On Autism and Identity

While inking over the past few weeks, I have had much time to reflect on my recent autism spectrum diagnosis, my current health issues, and how both these things intersect with my identity and reframe the formative events of my past. I am interested in exploring this more deeply when I am ready to finally put pen-to-paper illustrating my early life. I hope my story can benefit others.

“Camouflaging” in autism refers to the process by which an autistic person develops strategies to hide and/or mask their autistic traits so they can interact more successfully with neurotypical people. For myself, this has felt like trying to learn a foreign language that everyone else seems to speak naturally. The inner disconnect caused by rejection of the authentic self, and acceptance by others of the “camouflaged” false self, lead me to the formation of secondary maladaptive coping mechanisms. Along with how I have been treated due to my previously-undiagnosed autism and ADHD, these have mostly manifested in the form of Cluster B Borderline traits that have lessened with age and awareness.

I believe that “Jin Wicked” began as elaborate camouflaging.

Without understanding why, exactly, the self-imposed process I have been engaged in since approximately the beginning of 2015 has been about undoing this camouflaging and its collateral damage. It is a difficult and rocky endeavour to untangle where the camouflaging ends and the authentic self begins.

I believe that camouflaging has been an element of my recurring depression.

Adding another layer to this is the introduction of gender, and gender roles. I have commented in the past that my femininity has often felt performative, and have less-publicly discussed feeling something best described as “agender.” For me, this means that I do not feel especially feminine or masculine, rather than identifying with one, the other, or both. This is not unheard of. As a child, I fantasized about being born a boy because I, at the time, believed it was unavoidable that I would be forced to bear biological children.

Frequently, these fantasies also included having no breasts or nipples, or my ovaries suddenly shriveling up and dying. It is important to note that I did not, and do not, identify as or want to be male. It was simply the only “other option” imaginable to me as a child. This is key to the outsized offense I have felt when facing obstacles as “a woman,” since I do not identify strongly that way in the first place. These days I prefer female pronouns mainly due to my interest in breaking down the barriers of how “being a woman” is defined.

Maybe relevant; there is some interesting research demonstrating that the brains of autistic females seem to resemble the brains of neurotypical males.

Last week I got my first mammogram, at nearly forty-one, which escalated quickly to an ultrasound and biopsy due to a small mass that was discovered. The mass was benign, but my overall breast cancer risk has been calculated at about 42%, compared to the general population at about 11%. I was deeply affected by being a caregiver for my mother, and witnessing her slow decline and gruesome death from metastatic breast cancer. I have a consultation with a surgeon shortly before Christmas to discuss my wished-for prophylactic double-mastectomy.

I hope that will happen in the spring, after healing from my hysterectomy.

It is a strange gift from the grave, indeed, that this illness and my mother are helping to give me the body that I have always wanted for myself.

My sexuality is not something I care to discuss in great detail. However, I have collected enough data, experience, and perspective to realize that the number of people I have been genuinely sexually attracted to over the course of my life can be counted on one hand. The life-long process of discovering this has resulted in many awkward, unfortunate, and sometimes traumatic sexual experiences.

I believe autistic women are uniquely vulnerable to sexual traumas, due to the dual pressures to “fit in” with a confusing, neurotypical world, and meet society’s expectations of women in general. Most of my sexual experiences have resulted from a desire to please or placate a partner, figure out what I am/was “missing” because I felt abnormal, and/or perform my role as a woman “correctly.” This includes situations where I feel my naivete and loneliness were exploited.

It also cannot be understated how addictive and insidious “approval” and positive-reinforcement are to someone that relies on internal scripts to get by; particularly to myself, suffering from alienation and chronic loneliness.

Enduring, and even provoking, unwanted attention and sexual advances from men because I thought that is what I was “supposed” to do took quite a heavy toll on both my self-image and psychological well-being over the years.

This has been compounded by unwanted sexual advances, comments, and inappropriate behaviour coming from customers, convention attendees, patrons, and others who financially supported me in some way — forcing me to regularly choose between my sense of safety and the ability to live. This is a systemic problem most women endure, but autism further complicates it.

I am grateful to the men who were able to recognize my vulnerability, on a conscious or subconscious level, and maintain appropriate sexual and/or non-sexual boundaries and relationships with me. I am grateful to all those who have been patient with me, as I have dug into the past, to understand who and what I am. And I am sorry for those I have unintentionally hurt by not being able to know myself; above all, my ex-husband, who never did anything “wrong.”

If you take only one thing away from this, let it be the importance of early intervention, and recognizing when children need extra help and guidance. Our world is increasingly constructed for a specific kind of brain that easily navigates a one-size-fits-all education system, society, and workplace. It is impossible to know how my life would have turned out differently if my parents’ response to my behaviour problems and struggling was attention and professional intervention, instead of anger, judgement, and violence. I do know that I am one of the fortunate ones — I could have easily been another suicide statistic.

Though I will be looking into if I qualify for SSDI, there are also not many services available to people who can almost, but not quite consistently support themselves. For environmental and interpersonal reasons, I have had significant trouble maintaining traditional employment for more than a year or two at a time. My fundraiser at the beginning of 2020, a dwindling emergency fund, and small business aid have helped me weather the pandemic. Going into 2021, and the long-term, I need to at least double my number of Patreon subscribers.

I will be off-camera for a while as I continue to focus on my upcoming art book, take time to process everything that has happened recently, and recover from medical procedures. I am still currently in a great deal of discomfort — and frequently — pain. More generally, I have been burnt-out and exhausted.

Please stay safe, and I hope you have the best holiday season possible.