and some traditionally ‘feminine’ ones. I wear jewellery most days but many of my clothes come from the ‘men’s’ section. One of my key criteria for buying clothes is to avoid getting anything ‘too girly.’
However, while I am pretty certain that my gender is non-binary and my expression is – as one of my supporters said – Yenn’s ‘sweet enby style’ (‘enby’ is a word for non-binary), I worried that people kept misgendering me as female. My biggest worry with this was to wonder if in fact I wasn’t ‘trans enough’. How could I address this? What if I had made a big mistake and in fact I was a cis gender woman who was confused? Maybe I wanted to be trans but I wasn’t really? Eventually I had an epiphany. (I love a good epiphany!!) I realised that I am absolutely 100% non-binary. When I came out I spent t least three months so happy that I wanted to dance down thew street. I realised one critical thing about identity: If I identify as transgender then I am transgender. I could wear a dress and high heels and makeup or a blue singlet and work boots. I would still be transgender. These things do not denote gender. I am trans enough simply because I am trans.
I think it is a lovely realisation to know that I am enough. I don’t need to satisfy anyone expectations of an autistic person or a transgender person. The key is identity. How we identify is who we are, and nobody has the right to criticise or question our identity.