Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Zisk, Alyssa Hillary. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Zisk, A. H. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Discussion on the Gender Binary

Trigger Warning: References to forced normalization, anti-trans bigotry+violence, cissexism, binarism

In the current society, it does not appear possible to live entirely without gender- it is certainly possible to have a genderless identity, and it is possible to perform in ways that make it extremely difficult for others to determine a gender, but it seems impossible to avoid having others read the performance as belonging to one of the two binary genders. (The performance may, however, be read as being a defective or incorrect version of one of these two genders.)
I claim that it is possible to identify with no gender at all due to both knowing people who do so and to having run across statements from those who do so over the course of research for another project, namely discussing the erasure of Queer Autistic people. In this research, I had difficulty finding anything academic about sexual orientation, perhaps due to assumptions that we are incapable of relationships (a false assumption) and that our sexuality would therefore be irrelevant (I had better luck with Autistic bloggers, who have written both about their orientations and about the erasure of their orientations.) One wrote about navigating a world full of gendered signals that were invisible to their genderless self, and another wrote that questions asking about gender remind him of being asked for "miles per gallon" of a vehicle powered by solar electricity. (Jack 2012.) Using writings from many Autistic people as well as researchers not identified as on the spectrum, Jack discusses a view of gender as a copia from autistic perspectives, noting that many Autistic people have non-traditional gender identities. Sometimes, these identities are a matter of dis-identifying with both binary genders, stating a genderless identity, or claiming to lack the internal wiring to see gender as an important variable (Jack 2012.) Given this sort of identification as part of newly more common questioning if gender comes in more than just two flavors (Rosenberg 159,) it's clear that a genderless identity is possible.
However, I do not think it is currently possible to be read by others as genderless- gender identity, assignment, and presentation are three different things (Lee and Shaw 107,) and I would argue that attempted presentation is not the same thing as how presentations are read by others. The idea of androgyny many have is one that emphasizes the masculine, viewing it as neutral (Lee and Shaw 109,) so a performance that is actually a mix of masculine and feminine will be read as feminine. This is the issue I run into with my performance, which includes a mix of masculine and feminine pieces and is read consistently as feminine, sometimes as poorly done feminine. It is also part of a social construction of gender which privileges masculinity as ideal or as neutral- men are not often thought of as a gender group (Lorber 127.)
Society is, in many cases, terrified of those who may break the gender binary, assigning a gender at birth, then using surgery and hormones to make those who are biologically intersexed fit (Lee and Shaw 106.) Forcing performance in alignment with the gender assigned at birth is often considered a part of therapy for autistic children (Bumiller,) noted in her essay about autism, political theory, and working against forced normalization. This is not, of course, exclusive to autism- anyone who veers too far from gendered social standards is subject to sanctions, both formal and not (Lorber 127.) These sorts of sanctions are what many trans* people run into, having been pushed into one gender box their whole lives but fitting better in the other (or in neither!) Trans* people are at risk for all sorts of discrimination and hate crimes (Rosenberg 160,) which looks like an adult and higher stakes version of the sanctions Lorber describes.
This fear of those who break the gender binary, or even those who simply wish to take the "other" position within an untouched and unquestioned binary as Richards seems to (qtd. in Rosenberg 161,) stems from the institution of gender as a way of creating social groups to assign jobs to (Lorber 127.) If a person steps outside of their assigned place within a hierarchical system, people worry that others might wish to follow, that the system could be about to collapse, and so any deviation must be eliminated swiftly. To make men fit, shame is often the weapon with which they are taught that they must not be like women (Wexler 141,) and women are socialized to be all the things men are shamed out of. This shame could not work if femininity were considered equally valuable and simply different, but masculinity is privileged, and so the ways of making women conform to femininity need to be slightly different. They are also less stringently enforced, with far more women willing to admit to "tomboy" tendencies than men willing to admit to being a sissy (Lee and Shaw 105.)
It's socialized. It's all socialized, everything is culture. Things that are really results of socialization, such as the idea that men are more honest, intelligent, and courageous, while women are passive and dependent, are often stated as "biological fact" and used to push people into jobs that gender stereotypes say they are best qualified for. Even when people actively rebel against gender norms (or simply fail to understand why they are so important and innocently ignore them,) gender is still a huge part of life. Others will read us as belonging to one gender or another, based on things like a baseball cap, earrings, or choice of shoes (Lorber 126.) From those readings, we are shuttled along one path or the other, sometimes physically separated from those on the other path. When Beka, the protagonist in one Tamora Pierce novel asked how men and women could understand each other when kept separate, her cat (this is fantasy and the cat is also a constellation) replied, "They aren't expected to understand one another," he replied. "The women will learn to flirt over a friend's shoulder, instead of close. The men will see the women as distant and unknowable. Their friends will be only men. The women will see men as strong and unknowable. Their friends will be only women" (Pierce #.) That is an extreme effect, but men are often taught today that they can't understand women because of innate gender differences, when it is really socialized gender differences that make it hard for members of one gender to understand members of another.

