I have always been weird.
At school I always played alone at breaktimes, I talked to myself as I explored the sports field and wild areas of the playground. In my pockets I collected interesting things I found; acorns, a shiny rock, part of a bird egg. I was happy in my distant reveries, often processing my thoughts and feelings out loud. Even when I tried to hide that I was talking to myself, as it was considered ‘strange’, I still mumbled and moved my mouth.
On the very rare occasion that I wanted to play with others it never quite felt right for me, there was always this feeling of doing things ‘wrong’ and being judged in some way. I found boys easier to get along with, they said what they meant and disagreed in a way that was apparent and brief, but I sometimes found them too loud and overwhelming. It was easier and nicer to be alone. What a lot of people didn’t understand then, and some don’t now, is that being alone isn’t lonely. I was wondering around taking in all the sights, sounds and smells of the world around me and making them my own. I was writing, reading and creating stories and poetry from a young age, and at home I loved to create all sorts of art. Far from lonely, I was thriving in my own world and enjoying my own company as I started to understand and mould who I was.
I was considered weird by my teachers too, I was seen as overly emotional, like the time I broke my lovely shiny school shoes and cried whilst rocking them in my arms. I was always playing alone and talking to myself. I was interested in things considered above my age level and I either engaged massively in class or was completely disinterested. Despite all the things the teachers and other kids thought were strange about me, I was happy going into school, it was more consistent than my home life and gave me a structure that I so desperately needed. I even enjoyed senior school, despite the turbulent nature of puberty and all the changes that came with it.
I felt misplaced in a lot of areas in my school life, but creative avenues were where I belonged, in plays and talent shows. I loved singing, dancing and acting. I could play out all the absurdity of other humans’ behaviour, but I never fitted into the drama crowd either, I was always the outsider looking in. I spent a lot of time very upset and confused in my bedroom because I had such big feelings, spent so much time processing social information and my senses were on fire. So, I kept myself busy, making my own clothes, changing around my furniture, constantly organising and reorganising my things. My physical busyness kept up with my million-mile-a-minute brain and allowed me to be stimulated in a way that school just didn’t do for me.
I’m still a weird adult by most people’s standards, I still talk to myself, prefer my own company and I say things very plainly. The difference is that now I know a big part of why I am the way I am, and why I’m often on the outside of everything: my culture, language, communication, everything about me is simply different. I have no idea why I was only recognised and diagnosed Autistic in my late twenties. When I look back it just makes so much sense: I was a strong independent child who wanted to do things in their own way, my needs and interests were just so different from others around me. I still think of past moments which make more sense through my new self-understanding. All those times I didn’t pick up on social ques until hours or days later Not to mention all the times I had committed a social faux pas and didn’t know about it. Those are probably way up in the hundreds by now – whoops!
My formal diagnosis was confirmed just two months before the first Covid 19 lockdown in the UK, talk about timing! I was facing a long and uncertain amount of time off work and away from university as I carried out the final year of my undergraduate studies. The irony of having the World turned upside down at the exact moment I finally understood my need for structure and routine was yet to become humorous to me.
I was confirmed Autistic, but it wasn’t my whole story. After my diagnosis and all the ‘a-ha’ moments which came with it, I could finally get down to the business of sorting out my gender.
There has always been a butch quality to me, even from a young age. New people often mistook me for male, especially with my short hair, baggy shirts and skater jeans. I always hung around with boys: we spoke the same language and we liked the same things; wrestling, horror films, scouts, den building and skating.
When my boy mates and I became teenagers everything got more complicated as most of them began fancying girls. I feel the same way about girls as I did boys – I liked them, I fancied them, but they also confused and horrified me. We had the same bodies but none of the same mannerisms and we very rarely liked the same thing.
Everyone kept telling me I was a girl, but I also liked girls – so was I gay? I liked boys too, but they were mostly my friends. Everyone seemed to be unavailable to me romantically – they were just too confusing and contradictory, and I couldn’t keep up with their inconsistencies.
Some of the boys even fancied me, I wasn’t sure what to do with this information or their advances. Sometimes I was interested and sometimes I wasn’t. The problem was I was seen as a girl, but it was never how I felt.
This feeling has sat with me for a long time now – over 25 years – but I kept that part of me hidden, I thought that it was a shared feeling, that no one else ever felt female or male either. I packed it away neatly, but it would raise its confusing head during intense periods of depression and trauma. Everyone thought I was human, but I was doing it wrong, I was doing girl wrong, I was doing child wrong and when I got to adulthood I was seen as doing that wrong too.
I am thankful that I pulled myself through some of the most heinous shit people can pull themselves through. When I cleaned myself up and had the space to truly look at who I am and what I want, that’s when the real gender magic happened.
My undergraduate studies and the start of Autistic experience advocacy helped with my Queer awakening! I have spoken and connected with so many amazing people, poured over lots of books and articles and they have all resonated with me. My research has helped me understand my gender and unpack a lot of internalised biphobia which I didn’t realise I had been carrying all these years.
When I became a part of the Autistic and neurodiversity movement I could fully realise who I am and it has allowed me to come out loudly, proudly and unapologetically. I am not a women, a lady, a girl – these words don’t describe me; they never have, and they likely never will. These words have been like the itchiest and most uncomfortable jumper being forced onto me all these years.
I have always been Autistic. I have always been non-binary. Now I’m flying that freak flag high for all to see.