Gender Identity: The Least of My Concerns

Last week I overheard my 5th grader, Olivia talking with her friend about not being a “girly-girl.” She asked if her friend noticed. Her friend said “yes.” Then Olivia asked her if she cared. So I asked myself, did I notice that Olivia wasn’t a “girly-girl?” Did I care?

Gender Identity: The Least of My Concerns https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/the-least-of-my-concerns/

If your child is expressing a non-binary gender identity, I invite you to notice and to see in what ways you care. I ask you to question norms, explore your own childhood experiences, and come to your own conclusions.

Jamie Freed writes, “Individuals on the Autism spectrum tend to be less influenced by or responsive to societal expectations or constraints…This natural inclination to be oneself and not follow the crowd or societal norms, seems to correlate with a higher than average incidence of individuals on the spectrum having greater variance and flexibility in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Many on the Autism spectrum do not subscribe to the prevailing binary definitions.” (AspergersAutismNetwork)

Olivia has fun with all her friends, yet with her male friends, she comes alive. I grew up with two sisters and played exclusively with girls for much of my childhood. My sisters and I had girls of all ages to play with on our suburban cul-de-sac. I want to understand Olivia’s joy in playing with boys.

In her own characterization, boys don’t cry or get confused or hurt; they’re always doing stuff. If they’re quiet, they’re coming up with creative or destructive ideas. Play is motivated by cause and effect, a satisfaction or curiosity or humor. Game for all ideas and quick to laughter, Olivia participates with abandon.

Deborah Rudacille cites, “Between 8 and 10 percent of children and adolescents seen at gender clinics around the world meet the diagnostic criteria for autism 20 percent have autism traits …. the same numbers of birth males and females appear to be affected — which is surprising, given that in the general population, autism skews male.” (SpectrumNews).

Further, according to the National Association for Gifted Children, (GLSEN, 2016): 95.7% of LGBTQ students heard negative remarks about gender expression (not acting “masculine enough” or “feminine enough.”)” This dysphoria and aggression are foreign and scary to me. What might it mean for our kids?


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Olivia’s gender identity is neutral. She identifies as a girl but on a gender continuum. She has a framed insect taxonomy on her wall and eight large taxidermy beetles. She won’t cut or care for her hair. She won’t shop or choose her own clothes but would rather stay in the same comfortable clothes she sleeps in. She knows she’s different from cisgender girls and is proud and self- accepting. Much will be revealed through puberty. Will her sexual maturity feel like her body’s betrayal? Will she love her body and the attention it brings? If so, from whom? Questions to fuel my future interior inquiries.

When Olivia was born her big dark eyes told a story; she was quiet and wise, introverted and strong. While Olivia might turn out to be cisgendered or non-binary, I don’t care. I want her to feel authentic in all areas of her life. It’s the wonder and gift of becoming.

Today Olivia ran to be a class representative. She did not win. A sharp pain in my chest exploded, “That really, really sucks Olivia. I’m so sorry. If I were in your class, I would have voted for you a hundred times. Her five-year-old sister’s eyes opened wildly. She put her arms out, as wide as they could go. “Olivia, I would have voted for you 100 and 99 and 6 times. And 42 1 million. This much.”

And Olivia looked okay. We see all her joy and suffering and we’re 100 and 99 and 6 and 42 and 1 million percent on her side. In this dimension of her life, the loss of love and support from her family will not be a source of distress. For those are in abundance. Yet, this journey is hers, not mine.

Freed, Jamie. (n.d.). Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Asperger/Autism. Asperger/Autism Network. Retrieved from https://www.aane.org/sexual-orientation-gender-identity-aspergerautism/

Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN). (2016). GLSEN 2015 National School Climate Survey: Executive Summary. Retrieved from https://www.glsen.org/article/2015-national-school-climate-survey

National Association for Gifted Children. (2015). Supporting gifted students with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Retrieved from http://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Position%20Statement/GLBTQ%20%28se pt%202015%29.pdf

Rudacille, Deborah. (November 7, 2016). New Clinical Guidelines Address Gender Dysphoria in Autism. Spectrum. https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/new-clinical-guidelines-address-gender-dysphoria-autism/

Adina Klein, PhD is a clinical psychologist with a busy practice in the Bay Area who lives her life by the hour. Adina’s two daughters are an endless source of humility, laughter, frustration, and joy. She supports her life as a working mother by literally running away from home, being active in nature, imagining future travel, writing, and meditating.

This article was featured in Issue 84 – The Journey to Good Health and Well-Being

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