Passing and Masking

(Featured image description: A white, adult woman with long, curly brown hair with her head on her hand. The background is brown)

(CN masking, transmisia, ableism, brief mention of mental illness, brief discussion of ABA) 

Hello all, 

As part of a recent update to my about page, I am planning to start discussing on my blog about what life is like as an autistic trans femme as I transition. This post is going to be a brief discussion about something that I heard today from one of the people I am out to in person about this. This is because I believe there is an important point that needs to be made.

This person told me that in order to fully transition I needed to prove myself to everyone that I meet that I am a woman. Hence, I need to learn how to act feminine. This includes body language, voices and mannerisms and that I would need a lot of help to learn what these mannerisms are.

In short, I disagree with this assertion because this felt this would be a task that not only goes against whom I am but would also be very difficult for me to carry out consistently. I will explain why in this post.

Firstly, with being autistic I am not always aware how I come across. So, if my body language doesn’t appear feminine, I likely have no idea that’s the case. Furthermore, even when I try to present feminine it will be very hard to maintain the image as I fundamentally can’t mask.

Additionally, executive dysfunction may also get in the way which may make daily feminine tasks difficult, such as doing makeup to cover up facial hair and shaving body hair. Plus, I have seen cis autistic women that find it difficult to meet these standards or choose not to. It would be very unfair on them to be judged by these same arbitrary standards. 

However, I then realised how much this is similar to masking – and how there is still the widespread ableist assumption that autistic people need to mask to be accepted in wider society. I have talked about this before. We see this pervasive attitude in wider culture and through how ABA is being forced on autistic children from a young age in an attempt to “normalise” them with no regard for their mental wellbeing. 

And the reason why both passing and masking are problematic is because they blame the autistic trans person for their own differences. Basically, the narrative says that both autistic people and trans people alike (regardless of whether they are both autistic and trans) aren’t good enough as they are. In other words, the narrative says they are not who they identify as, they are what other people decide they are. 

However, the actual narrative should be – the trans autistic person is fine as they are. They are NOT the problem. The problem is the attitudes of many people in the world around them which are compounded by the existance of so many myths and misunderstanding.

On a personal level, being autistic and trans is very confusing. I know that I am a trans woman, yet I myself have difficulty putting my own experiences into words because there is little good information out there. This is one thing that makes it harder for autistic trans women to find their place in the world. There is a little understanding of how you can be both autistic and trans and how to support these people. 

One thing I can say that will be useful is – don’t force trans autistic people to mask. Being made to pass to meet outdated binary gender standards is a double blow alongside being made to mask due to being autistic. Can you imagine the consequences on autistic trans people’s mental health? Is it not surprising that this is more likely to lead to mental health issues?

The only possible and only exception (depending on the context) would be in either a medical or legal context to overcome gatekeeping and even then it should be a last resort. This is because many professionals in these areas have a poor understanding of both trans issues and what autism actually is. In other words, trans autistic people should do what is required and necessary to get on hormones, surgery, legal recognition or whatever else is required. 

It’s worth noting that the issue becomes more complicated for those whom wish to present non-binary and this makes it even harder for them. I am fairly binary when it comes to how I want to present so I am not one to talk about this on a deep level.

So how am I going to “pass and mask?” The answer is that I will do it on my terms aka as little as possible. There is no right or wrong way to be autistic. There is no right or wrong way to approach gender either. It’s time the world realised that. 

Best wishes, 

Milla x 

(@subtlykawaii)

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