Autistic hypersensitivity and gender dysphoria
There’s something going on with my head, which I think a lot of guys who decide they have gender dysphoria experience. I’ve heard it referred to as “autistic hypersensitivity”. People with autism often find certain sensory experiences intolerable, especially unexpected ones. Sounds are too loud or shrill; lights are too bright; touches are too gentle; textures are too strange; even your own body can feel wrong, sending too many confusing sensory signals for your brain to handle at once. To an autistic, especially one who’s already agitated or too young to have good coping mechanisms, the world can feel like a very sharp place. This sensory overload can contribute to the meltdowns common in autistic children, where the feeling of overstimulation is so distressing that the individual shuts down or starts lashing out. As we get older, most of us get better at dealing with it, but the problem itself doesn’t go away.
Many autistics, especially high-functioning ones, are undiagnosed until late in life. If you’re a teenage aspie boy, you might have grown up with an omnipresent feeling of discomfort with the world and your body’s place in it, and have no better explanation for that feeling than that you’re just a gay little bitch, an alternative narrative can be tempting. Trans ideology provides such a narrative: the reason you feel so uncomfortable all the time is that you were born in the wrong body. And all of a sudden you have a reason for all the suffering you’ve been through and a plan to fix it.
One of the online sources I trusted for information on transition as a confused fourteen-year-old was Zinnia Jones. In 2013, Jones wrote an article on “indirect gender dysphoria.” Please, follow that link and give it a look before you read on. I don’t want to speculate on the author’s intentions, although I don’t think it’s intended as a grooming document—but it’s very effective at convincing autistic people, especially impressionable young ones, that they’re transgender.
The article starts off by “debunking” the idea that trans people “always knew” they were trans. The subtle message which comes across, without ever being explicitly stated, is that you—yes, you, the person reading the article—could be trans, and not even know it. If you’re a particularly credulous individual—say, an autistic teenager—you might accept this premise. It might even be something you’ve considered before, after having been exposed to the suggestion elsewhere online, in which case the article reinforces it. But, you tell yourself: I don’t have any problem with my gender, therefore I don’t have gender dysphoria!
The article says:
A largely unrecognized facet of dysphoria is that not all trans people initially recognize or experience this as being unmistakably connected to our genders. Some of us suffer the distress that stems from dysphoria, but without many clues that this is about gender, and its relation to our genders may be obvious only in retrospect. Much attention is focused on the “gender” part of this, the well-defined cross-gender identities and needs and feelings. Less is given to the experience of more general dysphoria.
When you don’t know what this is, or that it’s even an actual condition, it’s easy to mistake it for who you naturally are. You might think it’s part of your innate personality and disposition, and something you just have to learn to cope with.
Hm… so you might have been experiencing gender dysphoria without even realizing. That’s troubling! How would you know if you had been experiencing gender dysphoria? What might that be like?
Almost exactly what it’d be like to be autistic and struggling with hypersensitivity and emotional dysregulation, it turns out!
I often wondered how other kids could just go about their lives, talking and laughing and being so calm and happy, like nothing was wrong. I don’t know what I really expected of them – I didn’t have the vaguest idea of what was “wrong”, either. I didn’t know why I felt so anxious all the time, I just did. I had no idea why the rest of the world didn’t feel the same way, and I wanted to know what that was like.
It felt like my mind was constantly talking to itself without any interruption, and it was overanalyzing everything around me. Some second, parallel existence seemed to be running alongside my direct experience of consciousness: an inner monologue of sorts, but a very toxic one. I couldn’t stop thinking about everything – it was as though this loud voice in my head kept me from simply existing in the moment.
But there’s hope: these horrible feelings of gender dysphoria (autism) were fixed by transition! Imagine you’re the young autistic kid who’s felt his whole life like he’s different, like he doesn’t understand the people around him, like there’s something wrong with him, like just existing in the world means a constant assault on his senses—think about how that kid would feel when he read this:
It was possible to feel things in all their detail and depth and texture, rather than being limited to either numbness or emotional overload. The skin of separation was gone, and life was a breeze: I was just happy, all day, without constantly intrusive thoughts distracting me and separating me from the world. I can truly care about everything I choose to work towards, because it matters now. I’m the normal person I always wanted to be, and I can get on with simply living.
What a tempting fantasy for someone who’s always been weird, who’s always wanted to be normal but never known how, right? It’s very perceptive, so you know you can trust it—no one could write it who hadn’t really experienced those feelings. And if someone else has been through the exact same thing you have, and transition helped them… maybe you should give it a shot too. It sounds nice, right? To finally be able to comfortably exist in the world?
The perspective of this article is held widely among the trans community, particularly those actively involved in the movement. Jones isn’t some fringe weirdo; this is the perspective that you’ll find in pretty much any trans space. It’s the engine that makes grooming sites like r/egg_irl work. A vulnerable autistic person, often a minor, first has the idea planted in their head that they could be trans, even if they’ve never considered it before; then they’re told that other people have experienced the same difficulties they have and slowly convinced to attribute all those challenges to gender dysphoria; then they’re told that transition will alleviate all of that.
It won’t; it can’t. It might help somewhat, thanks to the placebo effect; maybe the medicine even has some benefit. Estrogen treats autism in mice, and might work similarly for humans. But any small amount of good that comes out of transition is outweighed by the horrible side effects. I went over a lot of the physical effects in my last piece, but the I didn’t talk about feeling of having had permanently made yourself into a monster, of having separated yourself from others forever, of having fucked with your ability to feel desire, have sex and reproduce; things which are fundamental to being human.
The article, and the online trans people who will cheer you on to transition, make you think that you’ll finally be a normal person. The opposite happens: transition takes the feeling you have inside and makes your outside match.