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Working Title: Nonbinary

I’ve had enough of “going round the houses” with this. I can’t find a word that accurately describes how I feel about my own gender and I can’t fully get my head around all of the discussion about what gender actually is. But I know that, despite being male, I have never felt comfortable in the company of the vast majority of men, and that I don’t identify with what society labels “man stuff”. So “Non binary” will have to do for now.

“Non binary” is also a usefully-well-known word for Lynn to use whenever anyone asks her what I’m up to, for example with my sparkly nail polish!

And I’ve battled with a lot of internalised transphobia(?) or at least internal *and external* “woke gender stuff phobia” and ageism to allow me to use any gender word other than man or woman for the first time at the age of 55.

There is a huge range of “life stuff” that my autistic brain doesn’t relate to, and the idea that males and females have to dress and behave differently is undoubtedly part of that stuff that leaves me asking “Why?”.

Logically, the ideas around gender stereotypes nag my brain. The ideas that males must be physically and emotionally strong, protective without needing protection, the providers, the logical thinkers, be prepared to go to war and get off a sinking ship last (if at all), walk next to the road & take a hit from passing traffic if things go wrong; why? How does having a willy equip anyone for this and condemn them to it?

At parties where groups of men congregate to talk about football and cars and movies, I feel uncomfortable in their presence. I would rather be in a mixed sex group talking about life in general, and if I can’t have that then I’ll talk to the people who *are* talking about life in general. And, usually, that’s women.

I can’t abide the way that men -at least men my age – dress (when casual, in particular). They are only “allowed” colourful clothes if they are either worn as a joke (think “office joker” with the bright orange tie and Hawaiian shirt) or cost hundreds of pounds for a simple jumper. Most of the time they look like they can’t be bothered or have given up. They wear brown-and-white-checked button-up shirts and baggy shorts that make their legs look like knobbly twigs hanging from a fabric canopy. This also strikes me as vaguely misogynistic in some ways (“Why have a wife and look pretty yourself?” “I don’t *need* to make an effort; I’m a *man*”). Anyway – I don’t like it and it simply isn’t me, which is what’s important.

Whenever I’ve been off with “depression” (this is all before I knew I’m autistic) I’ve complained about the strain of working in a masculine and male-dominated environment. My anecdote about Sarah illustrates nicely how I felt about it.

This summer I have started to find my own vibe. I’ve been painting my finger (and toe) nails since the start of the Covid-19 lockdowns. I’ve now realised that being “disallowed” this because I’m male has been bugging me for over a decade and that I really enjoy the sensory aspects of it (probably an autistic thing). By sensory aspects I mean colour, sparkle, glints of light and the way that painted nails *feel* – smooth, slippery, hard, and cold against my lips. Why should I deny myself this because, to use the phrase again, I have a willy?

Dressing in a way that makes me feel good about myself is a new thing for me. I finally understand, viscerally, what several women have said to me over my lifetime about wearing makeup (or not) “for me”. I am happy about the shape of my body and I don’t want to shroud it in baggy clothes. So I’m very much enjoying wearing leggings & showing off my toned legs.

I’ve also become aware of how men’s fashion is “intended” to lengthen the torso and shorten the legs, whilst women’s fashion is intended to do the opposite. I simply don’t want my torso lengthened and my legs shortened. Neither do I want to wear a belt band that sits below my belly and encourages it to spill over the top of it. I’ve finally allowed myself to break these rules and realise that nobody else cares and that doesn’t matter.

Dressing in a way that makes me feel good helps me to look at men and feel “not like them”. This is massive for me psychologically; it allows me to release myself from pressure to conform to the “man” stereotype. But also, it *doesn’t* mean that I feel pressure to conform to any other stereotype. It just allows me to be free being me and unhooked from gendered fashion. Except of course that unhooking from men’s fashion means borrowing a bit from women’s fashion (and I do this with a bit of a rebellious smile, but without dressing *as* a woman).

This unwrapping story, this unboxing, and actually this undoing of expectations that themselves were weird in the first place, is still ongoing. In particular I’m still looking for an accurate gender word – but this is *my stuff*. I like accurate labels, that’s all.

There are quite a few gender words that I might find helpful. Autigender is one; this carries the idea that my perception of my own gender is so inextricably bound up in my autism that makes it a gender that only autistic people can know. This makes sense to me because my sense of being different to most other people, because I’m autistic, means that I don’t identify with non-autistic gender conventions and stereotypes. The reason I gravitate towards women is that most women feel slightly less alien than men!

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