Gender is a broad term which includes one's identity, expressions, roles, and location in larger sociocultural structures. Many humans develop a sense of their own gender in the early years of their childhood, but this can also change over time. Those who are not exposed to the terminology needed to describe their gender may simply see themselves as atypical examples of the gender assigned to them, until they become familiar with such concepts.
Notable aspects of gender
- Gender identity refers to a person's felt sense of gender. Familiar examples include woman and man, but there are a multitude of others which are collectively referred to as nonbinary. One's gender may differ from the societal expectations of their culture for people of their determined sex (such individuals are called transgender), or it may align with them (called cisgender).
- Gender expression / gender presentation refers to the various culturally-specific ways of demonstrating your gender identity. This includes things like how one dresses (such as jewellery, or wearing "traditionally" masculine/feminine clothing), as well as behavioural aspects of presentation such as mannerisms (e.g. the "pansy hand" often stereotypically associated with gay men) and tones of voice. Words such as "femme" and "butch" are typically used to indicate someone's gender presentation, along with qualified modifications like "high femme" or "soft butch".
- Gender roles are the culturally expected macro-behaviours allocated to the two binary genders (woman/man). They are oppressive ways of thinking, built on socioeconomic history rather than the needs of individuals. The classical example in Western society is that of the nuclear family, centred on a heterosexual couple, with "the man" as breadwinner and "the woman" as homemaker, either having or planning to have children. Another less grandiose example is that of the "macho man" who expresses a domineering, sometimes violent personality "because that's what real men do". Since gender roles are assigned by others, they consist entirely of stereotypes that cannot fit any real person perfectly. Because of their historical origins, they don't consider queer people or autistic people at all — so as a trend, we generally don't have time for such nonsense.
Notable aspects of sex
- Neurological sex, your internal body map, as in your sense of what sex your body should be. This generally has a strong influence on a person's felt sense of gender, but it is not the sole determinant of gender.
- Primary sexual characteristics refers to your genitals, including gonads. These are developed during gestation, and cannot be altered without surgery.
- Secondary sexual characteristics refers to the body's response to sex hormones (primarily estrogen and testosterone). These include the presence of breast tissue, facial and body hair, and fat distribution over the face and body. Some of these will adapt to changes in hormone levels continuously (e.g. fat distribution, hair growth). Others can only develop in one direction (e.g. breast tissue grown in the presence of estrogen will not atrophy in the absence of it, and testosterone's effect on the trachea results in a permanent lowering of vocal pitch).
- Legal sex is determined by official documentation that may or may not match your actual internal body map. Given that it is socioculturally determined, conceptually it is closer to gender than sex, but governments take a while to catch on.
Because biology is complicated, there are exceptions to the usual rule that "XX becomes female and XY becomes male". Sometimes a person's sexual characteristics are mismatched from their chromosomes, or their primary/secondary characteristics are mismatched from one another, or perhaps they have an atypical set of sex chromosomes (XYY, XXY, XXYY). Collectively, people with such conditions are called intersex. It's worth noting that this list is not exhaustive.
- It's also possible to have anomalous chromosomes develop into a normally-functioning body! Typically such individuals are sterile, however, and discover that they're intersex after undergoing genetic testing. Unless you've seen results of your own genetic tests, you can't know for sure that you aren't intersex yourself — although it would be extremely dismissive of a very marginalised population to identify as intersex in the absence of evidence.
Needless to say, it can get pretty complicated, and it's easy for people to never think about their gender when it generally fits with the expectations of others. Sociologists call this effect "privilege", and it can often lead to poor treatment of those without such privilege. Some individuals even resent their simplistic ideas of gender being challenged by the existence of gender-nonconforming people. This can manifest as one individual being exclusionary or rude to trans people, or as wider effects like the introduction of laws designed to remove access to gender-affirming medical care.
There seems to be a trend that Autistic people either don't pick up on stereotypes as easily, or simply don't give them much weight, considering that they're bunk. We generally tend to think more in terms of concrete examples of, say, individual people, rather than a nebulous idea of what a generic woman or man "should" look and act like.
Overlap between Autism and being LGBT
There appear to be more LGBT Autistic people per capita than LGBT allistic people, although this is likely due to us not having as much of a desire (or ability) to fit in. In other words, more Autistic than allistic people may appear to be LGBT because we're more honest with ourselves, and therefore more often correct.
Another hypothesis is that autistic people tend to have relatively low social status. Hence, they have less to lose by coming out as members of the LGBT community, which is still a marginalised community.
Yet another hypothesis states that, to autistic people, all social rules seem to be "made up" and often do not make sense anyway. Social norms about gender expression and who you can date may seem just as weird and arbitrary to autistic people as the "How are you?" greeting, for example. Hence, it may be the case that autistic people simply don't bother with sticking to these arbitrary rules, and hence will more readily express their gender however they want, and date whomever they like.
Gender bias and "female autism"
As society treats people differently based on their various assumed genders and sexes (with a particular disregard for people with mismatched combinations), autistic traits may be socially interpreted differently based on which gender you were raised as, and which gender you actually were.
For example, people assumed to be girls and raised as such tend to be coerced into masking more than people assumed to be boys and raised as such, because society gives boys more leeway than girls. Combined with allistic doctors' misapprehension that autism is a "very male brain" neurotype (it isn't), and that it affects men more than women (it doesn't), this resulted in a lot of women being unaware they're autistic until they reach burnout.
Another example is the interpretation of typical Autistic traits like special interests. Due to gender bias, people will more easily believe that a boy who is "obsessed" with trains or radios is autistic, than a girl who is "obsessed" with horses or make-up. He is a "possibly genius autistic boy", and she is a "girly girl". The "obsessive" behaviour is the same. Because the gender is different, the object of the "obsession" is different, and society is sexist, the interpretation of the behaviour is different. A girl "obsessed" with trains and radios is also likely to be seen differently than a boy by allistic adults, and allistic adults even perceive infants differently based only on what sex they were told the infant was, as observed by Condry and Condry and in the Baby X study. Boys "obsessed" with make-up or other interests considered "girly" were some of the main targets for abusive programs run by "behaviorists" who invented both anti-gay "conversion therapy" and anti-autistic "behavioral therapy."
Seavey, Carol & Katz, Phyllis & Zalk, Sue. (1975). Baby X. Sex Roles. 1. 103-109. 10.1007/BF00288004. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226552742_Baby_X
Condry, J., & Condry, S. (1976). Sex differences: A study of the eye of the beholder. Child Development, 47(3), 812–819. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1977-08225-001