In order to describe what the “other realisation” is like, I’ve been imagining my life as being represented by a house, with a couple of new visitors, who’ve never crossed the threshold before. I know it might seem a bit daft, but the analogy works so perfectly in my head that I’m sticking with it.
The house I’m imagining is set in its own land, one of those double-fronted places, with a driveway leading up to the front door. Round the back is a kitchen, and a rusting conservatory with a few plants that are not thriving and need a bit of attention. It’s not a mansion, but a place that at one point could have been a comfortable home, although it’s never really felt quite right and has progressively decayed over the years.
I’ve spent decades sitting in the slightly uncomfortable armchairs in the front room, staring at the wallpaper I didn’t like that much, but despite an extensive search I’ve never really found anything better or anything that actually worked with the way the light came into the room. The telly has always been at just the wrong angle for correct viewing, but I’ve never been able to get it quite right, and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my interior design skills simply aren’t up to the mark.
Equally, round the back, I’ve never managed to stock the larder in the kitchen adequately, nor have I kept the plants in the conservatory in good order, and no matter how hard I’ve tried, and however nice I’ve made it, sitting in the conservatory has always felt a bit wrong, like I’m not really supposed to be there – like it’s not actually my conservatory. There’s a lovely view from the windows, but, like the telly in the front room, I can never quite see it properly, and I can’t quite work out what’s obscuring it.
The house had been this way for years. It provided shelter, and it could sometimes even be warm and a perfectly adequate home, despite its problems. But it never really felt like home. It was never quite “me”.
And then, in the summer of 2016, the first of the new visitors arrived. Somebody I’d never met before, but I knew, the instant I saw them, that we would be friends for life and that I was going to allow them to do anything they wanted to the house, despite the fact that I hate other people rearranging my furniture. This person, whose name is Autism, drove up the drive in a sports car, announcing their presence, and those who visited the house immediately noticed a huge difference there. The only reason the whole world didn’t know about this new visitor straight away was that I wanted to check they weren’t a figment of my imagination before I told the world that they’d showed up.
Autism took one look at the uncomfortable armchairs, the not-quite-right wallpaper and the angle of the telly and knew that I’d got the whole room wrong and that it would have to be completely redesigned and redecorated. They wondered how on Earth I’d spent so long sitting so awkwardly and told me that they weren’t surprised I had backache sitting on chairs like that, and eyestrain from not quite being able to see the telly, and sheer total frustration at not having ever found the only decent wallpaper shop in town.
So Autism set about redecorating the room. By October 2016 they had found the very best wallpaper and some chairs that, although not quite perfect, would do for the time being while the very best ones are being made. They had sorted the angle of the telly out, and the room, although it wasn’t finished yet, was *almost* perfect.
But only *almost* perfect.
And, once the room was so close to perfection, it was easy to spot the one thing there that was still out of place, that didn’t really fit, and didn’t really work. Only once the uncomfortable chairs had gone, did it become obvious that there was a small collection of ornaments in one corner that really shouldn’t be there. Not unpleasant ornaments, and ones that I’d had all my life, but not really right for this particular room. They just felt, in a vague sort of a way, a bit wrong.
And then the second visitor arrived.
But where the first visitor, Autism, was entirely new and I’d never met them before, the second visitor was somebody who, although I didn’t know their name, I’d known all my life. Had you shown me their picture 10 years ago I’d have recognised them easily, although I’d not have been able to tell you who they were. 20 years ago they’d have been familiar to me and I wouldn’t have known why. 40 years ago I’d have been rather surprised by them, but had they explained who they were in terms that a small child could understand I’d have known they were a friend.
I’d seen them, over the years, hanging about in the village, occasionally saying hello, but never introducing themselves formally. They’d ventured as far as the garden at the back of the house, sometimes leaving a gift on the back doorstep, for which I’ve been grateful, because their gifts have made me feel right.
And, in October, they finally noticed I’d left the back door open for them, and took their first, tentative steps into the house. They just quietly made themselves a cup of tea in the kitchen, then, while Autism was busy demolishing the front of the house, they gently watered the plants in the conservatory and moved them around a bit so that the beautiful view became evident. Eventually they quietly took the ornaments from their location in the front room and put them into the garden shed, where they should have been all along. They didn’t start shouting to the world that they were there, neither did they start tearing the place apart. They just settled in, knowing that I’d be happy to see them and quietly accept their presence when I was ready.
The second visitor’s name is Non-Binary.
And here’s where I break off the analogy and return to reality.
As I discovered I was autistic, I was so desperate to learn more and to find out what on Earth was going on in my life that I started to join groups on facebook. And I discovered that there seemed to be this huge issue with women being underdiagnosed because of the way autism presents in women and because of male stereotypes and all sorts of things (forgive me here if I’m getting stuff muddled – this, like so much in my life at the moment, is somewhat beyond my knowledge and experience, and the whole “gender identity” world is one that I have even less terminology for than the autistic world – I am so out of my depth with a lot of it that I’m treading water furiously just to stay alive).
