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Are People With Autism More Likely To Be Transgender?

Yesterday I wrote about Kayden Clarke, who was killed last month. The fact that he was a trans guy didn’t get much attention. But it should have. There’s evidence coming out that autistic people are more likely to be transgender. And maybe gay too.

It might be hormonal. It might be because our brains are different to begin with. Autistic people are pretty damn good at not being part of the status quo. But there’s some ethical questions that come along with this too.

Some researchers think it’s partly for social reasons. One NIH review cited a study that found 7.8% of children and adolescents in a gender dysphoria clinic had autism. But then another study said that only 27% of kids with gender dysphoria still had it at adults. (Although most of the others turned out to be gay.)

The reviewers suggest that autistic kids might behave more like the opposite sex because they don’t have enough social interaction to know how kids their gender act. Most boys are playing with trucks and girls are playing with dolls by age three. The fact that autistic people hit developmental milestones later only adds more confusion.

But, interestingly, it seems like autistic women are more likely to transition to men than the other way around.

Autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen found that trans men show more autistic traits than average. He says this could be because autism is linked to high testosterone in the womb.

If you know about Baron-Cohen’s research, you’ll know why he wanted to do this study. He’s famous for his extreme male brain theory. It points out that men are more likely to look at things in an analytical and organized fashion, whereas women are more likely to empathize. Autistic people tend to fall on the extreme systemizing end of that scale. It makes sense that a high percentage of autistic women have their brains skewing male and would be more comfortable if their outsides reflected how they feel on the inside.

But I think some of us might just have a few masculine traits and would be happy in our female bodies if we felt we could be taken more seriously.

As a kid, I used to play with the boys. I made paper airplanes and did science experiments. It was a lot more fun than dolls. But then when I went through puberty I realized that stuff wasn’t considered feminine. Being twelve and having no insight, I cared more about fitting in than I did about the things I actually liked. I wore dresses on the playground and basically tried to act like someone from Clueless. When that didn’t work, I got frustrated. I had no idea who to be.

The bigger problem here is that women learn not to play with trucks long before we’re old enough to question it. I think if I were an autistic guy I’d have learned to focus on my scientific and musical interests rather than trying to shove myself into a narrative where I don’t belong.

Transitioning has changed a lot of people’s lives for the better. But how do we know if someone with mental health problems is thinking clearly enough to make that decision?

Plenty of people are mentally unstable until they transition. But we shouldn’t be giving powerful hormones to people who are mentally unstable. It’s a catch-22. Kayden Clarke was having trouble getting a testosterone prescription. I can see why.

People with autism can become stable once we get past the bullshit. I’ve seen it. But we really need to take a more nuanced look at women’s issues, autistic issues, and transgender issues so we can learn how to treat each person individually.



*Image from McClure’s Magazine. Trigger warning for un-PC gender politics if you need it.

Are People With Autism More Likely To Be Transgender?

Gwendolyn Kansen

Gwen Kansen is a mental health writer in New York. She likes food, karaoke, and smart-but-campy books & TV. She's hoping to capture a little sliver of life on here that might not be the first thing you'd see.

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APA Reference
Kansen, G. (2016). Are People With Autism More Likely To Be Transgender?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Mar 2016
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