Today, 31 March 2023, is Trans Day of Visibility. On this occasion, we talked with our Board Members Toryn Galvin (she/her, Ireland) and Ralu Baciu (he/they, Romania) about what it means to be trans and neurodivergent.
In the insightful blog article below, Toryn and Ralu talk about their own experience as neurodivergent trans people, how autism and ADHD have respectively had a positive impact on their activism, and how the trans community and movement wouldn’t be where it is today without neurodivergent trans siblings. Have a good read, and happy TDoV everyone!
It’s a known fact in trans communities across the globe that there is a huge overlap between our community and the autistic community.
As an autistic trans person this doesn’t surprise me. So much of the autistic experience is not understanding arbitrary social norms which everyone else follows, just because. Without questioning. That’s just how things are done. But why?
When I first came out it wasn’t as trans. It was as a woman. I was 15, it was 2009 and I’d never really heard of a trans person. I knew about drag queens, but I grew up in rural Ireland so my access to any kind of community or knowledge was non-existent. We didn’t even have an internet connection in my home. Ireland was just exiting decades of Catholic rule in all but name and queer people were tentatively beginning to come out into the open. But we had a long way to go.
So my declaration that I was a woman, despite the doctors at my birth feeling differently, confused all of those around me. Even the couple of other queer people I’d found were uncomfortable. “But you’re not a woman’’ was a common refrain in my life.
Had I not been autistic I may have listened. I may have hid and given up on who I was for a while. Waited until I felt free of judgement. Lost years of my life to pretending to be someone I’m not.
But as debilitating as autism can be in an ableist world built to burn us out, it was my super power back in those days. Even when no one in my life understood what was happening, when they asked me to reconsider, when they worried for my safety and encouraged me to keep this part of myself secret, I couldn’t, because my wonderful autistic brain saw it in the most logical way possible.
I felt I was a woman. My life would be happier if I lived as a woman. So why doubt it?
For over a decade after I came out I wasn’t aware I was autistic. I didn’t realise my little superpower was keeping me safe from the doubts and worries of others. When they all knew what I was saying wasn’t yet acceptable in an Ireland only just shaking off the shackles of the church, I didn’t care.
Today, despite the many challenges of being autistic in this world, I’m thankful for how it allows me to see the world. I’m thankful that it allowed a 15 year old trans girl the surety she needed in a time when things seemed impossible.
To every autistic trans person, to every trans person experiencing multiple marginalisations and struggling in a world that wants you to stay in your box, I hope on this Trans Day of Visibility, you celebrate the complexity and joy of being you.
And to my autistic trans siblings, I see you. I see you leading your communities, speaking up when others can’t or won’t. It’s my firm and unshakable belief that the trans community and our movement wouldn’t be where it is today had it not been for autistic trans folk. It’s not acknowledged enough and I hope that starts to change, but today, on TDoV, I and many others see and love you.
Toryn Glavin (she/her, Ireland)
There are many ways one can be trans. And intersectionality is a big part of it. One of those ways is being an ADHDer and trans. Despite ADHD being one of the most studied neurodivergencies, what is widely known is very little. Oftentimes, it is associated with childishness and hyperactivity, and society doesn’t take our needs seriously. But the spectrum is much larger than we understand.
As a trans ADHDer, I struggled a lot growing up. Ever since I was a child, I was told that I wasn’t enough, that I could do better, that I had potential. But I never had bad grades, or was disruptive in class – so how could I be an ADHDer when no one saw signs of struggle? I just had to put in a little work, that’s all. Still, they didn’t consider how I felt – that I was full of crippling anxiety, shame, guilt, and disappointment. And I had no words to describe how I felt and manage to be taken seriously.
‘There is no I cannot do it, only I do not want to‘. I grew up hearing those words, and soon, before expecting, I internalised them. If I had no words to describe my needs, how could I find the words to explain to myself that I was trans? Growing up, I saw myself as just me – I didn’t really think of my gender. And the fact that I grew up in the countryside, I was free to play however felt most authentic to me. It was only during my teenage years that things became uncomfortable – especially since the conservative Romanian society started to push me into a tight box of unflattering gender roles.
Growing up, I wasn’t just marginalised for being queer – but also for being an ADHDer, even though I wasn’t aware at the time. All I knew was that I wasn’t proper, and it didn’t matter that that wasn’t me. So I double-masked: I pushed my ADHD traits and transness deep inside. Not having the language and access to information to understand who I was made me believe for the longest time that I was weird and all wrong. The cis-normative, neurotypical society replaced my identity with a mask. And it wasn’t until in my mid twenties that I was able to crack myself open.
The fact that I got my ADHD diagnosis (after an uphill battle with the system) enabled me to resurrect my true trans self: understanding that neurotypical social norms are subjective and not biological was what made me realise society cannot and should not dictate who you are. I love who I am and how wonderfully my ADHD shapes the way I see the world and I will always be grateful to ADHD for being freed.
For all of you my ADHD trans siblings who are struggling right now: Your identity is valid, your quirks are valid, you are valid, and I see you! Your struggle is valid, and there is no such thing as being lazy. It’s ok to be different, and you are allowed to be your true authentic self.
Ralu Baciu (he/they, Romania)
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