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  • Writer's pictureLa petite Sirène

Interview by Magali Pignard

22 February 2024

(Trad. DeepL)

Séverine (not her real name), 50, has an autistic child. She herself was diagnosed with autism at the age of 42 and was sexually abused as a child.

She is active in an association dedicated to autistic people. Séverine describes her childhood, adolescence and her rejection of being a girl without really understanding the reasons, until....


For as long as I can remember, I never wanted to be a girl and I couldn't understand why I was considered one.

My earliest memories are of clothes, which I hated. I systematically took off everything they put on me. That stopped when I started nursery school, when my inappropriate behaviour caused a terrible scandal. I wanted more than anything to go unnoticed, so I decided to accept the clothes... However, I would sneak off anything that wasn't visible (underwear, undershirts, stockings and socks...).

Despite this initial acceptance, my mother had to fight with me to get me dressed. To her horror, she couldn't get me into a dress or skirt. I hated all those things with flowers and ruffles that people wanted to dress me in. I felt like I was being dressed up, when all I wanted to do was wear trousers, a T-shirt and comfortable shoes, like any other boy. I resented these constant demands to dress 'like a girl'. All this was exacerbated by the fact that I was the only girl in a family of boys and that every day I could see the difference in the way we were treated, even though I was just like them. It was a very violent experience for me.

In my other environment, school, I was naturally placed with the girls, among whom I felt like a UFO. I didn't understand what they were doing, what they were talking about, what games they were playing... I didn't have any friendships and I was often made fun of. In my first year of nursery school, I was even harassed by three little girls. They constantly laughed at the way I behaved, the way I talked, my interests, my naivety, which allowed them to play a lot of tricks on me...

So it wasn't just in my family: I felt out of place at school too. My feeling of being a UFO in this world was intertwined with my rejection of the norms imposed on girls. Deep down, I wasn't what you'd call 'a girl'.

When I was at primary school, my mother had the good idea of enrolling me in ballet, an all-female environment in which social codes are particularly scathing and penetrate deep into the body. I felt like a tube with four sticks for limbs, and I was expected to be 'graceful'. You had to stretch your muscles to "look pretty", something I was incapable of doing, even though I could barely stand the ridiculous leotard I was wearing... My dance teacher looked at me with disgust. One day, fed up with my inability to make a move, she told me that I was nothing like a girl. I didn't understand her violence towards me, but I totally agreed with her.

Ballet lessons were my first memories of profound disgust with my body. I'd already realised that I wasn't a girl, and this feeling combined with hatred of my own body. There was something very wrong with me. I wasn't getting anywhere in this world, I didn't fit in, all my efforts to fit in were failing; it was simply impossible for me to find my place. I felt like everyone hated me, and I hated myself too.

When I was a teenager, my distress increased even more, as did the various harassments. My body became one of the main subjects of my hatred. When I reached puberty, my breasts grew very quickly, especially as I put on a lot of weight. I couldn't stand my breasts and I couldn't stand people seeing them. I used to wear very baggy jumpers (even in summer) and arch my back to try and hide them. I would have given anything to have them removed.

There were no social networks back then, and it wasn't until I was about fifteen that I learnt that you could operate on breasts to make them smaller. It was the era of Sabrina, Samantha Fox, Pamela Anderson and Lolo Ferrari, and the boom in breast augmentation. The more breasts you had, the more feminine you were... As soon as I discovered that breasts could be reduced, I became obsessed with this operation, which would finally enable me to feel better in a body that didn't suit me. After months of nagging my parents, I finally had a breast reduction. I persuaded the surgeon to reduce my breasts to a minimum.

The operation went very well. I was delighted to have small breasts and to relieve some of that deep-seated feeling of disgust. I thought that my body was already more in line with who I was. However, my inner pain didn't go away at all. On the contrary, I was suffering desperately, but this time for no reason. I had nothing to explain this suffering. Two months later, convinced that I didn't belong in this world, I decided that living on the streets was less difficult than trying to conform to what was expected of me. I ran away and (over)lived on the streets for about 6 months, until a police check took me back to my parents. Two months later, I made my first suicide attempt (I made four in all).

I could go on indefinitely with stories of disgust with myself and my body, psychological distress, suicide attempts, scarification, eating disorders, psychiatric hospitalisations and so on. It was only much later that I began to get explanations for my distress. Around the age of 30, I recovered memories of being raped between the ages of 5 and 9. At 42, I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. These two factors alone explain why I didn't understand or adhere to social codes, particularly those associated with my gender. In a deeply unequal society that mistreats little girls, I would have given anything not to be a girl. These diagnoses also explain why my body had become unbearable for me.

When I started to rebuild myself, I suffered a lot from the image of those scarred breasts that were no longer mine. I'm also very critical of those who accepted this medically-assisted self-mutilation so easily. It wasn't a scalpel I needed, it was treatment for my psychiatric suffering and a diagnosis.

Today, I can only say that the image of femininity conveyed by the media and even more so by social networks is even more violent than in my day. The models of success that we present to young girls are hypersexualised women, feminised to the point of becoming parodies of themselves... They are rich because they made a sex tape or because they prostituted themselves... Since it seems that this is what it means to be a woman, it is normal that many young girls try by all means to escape their status as women. It's almost inevitable if you're autistic and don't adhere to the social codes that society imposes on you and/or if you've been sexually abused (especially as a child). If I were young today, trapped in my traumatic amnesia and without a diagnosis, I'd probably be a fervent campaigner for the concept of gender identity.

This is just my personal experience. However, I also have the experience of having worked with several autistic girls and women. In primary school, my son (who was also autistic) made a friend who was very adamant about being a boy and wanted to make the transition as quickly as possible. I very quickly detected Asperger's syndrome in this young girl, which was confirmed a few years later. After the diagnosis, she began to evolve on the issue of transition. Today, she has totally abandoned the idea of being a boy. This story has been repeated several times, because my son has brought me friends who are questioning their gender. Each time, it turned out that the girls were autistic and, more often than not, victims of sexual violence. On another occasion, I accompanied a young autistic boy who was talking about his feelings about being a woman. It turned out that this boy was having a very hard time coping with the discovery of his homosexuality and that he had been convinced to be a woman by exchanges on social networks. Thinking he was a woman allowed him to think he was heterosexual... All it took was for him to accept his homosexuality and his feeling of being a woman disappeared.

I also belong to an association of autistic people where I have set up a discussion group dedicated to autistic girls and women. All of them have gone through a complex process in their relationship with their body, their sex, and a more or less conscious rejection of the norms associated with femininity.

Even today, I refuse to accept gender stereotypes. I simply don't accept them, and what's more, I fight them. I am a woman because that is the biological reality that made me so. For everything else, I am a FREE person.


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