Works Cited:
Bumiller, Kristin. "Quirky Citizens: Autism, Gender, and Reimagining Disability." Signs: Journal of Women  
     in Culture and Society 33.4 (2008): 967-91. JSTOR. ITHAKA. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.
Jack, Jordynn. "Gender Copia: Feminist Rhetorical Perspectives on an Autistic Concept of Sex/Gender."  
     Women's Studies in Communication 35.1 (2012): 1-37. Taylor & Francis Online. Taylor & Francis 
     Group, 16 May 2012. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.
Lorber, Judith. "The Social Construction of Gender." 1994. Women's Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic 
     and Contemporary Readings. By Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee. 5th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher 
     Education, 2011. 126-128. Print.
Pierce, Tamora. Mastiff. Random House, 2011. Print.
Rosenberg, Debra. "(Rethinking) Gender." 2007. Women's Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and 
     Contemporary Readings. By Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee. 5th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher 
     Education, 2011. 158-162. Print.
Shaw, Susan M., and Janet Lee. "Learning Gender." Women's Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and 
     Contemporary Readings. 5th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2011. 105-120. Print.
Wexler, David. "Shame-O-Phobia." 2010. Women's Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and 
     Contemporary Readings. By Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee. 5th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher 
     Education, 2011. 141-144. Print.

Later, shorter, or not really relevant thoughts that I still want to say:
  • I think I know Lindsay of Autist's Corner who got cited in Jack 2012. A couple others are in Loud Hands: Autistic People Speaking with me. I... am apparently citing a paper that cites the blogs of some people I know. Huh.
  • I wonder how much the whole "trouble reading neurotypical social cues" has to do with the number of Autistic people who "don't get" gender and how much it has to do with what I semi-jokingly describe as "My brain is different, and by the way, my brain is different." When I say that, in this case, I mean that Autistic people are definitely wired differently, and that there does seem to be some brain difference component to being LGBTQ+ of any flavor, and the actual neurological differences aren't that well understood for either group. For all we know, the relevant brain differences for each could be related to each other. There is some evidence of correlation.
  • I prefer to think of the masculine and feminine spectrum as being two separate sliders rather than one spectrum because more masculine doesn't nessesarily mean less feminine, at least in terms of identity. My levels of each seem to move around pretty much independently of each other, anyways. (In response to the continuum description on page 110 of the text.)
  • "Born male" and "born female" along with "man living as woman" and that sort of thing all kind of bother me- what we are assigned at birth should not get precedence over identity as what we "really" are.
  • It sounds like Smith is discriminating against transwomen. That's not cool.
  • Trans* is a notation I see trans* people use on Tumblr for basically everything other than cis. I'm going with the language choices I see trans* people actually using here.
  • I'm still working on figuring out exactly what my gender identity is. It's something in the gender-neutral/androgyne area, but exactly where is a good question. That's why I often say "they" about women.
  • Tamora Pierce was the female role model I posted about in my introduction. This is part of why. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where my copy of Mastiff is, so I'm not sure what page it's on.
  • I don't know how to walk "like a girl." I've been told there's something about swinging my hips, but that doesn't tell me how to actually do that.


  1. I've never really grokked the whole gender binary thing. I wrote an essay called "Hard and Soft" that pointed out the absurdity of the whole thing. I'm comfortable with my body and its functions, but definitely not comfortable with any society's definition of the function of gender. Maybe that's changed now that the younger generation is paying more attention to it.

  2. The problem of no one reading people as genderless/nonbinary is one I grapple with fairly often. It seems that the best I can hope for is stopping people from making incorrect assumptions by confusing them (which I try to achieve by throwing as many masculine cues into my presentation as I'm comfortable with, but don't seem to manage all that often.)

  3. It seems to me that some discussion of Baron-Cohen's theories about the extreme male brain would be germaine to this article. Any thoughts on that?

    1. It's an intro course that's not *supposed* to be about autism, so I'm not touching him with a ten foot pole because I won't have time or space to rip him to shreds. (He's not breaking binary AT ALL. He's just saying we're all actually male, even if our bodies aren't. Which ignores non-binary folks and feminine folks alike.)

  4. When I started walking swinging my hips in high school (I'm DFAB and was read as "a girl" so it was supposedly the should), I just got it'd.

    I also suspect that being autistic and being non-binary are related things about how my brain works. I am totally cool with that because both of those things are awesome, and some awesome people I know are both of those things. I used to worry that I was different in too many stereotypical ways (bisexual, vegan, genderqueer, mentally ill) and that that somehow devalued my differences/meant I wasn't "really" those things and was just doing it for . Now I think it's probably just either coincidence, or that these things are correlated for any number of reasons (mental hardwiring, learned preferences, being common among the same subcultures), and that is perfectly okay. It just means I'm being MORE of myself, not less!

    ... So many years of angst before I was in a safe enough station in life to come to that conclusion.


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