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What Does Feminine Mean, When You’re Autistic?

Marin, freedigitalphotos.net

Marin, freedigitalphotos.net

Having grown up here in North America, I’ve never felt particularly feminine.  In our culture, it means you’re supposed to:

  • like pink (nothing against it, but it’s not my colour)
  • speak cryptically (so the powerful males don’t shut you down)
  • engage in mystifying, toxic and painful practices to “look right”

So 20 years ago, when a female friend, a naturopathic doctor, told me that for my health, I needed to make friends with being female, I had no idea how to go about it in a way that would work for me.

I’m no good at being cryptic, and get really confused when other people do it.  I wear the colours that best reflect how I’m feeling, or evoke how I want to feel on any particular day.  Although I had a very brief flirtation with fuchsia, the shirt suited my grandmother better.

And despite having experimented with painting my nails (after the onset of a horrible headache from the solvents, I then had to figure out the fastest way to get it off so my nails would stop feeling like they were suffocating), wearing makeup (unintentional chemical peels, rashes, and inflammation weren’t my idea of fun), and either clear-cutting body hair (how can you stand the prickly bits growing back in?) or ripping it out by the roots (temporarily agonizing, but definitely more bearable as it slowly grows back), my sensory sensitivities, impaired detox, and immune overwhelm were a serious barrier to “looking right”.

The hardest thing was that other females would get together to do these things with – and to – each other for fun, and for “girl time”.  If you didn’t do them, you were too strange or uncool to hang out with.  Which left me rather in the dark about how to make friends with being female.  And until I found other outdoorsy and “tomboy” girls in my teens, rather without female friends (and often without any friends at all).

My ND friend suggested I find some dresses and skirts (wow, is it hard to find dresses and skirts with good pockets), and think about nails, hair, and makeup as camouflage.  What she succeeded in teaching me was that the more that I could look like I fit into a particular group, the easier it would be to avoid being isolated, mocked, or shunned for being too different.

However, these trappings of femininity were all superficial, and for the most part, economically-driven.  Biologically, what does it mean to be female vs. male?  And what about behaviourally, beyond the realm of culture?

From hunting through research, I had an understanding of how males and females differ chemically and behaviourally.  But I’d never embodied it.  Actually, I’d spent far too much time dissociated in an effort to avoid pain and stress, or trying to be neutral or masculine in an attempt to not be perceived as weak, vulnerable, or easily victimized.

From courses with Tanis Day (School of Energy Enlightenment), I had learned about the masculine and feminine presence in each of the seven main chakras of the body.  This had helped me understand some previous experiences better, but didn’t seem very practical to my daily life the way many of her other trainings were (especially the one on energetic defenses).

ImageryMajestic, freedigitalphotos.net

ImageryMajestic, freedigitalphotos.net

Here in North America, if you want to be powerful and get things done, it’s been considered socially unacceptable or unsafe to look or act feminine.  If you want to walk safely on the streets, you’re supposed to stride purposefully, like a man.  If you want to get heard, you’re supposed to be direct and forceful like a man.

Under stress, males isolate, while females cluster.  While getting something done, males focus more on the destination (full steam ahead), females focus more on the journey (smell the roses).

Most of my interacting with others was unconsciously modeled on neutral and male ways of being, and I have increasingly realized that I really didn’t “get” feminine at all.  So when a business course came up called “The Art of Feminine Presence”, it felt important to take it.

It was all women, of course, but what a treat, not having to negotiate for a scent-free event (amazingly, it was pre-arranged that way)!  I’m pretty sure the presence of a hair-dressing salon in the hallway outside was an oversight (sigh), but the room itself was a lot more devoid of fragrances from leave-in hair products, deodorants, and skin lotions than usual, and no-one wore perfume.

During this event, we were guided in a variety of ways to experience both our unique strengths, and our femininity.  We were given exercises in which we helped each other recognize how much our “heady” intentions and statements were – or were not – in alignment with our individual body’s real beliefs and truths.

