Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Always a Girl, Part 2, By Bridget Allen

Three completely unrelated facts:
I am autistic.
I am queer.
I was consistently misgendered as a child.

Growing up, these three facts were treated as one pathological whole. Girls are soft and warm. They communicate with others. They show affection easily. If only they could make me more feminine, the rest would fall into place. Meltdowns were viewed as acts of aggression; violent masculine behavior. Surely if they could not curtail the masculine behavior it would irrepairably damage my development.

In my heart, I always knew I was a girl. I liked being a girl, but I also knew my gender was yet another thing I could not effectively communicate to the world at large. My family flushed with anger and embarrassment every time a stranger mis-gendered me. I knew I was supposed to feel shame along with them, but I could not muster it up. Not for this. I was already too busy juggling the shame
of all the schools I had been tossed from,
of the words that I strained to pull from my brain to my tongue only to trickle out as a babbling stammer,
of the tears that came unbidden while I screamed and thrashed about on the floor unable to stop,
of the suppressed immune system and multiple illnesses that disrupted work schedules, bank accounts, and career ladders.
I was already full up with shame and guilt. So much so that my analyst kept explaining that my shame and guilt were why I could not talk properly. If only I would try harder to be less shameful, I would surely be fully verbal. Even if this assesment had not been laughably erroneous, I was still only seven, and could not begin to fathom what I could do with this information other than feel more guilt.

People mistaking me for a boy just did not seem worth getting upset about, but there was a peril. Adults viewed this not as a minor issue, but as a big problem to be fixed. My every action was slotted into a binary of masculine and feminine. Teachers, therapists, and family combined efforts to cultivate that which was deemed feminine and extinguish that which was deemed masculine.

Some of these efforts were laughable, like the collection of baby dolls I never asked for, from which I removed the arms and legs to line the collective limbs up from smallest to largest. To tidy up, I put the extraneous heads and torsos in the toy refrigerator that was part of the kitchen playset I never used. Baby sitters never returned for a second visit.

The stigma tainted times that should have been filled with pride. When I was ten, I took it upon myself to audition for a large scale community theater musical. I got a ride from the mother of another girl auditioning. While my speech was near unintelligible due to a severe stutter, I knew I could read aloud, perform scripted words, and sing without issue. Looking at the script, I knew I could nail a supporting character, an obnoxious little boy. I beat dozens of boys, some with professional experience, for the part. My parents did not forbid me from performing, but they managed to miss all four performances.

Other times, the efforts led to abuse. When I was six, the nun teaching me felt all my stimming was not only unfeminine, but also unnatural work of the devil. Along with other stringent rules, I was forbidden to play with or speak to boys. That year of hateful words and corporal punishment in the name of God, damaged me for years to follow.

[Visual of Birth Control pills in a circular calendar dial pack. Some are blue, some white, some green. The plastic container is a shade of pink-tan that only occurs in med gear.]
At eleven, medical intervention began in the form of off label prescribing of birth control pills as a form of hormone replacement therapy. I argued it was unnecessary. I lost. When results were not evident, the dosages were increased, and then increased again. Eventually, I accepted that the vomiting, soreness, and constant bleeding were just a part of life. I ceased to think I had any power to say no. In spite of a growth spurt at nineteen that ended any misgendering, I was nearly twenty when I realized I was an adult with control over my own care.

I was an adult.
I was still autistic,
I was still queer, and
I felt no more or less a woman for all my new found curves than I did before.
Because being a woman is something that is inside of me, not something that is defined by others perceptions.


  1. Testing to see if it is possible to make a comment because my friend is having trouble.

  2. Thank you for these painful, truthful words.

    1. All that stuff I replied to your other comment? Just multiply it by a bunch. Thank you.

  3. Oh Bridget, I just love you. And I love your writing. This is beautiful. Beautiful words from a beautiful human being.

  4. Many many hugs to you. Ugh, the crap we go through because of other people's cluelessness.

  5. i get your blog,i have aspergers and M.E. you should not feel ashamed in any way
    very well done too you.if you would like a chat please do e.mail me i am married 13 years.we have 2,boys and 1,girl.i take part in a lot research from lot universities.if you would like to ask me any thing
    please do.look forward to hearing from you mark

  6. I can relate to almost all of what you have written. Autistic, queer and frequently misgendered when I was younger! It made me wonder myself until I realised none of it was about what gender I was. I'm glad you wrote this post.

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