October 5th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Oil disruption could mean a sticky patch for Australia

EDITORIAL Gladys Liu controversy ignores reality of China's interference

CANBERRA OBSERVED Water emergency intensifies in Murray-Darling Basin

VICTORIAN AFFAIRS Tolerance Bill aims to 'eliminate' vilification

FUEL SECURITY As Canberra sleeps, all is well ... well ... well

EUTHANASIA An open letter from WA Faith Community Leaders to the Premier and Members of the West Australian Parliament

EUTHANASIA Unsung heroes of the last moments

YOUTH AFFAIRS Tumbler: Where vulnerable youth self-diagnose as autistic and transgender

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Inquiry into the Family Law Act: that misnamed source of misery

PHILOSOPHY The element of justice in economic practice, Part 1 of two parts

CINEMA EXTRA Unplanned: The movie they don't want you to see

OBITUARY A giant of a man has fallen: Hal G.P. Colebatch, 1945-2019

MUSIC Words as music: Bypassing the intellect, straight to the emotions

CLASSIC CINEMA The Wicker Man: Horror by reversal of expectations

BOOK REVIEW David Brooks' search for meaning

BOOK REVIEW Stabbing us in the back

BOOK REVIEW Admired historian dares his memory



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Tumbler: Where vulnerable youth self-diagnose as autistic and transgender

by Alexandra Dooley

News Weekly, October 5, 2019

I stare blankly at my screen; I stare into the sea of pastel pink that seems only to stare back at me. It is offensive to the eyes, like a battering ram of pale hues too similar to one another. My eyes seek refuge in the small white box on the left of the page.

A discordant pink creature waves at me from within. Below the picture is a little bio that reads: “kai – 15 – nb boy – they/he – autistic – bpd.”

I put aside my questions (how can you be a non-binary boy?) and focus on what I need to. “Autistic,” he claims to be, just as about 30 others have claimed to be as well, and these were all that I could access within my first 10 minutes of searching. Within easy access on Tumblr, I can find 30 people under 20 who claim to be both autistic and transgender of some description.

Tumblr is a microblogging and social networking website that allows users to post multimedia and other content to a short-form blog. It says of itself, it is “a place to express yourself, discover yourself, and bond over the stuff you love. It’s where your interests connect you with your people.”

Tumblr is not an inherently bad website. It is a place for people of all sorts to gather and post about their favourite topics in one convenient place. People follow blogs that post about their interests, and communities form around those collective interests. I have found a nice community of baking enthusiasts much like myself on Tumblr, sharing recipes and tips.

In the early days (from the site’s creation in 2009 to about 2013), Tumblr was mainly used by young girls with an interest in media and who were introverted, asocial personalities. People who were often not welcome elsewhere in society were able to find a home. This mainly helped younger people, autistic people, and those questioning their identities to find a place where they felt more comfortable sharing their problems.

There was a lot of overlap in these communities, and many have a lot of influence on others. The LGBT youth began to influence the autistic youth to explore their gender identities, and the autistic community would post about their symptoms, claiming that if a user shared these experiences, then they too were autistic.

Those who had grown up feeling like outsiders could finally call a place home. As it shifted to 2015 and Tumblr became the social justice monstrosity that we know it as today, the divide between communities diminished.

I noticed a strong correlation between people claiming to be autistic and transgender in 2016, and recently decided to look into it. I wanted to see how strong the correlation was, thinking that many young autistic people who found the LGBT community at a young age would have developed a special interest in their gender identity.

I found 32 blogs run by people claiming to be both autistic and transgender, and asked them about themselves to get these results. They were aged between 15 and 17. Most of them (25) had been self-diagnosed; only seven of them had been diagnosed professionally as being on the autism spectrum. These people all identified as either male or female, not non binary or other variations.

Nineteen in total identified as being on the gender binary. The other 13 identified as non binary (five), genderqueer (two), agender (two), bigender (one), or a combination (one was a non-binary boy, one was genderqueer non binary, and one was gender fluid shifting between bigender and male). Very few told me openly what their natal gender was, but 20 of the 32 were female at birth.

One of the greater downsides of Tumblr is the collective community desire to categorise everything and everyone, and for people to be in as many categories as humanly possible. This leads to an epidemic of people claiming diagnoses and genders based on ticking off certain symptoms from an online list.

People will identify themselves with a specific disorder after looking up the symptoms and deciding that they have many of these symptoms, failing to note their own confirmation biases. If someone wants to fit themselves into a certain category, they will misreport their own behaviour in order to fit the category, and ignore what does not fit.

The Tumblr users will likely have cited asocial behaviour and obsessive personalities as autism when, in isolation, these represent just being young, or have interpreted body image issues as gender dysphoria.

There is also, more generally, a trend on Tumblr to identify oneself with various mental illnesses, whether diagnosed by a professional or not, which extends to autism as well. Tumblr made it cool to be anything but a straight, cisgender, neurotypical person; to fit in, people force themselves to be anything but.

Additionally, it seems that slightly older members of the LGBT community are telling these youngsters how to feel, how to believe, how to believe in themselves. A young person is likely to mould themselves to the expectations of older people.

For youth, and particularly for youth who do not fit in, finding a community that seems to love them is the most comforting thing in the world. They modify their behaviours to fit the whims of the community, they alter their beliefs to be accepted. In some instances, it would be difficult to see whether these people would still be trans if they had not encountered this particular community. That is to say, the community’s influence on young people deciding to identify as trans cannot be downplayed.

None of this, in itself, is meant to affirm or to deny a link between being autistic and transgender. The sample that I found was too small in any case. It needs to be noted, though, that so many of those I encountered had not been professionally diagnosed, and were likely just young people seeking to identify with the label that seemed to fit at the time.

Maybe, as these people age, their labels will ebb and flow. Maybe, hopefully, these people will find a sounder identity grounded in reality.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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