March 15, 2023 (a happy Ides of March to all who celebrate)

SPECTRUMS: Autistic Transgender People in Their Own Words edited by Maxfield Sparrow

Cover for the book Spectrums: Autistic Transgender People in Their Own Words edited by Maxfield Sparrow

Spectrums was a delightful and cathartic read for me. I stumbled upon it in the 306 section of the local library on my first foray into checking out a book from there. I don’t know how I’ve lived in this city for five years and never had a library card, but I suppose it was just something I never had time for. But now, being an educator, all I have is time during the summer, breaks, and weekends. I have been mostly reading nonfiction as of late and wanted to continue that interest with something new. I can’t remember off the top of my head if I found this book in the section about Autism or Trans-related topics, but in service to this book it could be shelved in either. Ideally, I assume the authors in this book could argue, there would be a section for the intersection of those identities, where an entire library of works could flourish. But unfortunately, as Sparrow discusses in the foreword, works about the intersection of gender expansive identities and autistic voices are often written exclusively from people outside looking in. There’s been stray studies here and there, and footnotes in books about parenting autistic children, but rarely books written BY us. This book remedies that with such a varied balm of voices that regardless of how you personally feel on the topic, or how you’ve experienced your own life (even if you’re cis and allistic probably), you can find some kindred spirits in it.

I found the essay “Lifting the Burden” by Drake Keeper to be particularly in line with my experience. In it, they talk about feeling like they were always on the outside of society and looking inward. While that isn’t the metaphor I particularly use for my life (that’s another blog entry, potentially the next one), it is still apt. They talk about feeling that puberty and social life were things that happened to other people. Reading about their experience with homeschooling and early socialization with other autistic children made me feel far less alone in my life up to this point. We aren’t long lost twins, but maybe long lost half-siblings. People who were given the same situation and the same tools, but made slightly different sculptures from it.

Another essay in the book, “Bodies With Purpose” by Gil Goletski, explored how the autistic-coding of characters in Star Trek (primarily Deep Space 9, I think. I actually haven’t watched any Star Trek, but I may now) can also be Trans-coding, and vice versa. As someone who as a kid was heavily into Fandom and still dabbles in any fiction I can sink my hairy nail polished raptor hands into, I was fascinated by their takes. The very same things that make a character read as autistic can be reflected in things that make them read as trans. Specifically, to Goletski, a discomfort or disassociation from the Body. They touch on several characters (Data, Odo, and Dax) and how the way that their bodies are used in the narrative lends to the feeling of inhuman humanity that makes them read as autistic, but also gives them the complex relationships to their bodies and the genders they inhabit. I’m someone who is also physically disabled and I also sometimes feel that my body is something aside from me. I think after I post this I’ll absolutely legally acquire the ability to watch some Star Trek. I might have a revelation or two to have.

This is starting to get longer than I meant for it to, as a simple review of this book so I’ll touch on the last piece that felt particularly emboldening in this anthology: the fact that at least half the authors were self-admittedly over 40 years old. Forty isn’t very old at all. It’s not even middle aged, all things considered. But it is for trans people. It is for autistic people. We may not even know the actual life expectancy for autistic trans people, but like many things it’s a bit of a spectrum. In any case, statistically, it’s far less than the expectancy for similar allistic cis people. Hearing these voices (one person was at least over 65!) felt like the best punch to the gut to receive. I felt so warm, so happy, knowing that people like me get old. That we get old and can still be heard. That we get old and can tell the next generation, and the one after that, that we got old. I talked about gender with a student today. The kids at my school are anywhere from 11 to 14. This student was one of the older ones, but still just a kid. They felt empowered to declare their name, their identity, and to discuss that with an adult at school. I can’t even imagine knowing I was trans at their age, let alone tell other people, let alone tell adults. Just knowing that they see trans adults at work like me (because let’s be honest, I am not remotely stealth) and can read books like Spectrums and hear the voices of elder trans people, elder autistic folks, and just know that they can make it. It fills me with enough warmth to keep me going through the next hundred winters of my life.

Spectrums is edited by Maxfield Sparrow. It is an extremely good book, and I highly recommend it to anyone on a spectrum of their own looking for comfort in this horrifically tense climate. I could go on and on about each entry in the book, from the poetry, to the experiences I didn’t relate to one bit, to the voices of people who needed to be heard even louder, to the ones from teenagers just making their first steps into society proper. All around amazing work from each contributor, and if any of them find this review: I see you, I hear you, and I love you.

If you have any questions about the book, or comments on my review, or just want to talk about being “transtistic” (as one author coined), I can be reached by email at