While some have argued that Kai Bartley (Grey’s Anatomy), Taylor Mason (Billions), and Aziraphale and Crowley (Good Omens) reinforce the image of whiteness and trans-masculinity as the “norm” of non-binary (enby) identities, they also bring up an interesting intersection between being enby and being neurodivergent. For example, numerous fans have claimed them as representatives of autism as well as non-binary identity.
Although not always explicitly labeled autistic in the source material, many popular non-binary characters have been taken up as examples of autistic representation by their respective fandoms. This is notable as multiple studies have identified that autistic people are up to seven times more likely to identify with gender variance, such as non-binary or transgender, than allistic (non-autistic) people (Koloni, 2019). Some attribute this to a drive to live authentically rather than conforming to social pressures of essentialist views of binary gender, but whatever the reason, many fans seem to acknowledge this association in their interpretations of the behavior of some of their favorite enby characters.
While many of the interpretations that these characters are autistic are “head canons” – meaning that they are read into the text without explicit confirmation from the source material – it is clear that these enby characters are often appreciated for their neurodivergent traits. However, other fans have identified this overlap as a site for criticism, and unsurprisingly, these critiques tend to reinforce ableist and transphobic messages. For instance, audience members use ableism to justify their transphobia, arguing that neurodivergent enby characters are less relatable (or even less human), than other “normal” (read: cisgender and neurotypical) characters.
Unfortunately, misunderstandings of autism and non-binary identities mean that both identities are often misconstrued and may be viewed as being intentionally difficult when asking others to adapt their communication practices. Fortunately, increased representation is allowing for more diverse stories to be told and more characters to take up a place in audience members’ hearts. Hopefully, as this representation continues to grow, we will also start to see the love for autistic enbys extend beyond the bounds of whiteness and masculinity, which are currently centered.
Koloni, R. (2019). Neuroqueering Gender. Student Research Submissions. 372. https://scholar.umw.edu/student_research/372