You Can Be Autistic AND an Asshole

Mette Harrison
5 min readOct 5, 2022

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As a woman who was diagnosed late with autism (at age 46), I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to figure out what autism looks like for women and why it took so long for me to figure out that I was autistic and why it still takes so long for me to convince other people that I’m autistic. Sometimes, when people respond, “But you don’t seem autistic,” I dig into their assumptions and realize that autism=lack of empathy and then there is a long conversation that follows. There are so many stereotypes to autistic behavior as well, and one of the main ones is that, well, we can be unyielding, in particular. It’s tricky, when talking about so-called “high-functioning” autism, to distinguish between what is autistic behavior and what is merely being an asshole. I will admit that the difficulty here increases, in my opinion, when talking about male-centric autistic characteristics. Ultimately, I think this has to do more with how society genders us and pressures us to adhere to gender than it has to do with autism. But more on that later.

As a woman, I was constantly taught that my job was to do emotional work for others. I was supposed to be a nurturer, a carer. I was “naturally” empathetic and giving. I was supposed to pay attention to social cues and follow them all the time. I was supposed to see people’s faces and read their intentions and react to their unspoken feelings and desires. I was supposed to be good at helping others and also supposed to enjoy this without any compensation or really any acknowledgment. When I turned out not to be good at these things, I was often perceived as unfeminine (my lack of feminine clothing or hairstyles and makeup added to this). The remedy for this was often to teach me more explicitly how to be kind, compassionate, and feminine in support roles.

When I was still unable to do this, I was often labeled “selfish,” “rude,” or “obstinate.” I often wanted (at least when I was younger) to figure out how to be better at understanding others. I often thought it was my job to figure out if anyone was upset and to defuse the situation, often by apologizing myself or by explaining one person to another. I wasn’t great at this, but I did it willingly and when I became a mother and started caring for small children, much of the criticism of my perceived masculinity disappeared because I was less threatening to the…

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Mette Harrison

Autist, Ironman Worlds triathlete, Writer, Right-Brained