Olive Gallop is an Autistic Trans woman and the Facilitation Specialist at AANE. She is a published author on the intersectionality of autism, gender, and sexuality. Olive specializes in helping young adults. She has experience working with universities, parents, and individuals. Olive is also an artist and musician and is knowledgeable on how artistic expression can help those on the spectrum.
Liv, I would love to know a little bit about your journey to discover your gender identity. How did you come to realize that you were a transgender woman?
It’s interesting because as an Autistic trans person, my feelings of gender dysphoria were muddied by my Autistic traits. When I hit puberty the first time, I found it very hard to pursue my feelings of attraction towards folks that I liked. And I always chalked it up to my autism because, you know, pubescent Autistic folks can sometimes be awkward. I always thought I’m just not up to snuff with social stuff. I definitely had depression at the same time. So I thought it’s because I don’t have that kind of energy. Or it’s because I have crazy anxiety (which thankfully I am actually managing today). But in hindsight, there is certainly a factor of gender dysphoria and just relationships in general that wasn’t sitting right with me because I’m trans and I didn’t know it back then.
I’m gonna share with you the exact thought that I had because it’s actually really funny. And keep in mind before I say this, I had no idea what this statement would imply. But I did indeed say this out loud to myself and just thought it was kind of like a funny passing thought. I was rounding the corner to go to a study hall in high school, and I literally said to myself, “Ha, I’m such a lesbian.” Like Darling! That has more weight than you think it does! But I didn’t think a thing of it. I didn’t think about it again until I was 20.
I was on my semester abroad in England and I was just feeling like crap. And so I was just rifling through reasons why people feel like crap because I couldn’t put my finger on it. Eventually just going down, down, down the list until I literally asked myself: I wonder if I’m transgender. And I felt my heart sink into my stomach. And that’s when I was like, okay, that’s probably it. Then I buried it for eight years cause I was terrified. It took until I was around a very kind group of friends where a super normal question was, “What’s your name? What are your pronouns?” I finally got the courage to at least abandon “he/him.” I just said it was “they/them.” And that felt nice for the time being you know, just accepting that I can have some gender divergency. And honestly it only took like two weeks after that for me to be like, “Nope, it’s she/they actually,” and that’s what I’ve stuck with this entire time.
I want to say to anybody that might be reading this: however long it takes you to find yourself is a valid amount of time. And even if you transition later on [in life], you haven’t lost time. I started my second puberty after my first one had well completed. Even if you start later, everything’s cool. Don’t worry about it.
Could you talk a little bit more about ways being Autistic impacted your realization that you were transgender?
Because of the kind of “in the closet” that I was, I overcompensated where I would deny my femininity. That meant I grew a massive beard, I would speak very macho all the time, and I’d wear tough guy outfits and let my hair grow and get all knotted. It was an aesthetic for me and it always felt like, “Yeah, this is cool.” But what I was actually doing was making me feel like I was safely away from questioning my gender identity, which I misinterpreted as feeling safe in my gender identity. It was actually feeling safe from the discomfort of thinking about my gender identity. I’ve been able to drop a lot of anxiety both around expressing myself, but also around being afraid of a piece of myself.
The persona that you were taking on as male – would you call that a type of masking?
You are so right – that was a hundred percent masking. That’s what I meant by saying that the type of “in the closet” that I was. I was overcompensating. I was masking super hard. Thank you for applying that language. That makes perfect sense. So yeah, taking the mask off has been pretty sweet. I think every spectrum person reading this can empathize with being able to unmask and actually relax and be yourself. It works that way for trans folks too, for sure.
When you decided to tell others, what were the responses? Can you talk a little bit about what you experienced and how you worked through it?
I had the easiest time coming out to my close friends and some of them even went as far to say, “Actually, yeah, it makes sense that you’re doing this.” To which my response was, “How the hell did you know, before I did?” But it was really nice and validating to hear those messages.
My family was a different story. I think coming out to my immediate family was the hardest thing. Some folks were deeply uncomfortable with my transition and said some pretty nasty, ignorant things. But I’m grateful that some of them have been learning a lot and have absolutely been coming around. Particularly I want to shout out to my mom for taking the time to really read and go to meetings so that she can better understand what it’s like to have a trans child. I’m not a child anymore, but the effort shown is a deep expression of love, and I really, really appreciate that.
This didn’t have as big an impact on my life, but there were some folks who I was friends with on Facebook who were just like peripheral friends that I didn’t know really well who unfriended me after I came out [and those] who stopped supporting my band after I came out. And it’s tough to see that; there’s no other explanation. It’s pretty blatant: you dislike me because I am trans.
