Coffee Space


Listen:

Autism and Trans

Preview Image

Preview Image

Disclaimer: I know this is a hot topic in the current political climate, but no subject is above civil discussion. If you can't handle discussions, there is something wrong with you - not me. The purpose of this article is not to cast a negative light on autistic or trans people, if you read it this way then you read it wrong.

Background

In this article the intention is to discuss the link between autism and trans people, and what that may or may not mean in the grand scheme of things. Other than drawing attention to this correlation, I believe there could be some other interesting links embedded within. As I cannot conduct a sizeable survey and prove out some of these ideas, of course some of it will be speculation and correlation doesn't mean causation - which is a known problem in observation-based modelling.

Why discuss this topic? Whilst this is the first question people may ask, it's also the most irrelevant. I have made a series of observations in recent times where trans persons I have come across have had autistic traits, and wondered why. A distant part of my memory fired a neuron that made me remember there had actually been some studies into this - and I decided to pull at the thread in my head. The more I thought, the more I believed it was worth noting down these ideas.

Studies

Let's begin by quoting Spectrum News:

People who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth are three to six times as likely to be autistic as cisgender people are, according to the largest study yet to examine the connection. Gender-diverse people are also more likely to report autism traits and to suspect they have undiagnosed autism.

This passage of text quotes a paper from 2020, titled: "Elevated rates of autism, other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric diagnoses, and autistic traits in transgender and gender-diverse individuals".

After a read of the paper (from somebody without a medical background), I find the datasets themselves to be not great. As the authors identify, it's entirely possible the UK Channel 4 dataset introduces a self-selection bias, as the program itself was about autism. The other datasets they mixed in to correct for this are very small in comparison to the main dataset. The Channel 4 dataset was also completely online, so this was entirely people self-reporting their own diagnosis without medical oversight - it's well known that people tend to incorrectly self-diagnose. The other problem they had was that a significant number of duplicate entries were found in the dataset, with some 60k results (roughly 10%) being thrown away.

Anecdotally I can add that there is a definition creep within the community itself, where people identifying as transgender and non-binary often think of themselves as both or either. With only three categories on the Channel 4 survey, 'Male', 'Female', 'Transgender' and 'Prefer not to say', you're possibly going to get non-binary persons identify as transgender. So it's entirely possible these numbers do not accurately reflect reality.

That all said, I still believe they were able to correct for these discrepancies enough (in my non-medical view) to make the correlation between being autistic and transgender. Multiple other studies also back this up. Of course, what this doesn't explore is the inclusion of gender dysphoria, which could also attribute to over or under representation in the datasets, something I leave to an internet flame war of the future.

Again, anecdotally, I have also seen this correlation, something that initial piqued my curiosity into the subject. Three transgender people I have interacted with in relatively close proximity (daily for example) have each been diagnosed autistic. Others I have only had glancing interactions with appeared to have autistic tendencies (judged by brief social interactions).

Questions

Following from this, I believe we can now ask some more interesting questions about this subject...

Are trans people autistic? That is to say, "does the transgender sexual identity arise from autism"? I believe statistically the answer is no. Many autistic people are not transgender and many transgender people are not autistic. There appears to be larger than 'normal' correlation, but this may come from other factors. Simply being a male trapped in a females body, or vice-versa, should not affect your ability to fundamentally process emotions or learn. Looking at the extreme, persons with severe autism don't appear to have any real sexual preference at all.

Another piece of evidence in this regard is that children show autistic characteristics before reaching sexual maturity, before even going through puberty. Babies for example can exhibit autistic traits, despite really having no meaningful gender at all. If one caused the other, you would expect that autism would correlate with some gender defining process, like puberty.

Are socially outcast persons more likely to be trans? I believe this is a 'yes'. I believe autistic people not to be deprived of emotion, just unable to interpret them or display them appropriately. To this end, this lack of intimate human connection can leave them feeling lonely and different. I believe that it's quite likely that people feeling different can be convinced, or convince themselves, that this is because they are "living in the wrong body".

