This was an essay I originally submitted for consideration for a book of nonbinary essays. It was not selected, but I wouldn’t want it to go to waste. Therefore I’ll be sharing it here.
In the spring of 2009, I had a hysterectomy. Along with having endometriosis, I also had polycystic ovarian syndrome and the beginning stages of cervical cancer. I’d already been through intense treatment of medically induced menopause, and laser surgery. Both were ineffective.
What struck me as odd were the number of people who wanted me to get pregnant as “that would fix it right up.” This, of course, is inaccurate. Both my mother and aunt had the same diagnosis. They had conceived and continued to have the same problems.
I didn’t understand why everyone was so obsessed with my ability to reproduce. I’d said since I was in kindergarten, I don’t want to have children. I didn’t like kids when I was a kid! Yet relatives came out of the woodwork offering ways I can still have a child. Finally, one night, I asked my aunt why this was such a big deal to everyone.
“Being a mother is important! It’s all part of being a woman,” she told me.
That made zero sense to me. Why is being a woman so tangled in having a baby? As I thought about it more, I wasn’t sure that I actually felt like a woman anyway. I’d read books about “capturing your feminine power”. Sure, I’d attempted the exercises and mantras. All that had happened was I’d get confused or even frustrated because it didn’t seem to apply to me.
After the worst year of my life, I finally got the surgery I’d been asking for. I’d managed to wave off my nosy relatives by saying if I did want to be a mother, I could always adopt. That seemed to satisfy everyone. I didn’t bother mentioning that I thought I might be gay and the only babies I’d ever have would be cats.
It was a long road to recovery and there are stories attached to it. They’re not important to this narrative so I’m going to move on.
Several years later, when I was living away from my family for the first time, I was having trouble with a lot of basic tasks. Things that wouldn’t be a big deal to most were a struggle for me. Like showering, cleaning the house, keeping things organized. I’d always had trouble with things like that but it had been brushed off as “genius syndrome”.
I could recite obscure historical facts about the Tudor royal court or pick up a language easily. I couldn’t fold a shirt properly and I had trouble tying my shoes. What was worse, I had trouble making and keeping friends. It wasn’t that I was shy, but I had a horrible time reading facial expressions. What was worse, I often was very blunt and this, of course, can be quite the turnoff to potential friends and lovers. One night I got so frustrated with myself I Googled genius syndrome to see if I could fix it.
The first results when you enter that are about savants, which I certainly am not. Then I saw a page about Asperger’s Syndrome, and I decided to read on. I remembered an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent episode where Goran had diagnosed the perpetrator with Asperger’s. I thought I was on the wrong track since the symptoms in the episode didn’t match any of what was wrong with me.
Then I read the article. And another. And another. After about six I googled Asperger’s Syndrome and found a page with symptoms. It was all there. The inability to perform simple tasks (ranging from spatial analysis difficulties and what I would later find out is executive dysfunction) and difficulty understanding nonverbal social cues. The page suggested that if several symptoms matched me, I should speak with a professional.
There was no way I was going to go for a diagnosis locally. It was a small town and everyone knew everyone. So the next time I left for the big city to go to a concert, I also scheduled an appointment with a doctor I trusted. I talked to her about what I’d found online, and she referred me to a specialist whom I was lucky enough to speak within the same week.
I came home with souvenirs and a diagnosis I kept to myself at first. It was a relief to know that there was a name for it, this thing that I had always felt, but I was also embarrassed. It made me wonder what other things I’d always felt had names. It didn’t come up at the time, but this was when I really started to question my sexuality and gender.
Years later I discovered identities that fit what I’d always felt. I came out as asexual and nonbinary, specifically genderfluid. Don’t misunderstand, most people were supportive, and I was relieved when I finally had a name for it. There were some people who were familiar with my history and my diagnosis who weren’t as accepting.
There’s a name for that too. It’s called concern trolling.
One friend whom I’ll call Rachel knew I’d had a hysterectomy. After several frustrating conversations with her, she finally said what she’d been working up to. “Are you absolutely sure? You did have a hysterectomy. It could be a hormone imbalance that’s not making you feel like a woman.” She framed it as being worried about me and “getting carried away with this gay stuff”.
Rachel was not aware of my crossdressing. Or that I’d done so since I was five. That I’d had an alternate male identity and that I would go out in boys clothes. That my grandmother had despaired I’d never be a proper little lady because I had that “tomboy” streak. It didn’t happen all the time, and I liked dolls and dresses. But there were instances where I knew I was a boy and that continued well into adulthood.
Especially in the Goth scene. I could show up to a club one night dressed to the nines as a dour Victorian gentleman. And the next night I could show up in a velvet dress with glitter in my hair. I hadn’t known it at the time, but being in that subculture had allowed me to explore my gender identity more thoroughly than I could have anywhere else.
I did explain this to Rachel, but she was insistent that she was right.
She wasn’t the only one. Another former friend whom I’ll call David thought much the same. Except he had a different hypothesis. He knew about my Autism diagnosis, and he didn’t beat about the bush. He IM’d me one afternoon and said, “I don’t think you’re nonbinary. I think you’re confused because you’re a person with autism.”
That did give me pause. About half the nonbinary people I knew had autism. I didn’t IM him back, instead, I tried Googling it. I was unsuccessful in finding anything useful. Thankfully, I had a nonbinary friend who wasn’t autistic and a cis friend who was. We decided to compare notes.
Between the three of us, we noticed that some things matched up, but most didn’t. Like my cis friend and I both had executive dysfunction, but she’d never questioned that she’s a woman or cross dressed. Or that my nonbinary friend and I had always felt that our assigned genders didn’t suit us, but they’d never had trouble understanding social cues.
One thing we all had in common were people who told us we didn’t know what we were talking about. And how often we were dismissed out of hand. We talked about how frustrating it was that no one listened to us. That there were probably always going to be people who used our identities and history to ignore how we feel. And what we knew about ourselves. Both encouraged me to contact them any time I had questions or needed reassurance.
I advised David of the talk, and the conclusions the three of us had come to after intense discussion and study. He never spoke to me again.
David and Rachel aren’t the first to bring this up, and they won’t be the last. There will always be someone who says I’m not nonbinary. That they know better than me and give some lame excuse as to why. They can say it all they like, but they’re not me, so they don’t know what I know about myself. They only look at pieces of my history, not the whole, or what I’ve known my entire life even if I didn’t know the term.
I am nonbinary. Autism and surgeries be damned.