Book review by Katie Munday (they/them)
I was very excited when Jessica Kingsley Publishers announced another new book on transgender Autistic experiences, collected, edited and written mostly by people who are both trans and / or non-binary and Autistic.
Working with Autistic Transgender and Non-Binary people: Research, Practice and Experience (edited by Marianthi Kourti) collects personal stories, research and guidance to inform the understanding and practice of professionals who support us. This book collects the writers of highly regarded activists, researchers and writers including Damian Milton, Wenn Lawson and Lydia X.Z. Brown, as well as some up-and-coming writers sharing their own stories and reflections on current understandings and research.
The book is split into three sections looking at theory, working practice and lived experiences. The first section outlines overall Autistic experience research, including ideas of double empathy, infantilisation of Autistic people and trans exclusionary radical feminist rhetoric. This section also challenges stigmatising and harmful ‘autism’ research, with the usual suspects called into question.
Kielsgard and Brown’s chapter Trans, Autistic and BIPOC: Living at the Intersections of Autism, Race and Gender Diversity sets out a nuanced understanding of intersections which can affect trans and / or non-binary Autistic people. Intersections include non-binary motherhood, transphobia and ableism within trans communities and systemic oppression of people who are multiply marginalised. This chapter challenges systemic ableism and racism and rightly suggests that gender variant Autistic people should at least be collaborators within support services, research and writing about our experiences.
The second section sets out advice for professionals working with trans and / or non-binary Autistic people, imploring practitioners to reflect on their own beliefs and biases around neuro and gender divergence. This section touches on support needs, gender neutrality and Autistic experiences of gender norms – suggesting that identities often change over time. Lawson makes several good points in this section including the importance of listening to stories which are being told now as apposed to worrying about possible detransition. He also suggests that detransition can be an important part of someone’s gender journey and that the reasons for gender divergence is not ‘as important as the need to have our stories heard and for the right support to be available for the individual’ (p.111).
The third and final section is a collection of personal stories from across the gender spectrum. Pountney’s story was especially illuminating as she reflects on her attempts at emulating neurotypical ideas of masculinity and points out that transitioning into another oppressed group is not always ‘empowering’. Pountney also speaks on masking Autistic characteristics to gain access to gender identity healthcare, which unfortunately reflects the experience of a lot of Autistic people who wish to access medical transition.
There are some issues with clunky language with some writers talking about the experience from an outsider point of view despite occupying the space they speak of. They also missed an opportunity to direct professionals to non-academic trans autistic lead work and organistions. The personal story sections would benefit from content notes – there will be many of us reading this book who have had similar experiences and content notes would be very helpful, especially when we are feeling particularly vulnerable.
Overall, Working with Autistic Transgender and Non-Binary people: Research, Practice and Experience outlines professional practice in a helpful way focusing on the safety, comfort and needs of supported persons. It takes an activist stance which uses identity first language and follows the ideal of ‘nothing about us without us.’ Working with Autistic Transgender and Non-Binary people: Research, Practice and Experience would benefit professionals, academics and people who are interested in this important intersection of human diversity and plays a small part towards breaking down systemic ableism and transphobia.
Katie Munday (they/them) was diagnosed Autistic in their late 20s. They have worked with Autistic and Disabled children since 2012 through nursery work, social groups and sports clubs. Katie is currently studying an MRes in Gender Studies – their research aims to collect and represent first-hand experiences of transgender and / or non-binary Autistic people. Sharing these stories has been a long-term passion of Katie’s as they appreciate that they are an important part of human diversity. Katie reviews books for Routledge Publishers and also contributes to an LGBTQIA+ Autistic blog called AIM for the Rainbow. They are also a new mum and in their spare time (!) they enjoy anything to do with wrestling, drag, D&D, fantasy and comic books. They can be contacted on Twitter and Facebook under the name Autistic and Living the Dream.