Ok, I’m going to be brutally honest here and set myself up for quite a lot of potential judgment, but it might be worth it if, in the long run, I can help someone else sort this out.
First, let me tell you where I’m coming from: I have a B.A. in Communications, focusing mainly on the art and production side of it, but also on the interpersonal side of it as opposed to the marketing/public relations aspects. The classes I was required to take involved in studying all sorts of things that go into human communication. Intro to Human Communication and Intercultural Communication were two classes that really challenged me for a number of reasons. In both classes, we were required to really dig into how we identified ourselves, because how you identify yourself plays a major part in communicating with other people. Perceptions are an important part of communication… and the ability to understand and manipulate those perceptions is something that is often not entirely present in people on the spectrum. I know this first hand… as some of the things I learned in these classes were real eye-openers. I spent a lot of moments saying, “OH! So THAT’s what’s going on!”
I had been challenged in Intro to Human Communications to explain a time where gender played a role in a communication problem. In attempting to write that paper, I realized that my lack of gender consciousness is something that plays a BIG role in communication problems. While I understand that men and women are different and think differently… I’d never quite been able to put the connection together that this was why I had so much trouble relating to people. All of a sudden, while writing this paper, I realized that people expect me to act, think, and respond like a woman because physically, that’s what I am. The fact that people have expectations based on gender, had never occurred to me. Since then, I have been a bit more conscious of how people might perceive some of what I say and do, but not having a particularly strong feminine identity still presents quite a few challenges.
Here’s the part where it gets a bit controversial and something that parents of kids with gender identity issues might really want to think about: Gender is one thing. Sexuality is another. The two are not necessarily interchangeable, but they do have effects on each other. I’ve been dealing with a lot of friends who have been arguing over whether sexual orientation is a choice or not. While I have no opinion one way or the other about the sexual orientation of NT people being by choice or not, being on the spectrum is not a choice. The gender confusion/gender identity issues that can come with it are also not choices. The resulting sexual attraction to one gender or the other, or both, or none at all is also not a choice.
Where am I going with this? Well, I think it’s important that parents and others who work with kids on the spectrum create a non-judgmental place for these kids to sort this stuff out. People on the spectrum can’t always identify what they’re feeling… not just emotionally, but physically as well. Imagine being “turned on” and having no idea what that feeling is or its source. It is difficult enough for kids with no gender issues to talk to an adult about it. Imagine the fear, imagine the confusion, for a kid who feels that toward the “wrong” gender. Especially if they’ve grown up hearing all the judgment against people who are gay, lesbian, bi, or whatever.
Yes, this is a personal issue, I am speaking from a measure of experience, but this is not an attempt to justify myself. I have no personal need for justification. You may disagree with me on whether or not I have a choice in who I’m attracted to… but I certainly have a choice on what I do with it. My personal choice is and has been to remain faithful to the man I married, regardless of who I’m attracted to… regardless of that person’s gender. I have no actions to justify. The man I married is the only person I have ever been with. So, if you must pass judgment then judge me based on my actions, not my feelings.
I am writing this so that another teenager doesn’t grow to adulthood with feelings of guilt and shame over something that doesn’t need to be a source of guilt or shame. I am writing this so another teenager doesn’t sit on the edge of suicide because of needless shame and fear. I am writing this so that another teenager can be given a chance to explore and embrace all of herself or himself instead of fearing judgment.