High-functioning autism and the struggle with feminine identity

John Collier's painting "Lady Godiva"

John Collier’s painting “Lady Godiva”

*Disclaimer – I want to make sure I state that this blog post was inspired by my own experiences. Not every person with Asperger’s Syndrome or high-functioning autism may feel the same way or experience the same issues, although from what I have read, these issues are not uncommon among females with autism.*

I have had a long, complex relationship with my own femininity. Growing up, I never noticed a huge difference between myself and other girls until I hit middle school. In elementary school I was just a “normal” little girl who was into books, Barbies and ponies. I did have some sensory and social issues, but they weren’t huge red flags back then and were easy to ignore. When I got to sixth grade it seemed like the whole world suddenly changed. Girls became obsessed with makeup, hair and clothing. They also read fashion and relationship magazines so they could learn to draw attention from the guys they liked. I was still into books, Nickelodeon, Disney movies and playing outside. I really couldn’t care less about my looks or guys. I didn’t care all that much about making friends either.

It was at this age I first experienced real bullying. I was made fun of because I didn’t start shaving as soon as the other girls did. I was picked on because I didn’t dress in style, wear makeup or have a “cool” hairstyle. I was picked on because I still liked many of the same things I liked as a little kid. I was called a lesbian or ‘butch” because I was a tomboy who was socially clueless in many ways and had no interest in guys yet. Middle school was hell for me in many ways. I was lucky to have a few friends who were outsiders in their own way, but I often felt very much alone. I was constantly told that I was unfeminine, so I started to believe it and wonder what was wrong with me.

Things got a bit better when I reached about 16 or 17. By then I had learned to “fake it” to fit in better. I still didn’t wear makeup or jewelry but I did try to look enough like everyone else to fly under the radar. I started wearing jeans and cute little t-shirts like everyone else (even though I really don’t like the feel of jeans). I adopted a hairstyle that was simple but not “weird”. However, flying under the radar didn’t always work and I started having different issues. As I matured, some guys started to find me attractive and hit on me. This made me want to run & hide. I was uncomfortable being an object of physical appreciation. I didn’t want to be called names like before, but I didn’t want to be seen as a sexual object either.

During this time I actually started to find it easier to relate to guys than girls…as long as the guys didn’t see me as more than a platonic friend. I did start to develop real feelings for certain guys around 17 but was still terribly shy and uncomfortable with the whole ‘dating’ thing. I never really dated until a couple years later when I met my husband, who I got to know online before we ever met in person. Even when we met in person we were friends for a while before we started anything romantic.

As an adult I have developed a better relationship with my femininity, but I still face judgment sometimes. When I got engaged I received real disdain from some women because I didn’t wear my engagement ring all the time (sensory issues). I often feel bored or left out when women talk endlessly about shopping, parties, clothes, weight, guys or gossip. I still don’t care that much about looks. My hairstyle is wash and dry, my clothes are simple and comfy and I haven’t worn makeup since my wedding day. Occasionally I still get a comment about how much I am “like a man” or something along those lines.

Because of these experiences, I somewhat look forward to growing older even though most women seem to dread it. I have hope that as we all age, looks and other superficial things will start to matter less and less to my peers. I don’t want to be invisible anymore like I once did, but I still don’t want to be judged by appearances. When others think of me I hope they think of intelligence and kindness. I hope they think of someone who is creative and passionate. To me, those qualities are what make someone a “real” woman anyway.

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9 thoughts on “High-functioning autism and the struggle with feminine identity

  1. All I can say is I love you! I just realized deeply, that I am autistic, and boy does it explain so much about me, my life, and the things I have faced that made no sense to me but every one else got with out the effort. I am so happy I found you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw thanks! I’m glad that my blog is helpful to you. I know when I finally found out that I had high-functioning autism, it seemed like all the mixed up pieces of my life finally made sense and came together. I understand so much more about myself and others now. I’m glad to be able to help others who are like me.

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  2. Couldn’t have put it better myself Maranda. I’m now in my early 50s with Aspergers and these are issues I’ve struggled with or thought about all my life. And yes, it is a relief to get older and not to have to worry so much about it. Only problem is you start to be judged on your age instead – suppose there’s always something.

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  3. Hello there! I´m not sure what you say about yourself should be classified as autistic. I believe many normal sensible women feel the way you did! I was much more interested in a “man´s world” when I was growing up, it was much more fun to me. I never liked and still get really bored with the stereotypical female roll. People say I´m elegant in a non typical way. I´m pretty nerdy as a scientist and as an artist. I´d say it´s confusing to attribute your interest in being a person to autism….I have some autistic patients, they´re uncomfortable with not understanding facial expressions, they also find it hard to understand social cues or lie. I quite like them, I realize their vulnerability. Also, I have some hypersensitive patients who are uncomfortable with textures , noise …..etc. I am to a certain extent, but you just have to check out a pair of high heals to see that it´s plain crazy to walk around in that all day….I also prefer nice soft clothes instead of stiff ones……
    Are we all autistic or is the world a little nutty?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! Thanks for reading and commenting. I agree that many of the traits I mentioned aren’t exclusive to Asperger’s or autism, but they are more likely to occur in women with autism than in the general public, at least according to those who study and research autism. I think a lot of it has to do with the increased sensory and social issues we struggle with, although I’m sure some of it just boils down to personality. I would never say that just because someone has these traits it means they are autistic or that if they don’t have these traits they aren’t autistic, but some of these traits (if combined with other classic or well known autistic traits) can be indications to doctors that autism should be considered. Girls with high functioning autism often present with much different and less obvious characteristics than boys (if you would like to read more on the subject I would suggest “Aspergirls” by Rudy Simone). As for if we are all autistic, I have heard it said that since autism is such a wide spectrum, perhaps all humans do fall on the spectrum somewhere, but there are those who obviously fall heavily on one side or the other. It is the ones in the middle that might have the hardest time figuring out which side they lean on.

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  4. I love the content but have strong issues with some of your language, specifically the “high functioning” label. Do you realize that it’s highly offensive? I’m an autistic self advocate so I hope you can see where I’m coming from, there’s a lot of material around the web for why that label is very harmful. It’s very nondescriptive of how a person actually is, it’s based on an inherently binary stereotype which can’t be applied to a spectrum. People who appear “high functioning” in some aspects may be very “low” in others, leading to them not getting the full treatment they deserve or being told they’re “not autistic enough”. It also obviously implies a low functioning end. Who would want to call themselves that? It is a harmful label that often tends to be self-fulfilling because of the lower expectations and the harmful effects it can have on the person’s perception of themself. I encourage you to do more reading on the subject, I’m not trying to chide. Love the article! Keep at it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: How Did I Unravel My Child's Hidden Special Autism Talent?

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