Anyway, I joined a couple of “women’s autism” groups on facebook back in October, and my instant reaction was “Shit! What have I done? This is so so wrong. I am not a woman and I never have been.”
Let me try to explain. My birth certificate says “female”. I am, apparently, conventionally married to someone who appears to be a man. I am attracted sexually only to people with deep voices and scratchy chins and *redacted for the sake of decency*. These things are clear.
But, that isn’t the whole story. Until October I had not, since childhood, joined, or gone anywhere near, anything that was for “women only”. I will not enter the running races that are for women only. I nearly joined a menopause group on facebook earlier in 2016 when it became obvious that my perimenopausal years had started, but it said women only so I immediately backed off. I broke my own rule, bigtime, to join the autism groups because my desire to learn about autism was so strong. I wonder now whether I’ll be thrown out of them. I’ll take that risk, because, like being autistic, 45 years is quite long enough to pretend and to live the life that society expects rather than the life that works for me. I’m privileged enough (and grateful for that privilege) that I live in a place and have friends who are accepting of all these things and I can be open about them. I know this is massively lucky.
And so, when I “came out” as autistic, I was bound to be amused because there were a few of my friends who had been speculating that I would actually come out as transgender. Not quite, but gender identity is certainly part of the package, so they were close. And the more that I discover about this, the more it seems that neurodiversity and gender fluidity are in some way correlated (again, this is, at the moment, just a feeling and I’m working right at the limits of my rather paltry knowledge – all this is going to take some time to figure out).
Those who know me well have not been even the slightest bit surprised. My mother explicitly told me that the only times she observed me behaving in any sort of “girly” manner as a child was when I was with, and copying, schoolfriends. My best friend, a 78 year old male, has always accepted that we are just small boys playing together. My husband (he is, legally, a husband, though when we use the words “husband” and “wife” at home they always have quotation marks around them, and it’s no accident that my online nickname for his is The WonderSPOUSE) has been ticking the “other” box for gender for years when there’s one available, and is actually much more knowledgeable about gender issues that I am and has helped me to identify the closest term to describe what I really am.
And this isn’t about “being girly” or otherwise. It’s not about cutting my hair short or not wearing pink (which I never did anyway) or throwing skirts away or anything like that. Even as a woman I was quite happy not to be particularly “womanly” – I’ve not worn either make up or bras for two decades because of the sensory issues they cause me. My hair happens to be shoulder length at the moment – I’ve cut quite a few inches off recently to make it easier to deal with, but one of my favourite, lifelong, stims is hair twirling, so I need to keep enough to play with. These things are all surface, and I don’t see them as anything other than coincidental to gender identification. None of that stuff is the point at all.
But what is the point is that it is about feeling more right and more me. The sort of “gifts” that my second visitor would leave on the back doorstep would be such things as arriving at a coffee shop and finding that the toilets are unisex and not divided into men’s and women’s. Always, when this has happened, I know that I can simply go to a toilet that is the right place for me, rather than somewhere that is familiar but a bit wrong. On New Year’s Day 2017 I changed my gender and pronouns on my facebook account – it felt so very right and so very good, a real lovely moment in the midst of all the problems that we’re encountering with the medical profession while trying to get a formal autism diagnosis. It’s really hard to describe why this feels so good and exactly what I mean, and maybe, like autism, it’s going to take me a while to figure it out and the only people who will really understand in the meantime are those who have had similar experiences.
And, just as Non-Binary, my second, quiet, familiar visitor just tentatively made their way in through the back door of the house, I’m not, at this point, making a huge deal out of having finally realised the truth about my gender identity. There will be people in my life, I suspect, who will never come to terms with using they/their pronouns and will continue to use she/her, whatever I do because it is so far from their world view. At the moment I simply don’t have any more energy to fight any more battles – I have to stay alive, reasonably sane, and come to terms with so much other stuff that, for now, both sets of pronouns will sit side by side. My husband continues to use him/his pronouns for similar reasons.
Which is why I used the house analogy at the beginning. Discovering I was autistic has been a massive upheaval and the whole of the front of the house has indeed been totally redesigned – I’m almost shouting “autistic” from the rooftops to anyone who will listen and altering my life to fit round my autistic traits as fast as I possibly can. If you’d told me 6 months ago that I was autistic I’d have thought you’d have taken leave of your senses.
But if you’d told me 6 months, 6 years, or even 36 years ago that I was non-binary (or described what that meant) then I’d just have quietly agreed with you. It’s something I’ve always known, just like the view from the conservatory in my house analogy was always a lovely one – I just needed to move the pot plant in order to be able to see it.
So, in the space of less than six months I’ve redefined myself from whatever I was before to “autistic” and “non-binary” and as far as “coming out” is concerned, that really is now it.
Unless I discover that I’m actually an alien from the planet Zog and life gets any stranger than it already is, in which case I’ll have to write yet another blog post!!!