Autism does appear to be genetic, therefore "living in the wrong body" is somewhat true in any case, but believing they are living as the wrong gender might be a misdiagnosis. Imagine for a moment you are an autistic person and you undergo gender reassignment surgery. After several months of awful crap (it is meant to be quite bad), I present you with a few scenarios:

  1. Everything works out fine - that is to say it was the correct decision for this person to make and they live happy ever after.
  2. Everything seems better, but isn't - that is to say that most of their social problems disappear. People try to be understanding and careful not offend around them, taking the most charitable interpretations of what they say and give the misguided belief that they are more socially accepted. Better yet, they are now part of an exclusive LGBT club where a higher than average number of members are autistic and have undergone the same procedure. On top of that, they also have a common enemy to unite against. Whilst the isolation has seemingly disappeared, their change in social acceptance has been granted by wider-societies fear of being discriminatory and now being a member to an exclusive club. Ultimately, the novelty will likely wear off - nothing is special forever.
  3. Nothing really changes - that is to say, it was a misdiagnosis and now they've completely removed their ability to have children organically. I suspect this happens more often than is publicized, especially if the persons undergoing transgender reassignment surgery or more likely to be autistic.

This leads onto the next question...

Are autistic people more likely to be persuaded by the indentity movement? I believe this to be a 'yes' - I believe this arises from the general feeling of being an outcast. The idea of being an underdog in a story is an attractive one, most stories are filled with persons fighting against great odds and prevailing. The idea of being a victor in the face of such overwhelming odds is a romantic notion.

Imagine now that you have been feeling 'different' your entire life, and somebody involved in the left-wing identity movement approaches you and says "pssst, it's because you are the wrong gender, you're actually secretly part of a special group of people, here's your membership!". As a social outcast you have just been given a purpose, a social group (comprised of other autistic people that can relate to you) and you get to live out this romantic underdog story. I can for certain see the attraction for an autistic person.

Anecdotally, a ridiculously large number of transgender people I have come across have self identified as socialists and seemed to have overlapping ideologies with communism. Socialism and communism mainly come from left-wing groups, which also engage primarily in identity politics. All of the people I know personally who are trans for example also appear to be very left-wing. On the other hand, centralist and right-wing transgender persons are exceptionally rare, with only a handful of popular ones existing, including the likes of Blaire White.

Going Forwards

It's okay to tear something down, but now you have to replace it with something as your social responsibility. If what I believe is true, and autistic people are often misdiagnosing themselves as transgender, then something needs to be done. I thereby have some suggestions in the space:

Autism communities: Build up socially acceptable autism related communities. I think the way to really make them work will be to convince successful autistic people to join them, rather than to simply be a place of unsuccessful autistic outcasts. I think it will be important to keep political movements out with their ulterior motives, but this seems like a near impossible ask.

Autism movement: As we have seen with the left-wing and their identity movement, movements can be powerful. Autistic people are 100% an underdog story in their own right. I believe uniting autistic people around a common cause would be a powerful and moving thing. Some ideas include raising money for research, raising money to better help autistic children, passing laws to better adapt the workplace to accommodate autistic people - and I'm sure an entire collection of things I am yet to even consider.

Lastly, with regards to the transgender community, more needs to be done in order to correctly identify it. If being transgender is not a choice, then there should be some way to scientifically diagnose it. Misdiagnosis of a transgender person is awful (either positive or negative error), and given how quickly we are rushing to put kids onto puberty blockers, this is really quite concerning.

One last anecdote: When I was a child, I had religious education. After listening to the stories of the bible and having done many assemblies with prayer music, I convinced myself I believed in God - and at that time I fully believed there was a God. If then somebody had 'reassigned' me and done some surgery to better align me to my religion, it would have for sure been a mistake and I would be regretting it now. As a child and even as a young adult (even now), my thoughts, opinions and beliefs are flexible.