Writing Autigender Characters
Welcome back to Queering the Narrative!
Last week we talked about neurogenders — what they are, and the challenges they face in media portrayals. This week, I wanted to shift my focus over to a specific neurogender: autigender.
Writing autigender characters requires special considerations beyond the very important ones for writing autistic characters and writing gender expansive characters, which I’m going to attempt to break down here. However, as I myself am allistic and very much not autigender, I’m absolutely not the final authority on this. I encourage you to find other resources, especially those written by folx who themselves identify as autigender. Here are a few good sources for that!
What is Autigender?
Writing autigender characters, of course, starts with understanding what “autigender” means. And, from what I’ve read, there seems to be some confusion on that front.
Autigender is a neurogender, which I talked about last week in more broad strokes. Probably the biggest takeaway is that neurogenders in general, and in this case autigender specifically, act more as descriptors of gender than genders themselves. That is to say — one’s gender is not autism. Rather, one’s gender is inextricably linked to and affected by one’s autism.
This, really, reminds me of the distinction I like to stress about transgender and trans being used as adjectives, rather than nouns. The relationship isn’t one to one, of course — but for the most part, my gender is woman, not transgender. That identity, however, is fundamentally linked to the gender I was assigned at birth and my authentic gender identity. Thus, I am a trans woman
Similarly, “autigender” describes an experience in which someone’s experience of gender cannot be separated from their autism. One may well be a woman — but that person’s understanding of what woman means might be altered, shaped, or otherwise affected by their autism, and thus they might identify as an autigender woman.
Or, possibly, a person’s autism may make the social construct of gender seem unnecessary or difficult to understand, and so they describe themself as nonbinary or agender. However, because they came to this understanding of their identity through the lens of autism, they might decide to describe their gender identity as autigender nonbinary.
Beyond this, though, there are a couple of very important things to note.
The first is that autigender is completely “opt-in.” Not every autistic person is automatically autigender — some do not feel that their gender is affected at all by their autism, and thus does not require the autigender descriptor.
Second, and similarly, just because someone is autistic and genderqueer does not mean they are automatically autigender!
This is especially important to bear in mind when writing autigender characters. Simply being autistuc and nonbinary is not itself autigender. An autistic person may come to understand an expansive gender identity without their autism ever coming into play.
The autigender descriptor is completely reliant on internal experience. It requires that an individual has looked at their gender through the lens of their autism, and decided that their autism is a fundamental aspect of how they experience that gender. If your character doesn’t feel their autism affects their gender, then they aren’t autigender!
Writing Autigender characters
So how does one write an autigender character? Because you can’t simply assume that a nonbinary autistic person is autigender, writing autigender characters necessitates some amount of internal dialogue or exposition.
The best way to do this, as always, is to have your character come out — perhaps they feel the need to explain their gender to an allistic friend who just doesn’t get it. They can also explain this as internal dialogue or narration, if the character wants to explain to the reader why they are making certain decisions, fashion choices, etc.
Don’t get me wrong — if a character expresses some sort of gender expansive behavior and is coded as autistic, then folx who themselves identify as autigender are likely to headcanon them as autigender, too. But I’m a big advocate for explicit, authentic, and nuanced representation in fiction, and this is one corner of the gender expansive community where such representation is extremely lacking.
Of course, autigender characters don’t have to use the term autigender to be explicit representation — they simply have to understand their gender through the lens of their autism. One novel where you can see this play out is An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon.While it is not an explicit representation of autigender — the protagonist’s autism is never named as such, and her experience with gender isn’t linked one-to-one with her experience as neuroatypical — the story is still a deep dive into a genderqueer, autistic, intersex character. Rivers Solomon is faerself autistic and gender expansive, and so gives a driving and extremely authentic portrayal in this work. If you aren’t autigender or autistic, and you want to write autigender characters, I highly recommend checking out this book.
I also highly recommend it if you want to write any books, or any characters. It’s a fantastic piece of science fiction.
In the end, though, writing autigender characters just requires you to understand not just what it means to be autigender, but also that you are able to understand and portray autistic characters in general in authentic, kind, and nuanced ways. In short — do your research!
However, I will say this — if you’re both cis and neurotypical, it might be best to avoid this topic. We’re talking about two very personal and intricate identities, which don’t get a lot of positive or nuanced media portrayals, and how those experiences overlap and intertwine. In short — this is a very complicated subject, and if you have no firsthand experience of some aspect of this, it just might not be your story to tell.
That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next week to kick off a new series I’ve been thinking up, but until they stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!