And keep in mind this is what it was like to come out for me – a white person in Massachusetts. I’m pretty well privileged where I live. I want to say that trans folks of color have an infinitely harder time than us white folks do. There’s other parts of the country that are really working to make it hostile. There’s a lot of other folks who are less privileged than me who have it a ton worse. And this is why we need to fight to end these horrible acts of legislation and hatred that are being shown to us.
What would you say to Autistic trans individuals who haven’t received the level of support you’ve had or don’t live in an environment that is as supportive as yours?
We can talk about the bigger goals and stuff, but immediately, you need to be safe. Get to a place that is safe, please.
I want to cite examples from what I saw in Montana with representative Zoe Zephyr having been kicked out of her legislature simply for opposing the transgender bills. The fact that everybody showed up in droves is a testament to not only our numerical population, but our desire to be there for each other and to really show our community. I’m saying all of this because it is so important to know that this is the time to fight if you are able. I don’t wanna tell you to get out there and do your thing if it’s gonna potentially get you killed. Don’t be reckless. But if and when you’re able to demonstrate, get out there and show that you’re not going away because we’re not. Folks who oppose us have to know that these laws are genocidal efforts. We with a sense of justice will not stand for that.
What has it meant to you to have gender affirming care?
Well, it has let me be myself. It has let me be free. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that. Before I came out, before I was on my hormone replacement therapy (HRT), I was profoundly unhappy, radically depressed. I didn’t care about my body. Once I got on HRT – and I felt this the very first day that I did it – I felt a huge weight lift. It was like some kind of euphoric feeling that just welled up in my chest. And that was on a very low dose of it too, mind you. I was just like, “Oh my god, this is what I’ve been missing.”
I feel like actually becoming the person that I want to be is letting me be kinder to myself. And in that sense I am a lot more comfortable and I am respecting myself more. In a way it’s actually helped me with accepting my own autism diagnosis as well. In deciding to pursue my identity and my care, I have to accept that there are some people out there who just won’t like me. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to find love and care and community and all that stuff. And so in being able to accept that with my transness, I’m learning also to accept that with my autism identity, which has let me express that more freely and openly as well. I used to be very self-conscious about how I stim and I used to mask very, very hard, and I still do sometimes. Sometimes it behooves one to mask and blend in. But I’m able to decide to not do that more often, and I really enjoy that.
What HRT does for me and why I feel it is vitally necessary to everybody who decides that they need it to live their most authentic life is that I actually love myself now, and I did not before. And this could be different for different people, but for me personally, I did not like who I was. I thought that the life I was living was not my own. And now that I have changed that frankly, I feel beautiful and I feel happy to be here. Not to be bleak, but that hasn’t always been the case. But I’m very happy that that’s the case now.
There are places where people are now trying to use an autism diagnosis as a reason to deny gender affirming care or create another barrier to care. To the Autistic individual who might be thinking they are trans, but then they hear the message, “Autistic individuals shouldn’t be allowed to make these choices,” what would you say to them?
So the way that it’s being weaponized boils down to the assumption that spectrum folks don’t know themselves, don’t know any better period, and are incapable of deciding what their gender identity is going to be. That is so horribly incorrect. Spectrum folks usually have a very keen sense of self, and this is why we are so in tune with our sensory needs and our energy levels. And it turns out that is the same for gender identity as well. There’s a statistic that trans folks are about six times as likely to have a spectrum diagnosis than cisgendered folks. I think there’s a reason for that.
I’m certainly speculating here, but gender can be regarded as a social construct. And I think spectrum folks who already question social constructs like that can easily question gender and from there have conversations with themselves about what might be best for them. So all to say, if anybody’s trying to be like, “No, you don’t [know better] because you are on the spectrum,” that is incorrect. You know better. I think it’s healthy for everyone to question their gender identity, even if you ultimately decide that you’re comfortable where you’re at. It’s good to think about. It’s good to think about how gender works for you in the world.
Is there anything else you want to say to the Autistic trans community?
Yeah. Just stay strong. It’s really tough right now. It is true that the United States is really trying to hurt us right now. Times can be really scary for us and I just want you to know that you’re not alone and that, you know, I love you. I appreciate you and even if you’ve never met me, I know how hard it is to try and go against the grain completely to be your true self. And I say that both in the sense of being a trans person and an Autistic person. So if you happen to be reading this, you are so great and so amazing and so strong, and I believe in you. I am proud of you, and we will survive.
Subscribe for AANE weekly emails, monthly news, updates, and more!