What an eye opener!  If we take all the cultural trimmings off, I’m not half bad at being female…

Females take in more of the beauty around them, something that’s unavoidable when your senses are on higher volume than most people’s are (hmm, does that mean all autistics are more feminine?)

Females want to be appreciated for how they are, while males want to be appreciated for what they do.  In order to let themselves be vulnerable, emotionally open and expressive, men want to be trusted, and to be able to trust, while women want to be free to love and be loved.

When embodying inner strength (rather than predation or power-over), both males and females speak from a place of deep truth and integrity.  Here, it feels a little ironic that we autistics can’t effectively lie, regardless of gender.  While I don’t think this is an indicator of autistic inner strength, it does make me wonder why the Creator has so many more of us showing up on earth, right now…

Regardless, what I discovered is that:

  • I don’t have to dissociate, be neutral, or be masculine in order to get things done, or be business-like
  • I have a lot more fun when I’m connected to the feminine, which knows how to enjoy things
  • I can help others to reach their own deepest integrity by consistently embodying my own

The timing of this Art of Feminine Presence (AFP) course has a real feeling of synergy for me, beginning right after my very-physically-challenging canoe trip, and ending right before the first Canadian national conference to include autistics (three women) in its list of speakers.  I am both intimidated and honoured to have been asked to speak, and it feels like a gift to have learned so much about how to stay embodied and strong, right before-hand.

I’m also feeling blessed by the expertise of the staff at Carousel consignment clothing.  I was shaken to tears when two of the AFP course attendees gifted me with one of the most beautiful necklaces I have ever seen.  That inspired me to ask the Carousel staff for help in creating my own feminine look to honour the gift of that necklace, and the help I received was warm, kind, encouraging, and deeply supportive.

I feel as though I have a team of kindly women doing what’s in their power to set me on track to show up at my best, both physically, and spiritually.  I’m so grateful to all of them…

Wish me luck?  Or better still, come to the conference and support us?

If you found this helpful, please share:

2 Comments

  1. Maureen Shortt says:

    I love this blog. It empowered me. I have always felt like an outsider in the female world. I hate shopping, feel like clawing my face when I wear makeup, hate gossip, have never been feminine always been a tomboy preferring to be with the ‘boys’. My idea of a good time is to be in nature, working on Reno jobs, doing heavy dirty jobs :) so I can really relate to this blog, thank you. Oh and I agree the pockets in skirts/dresses are either too small or non-existent!!! Oh and shaving, hair styling and all the “trappings” are exhausting! Yuck! Thank you Jackie you’ve made me realize I’m fine the way I am. It works for me :). I know you will do a fantastic job speaking at the conference. I’m sorry I can’t go but the teacher I work with, who I keep telling she has to hear you speak, is going so she will share any pertainent info with us. Best of luck at the conference :) Maureen (EA supporting students with autism)

    • Maureen Shortt says:

      Sorry that sounded like I was anti female. I’m not. I’m proud to be female but can’t get my head around the trappings. I wish sometimes I could as I like getting dressed up like anyone but don’t feel comfortable when I do! Maybe I need a personal dresser/shopper :) have a great day :)

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  • The autistic spectrum includes ADHD, Asperger's, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Kanner's, OCD, PDD-NOS, and Tourette's. Females in the spectrum are often misdiagnosed with Anxiety/ Panic Disorder, Bipolar, Eating Disorder, Fibromyalgia, and OCD.
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    The autistic spectrum includes such diagnoses as: ADHD, Asperger's, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Kanner's, OCD, PDD-NOS, and Tourette's. Females in the spectrum are often misdiagnosed with Anxiety/ Panic Disorder, Bipolar, Eating Disorder, Fibromyalgia, and OCD.
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  • The autistic spectrum includes ADHD, Asperger's, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Kanner's, OCD, PDD-NOS, and Tourette's. Females in the spectrum are often misdiagnosed with Anxiety/ Panic Disorder, Bipolar, Eating Disorder, Fibromyalgia, and OCD.
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