Start as you mean to go on.

“People are apprehensive, Liesel. They’re not sure what to say to you, and they don’t want to offend you.”, said my rather apprehensive colleague.
“Sounds like a them problem. Maybe they need to do the ally training again”, replied my autistic copilot.

And that the thing. Why is it expected that minorities will happily accommodate others comfort?

So, knowing I already make cis white middle aged men people uncomfortable and finally prioritising my own comfort over theirs, I recently walked into the Melbourne office, Bunny poking her head out of my handbag. I was there to meet my team for the first time IRL, embracing the old maxim of “Start as you mean to go on”, also knowing that:

(a) nobody would say a damn word (the D&I HR Sword of Damocles hangs heavy) and
(b) I’d be the most comfortable person in the room

That’s not to say I deliberately set out to antagonise people; I’m a neurodivergent queer, not a monster. Yet corporate world makes a big deal of “authentic self (but not that much)” and that means making simple accommodations. Like Bunny.

And nobody did indeed say a damn word. To my face at least.

Working from the lounge, Perth airport

Working from the lounge, Perth airport

Masking & Unmasking

In Masking when you have autism can help you blend in, but you might not be doing yourself any favours, Nick McAllister ( writes of the long term consequences of masking. Trying to “fit in” for decades can lead to burnout, depression, and anxiety. We learn very early that the daily sensory overload (an involuntary response to an overload of the central nervous system) we experience is just bad behaviour. We learn to mask our way through it; to “behave” and to push it down. It becomes a future me problem. And this masking continues into the workplace. I’ve lost count of the number of appraisals over the years that have given such good neurotypical advice. Meetings I’ve been told I’m not contributing to because hey, that projector is really loud and I’m trying to focus and it’s too hot/cold and there’s too many people all speaking across each other but this is fine.



In a similar journey to Nick, I’m also late diagnosed. Finally having a “Why?” though an important step, is only the first of many. Perhaps the hardest part of the journey so far is learning to see the masking behaviours I’d acquired, the damage they were doing, and then learning to let them go.

Planes, Trains and Leporids

“So what’s the story with this one? She’s very cute.”

You meet the most surprising of people on a plane. I once sat next to a vicar who was obviously unhappy about being seated next to a demonic trans girl (don’t worry Rev. I know I’m going to hell, it’s where the best parties are). I’ve also had the pleasure of the company of a woman who was sooo drunk by the time we got to Singapore she had to be escorted off the plane. Perhaps the best time was on a trip to the US, experiencing the schadenfreude of being in business while a certain vile right-wing politician made his way to economy, showing his obvious disgust that “one of those” was seated in his birth-right cabin.

This flight was not one of those times.

The woman I was seated next to worked FIFO, a truck driver (yes, those enormous trucks they use to haul hundreds of tons of earth out of open cut pits). She’d struck up conversation as soon as I’d sat down, and although the abstract thought of talking to a total stranger for the next 4 hours was horrendous, I was actually enjoying it. She was very disarming and just lovely to engage with.

“So what’s the story with this one? She’s very cute.”
“Oh this is my Bunny.”
“And what’s her name?”
“Just Bunny. Kinda suits her, seeing she’s a bunny.”
“Good point. And does Bunny fly a lot?”

Bunny does indeed fly a lot.

Bunny is very safety conscious.

Bunny is very safety conscious.

Back when I was first diagnosed, I had a counsellor who worked with me on both the practical and emotional aspects of being autistic. She told me the story of a CEO who had a stuffed toy that he took with him everywhere. Except the office. Like me, he’d been diagnosed late in life, and like me, he’d been masking for decades. And like me, he’d push through meetings only to collapse in a meltdown the moment he got home. Her advice? You’re the CEO, who’s going to say anything? So he took his stuffie to the next board meeting. And nobody said a damn word.


Stims are things that help us regulate. I’ve a few socially acceptable stims - small things to fiddle with in meetings, small repetitive movement - but none of them are effective as a soft toy. A soft toy makes a perfect stim for me (as long as the fur isn’t squeaky, or the stuffing all wrong, or… or…) - literally my emotional support plushie as it were. And Bunny is the perfect stim.

I had dozens as a kid. Rabbits, bears, a cat, a dolphin, and a few monsters. But we’re taught to put away these childish things, until one day, your counsellor tells you about a CEO and his stuffie. And you realise you’re the CEO of your own life. So you buy a Bunny. And you take Bunny everywhere. And nobody says a damn word. Do we see a pattern here?

Bunny catching up on some reading in the Bangkok Lounge

Bunny catching up on some reading in the Bangkok Lounge

Those Who Don’t Matter

It’s taken me a while to truly let go of worrying what other people think. I mean, a trans girl with a pink Bunny poking their head out of her handbag isn’t much weirder a sight than a trans girl without a pink Bunny poking their head out of her handbag. But it’s still a journey. I’ve had to learn to let go of the shame I’d internalised, and to let go of the fear of being judged by people who don’t matter, and worse, to let go of the fear of being judged by people who do.

“Don’t you think it’s weird I sleep with a pink Bunny?”, I asked my partner.
“Lots of women still sleep with their toxic husbands. I think Bunny is far healthier.”

Many years ago, still deep in the closet and undiagnosed, I was at an evening social event, part of a big data conference in Singapore. Feeling out of place and unable to work the room, I’d defaulted to my usual standing off to the side wondering how long I should stay, how do these people just talk like this, should I have another free drink…. when a woman walked past with a teddy hanging out of her backpack.

“Love your bear”, awkward me said. She stopped, turned and looked at me.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I do remember us kicking on to the after party where I stayed until I ran out of words and she went to join her work colleagues.

It’s funny, a cute trans girl with a teddy at a data conference turns out to be pivotal in the journey to finding myself. And now I’m the trans girl with the Bunny.

Like me, Bunny’s a business class girl

Like me, Bunny’s a business class girl

3am Eternal

I hope by now you’re realising Bunny is more than a pink rabbit.

In Australia, autistic people experience unemployment six times the national average, and three times that of other disabled people. Of those, around 54% had never had a paid job. Think about that, over half of unemployed autistic people had never even been given a chance. For those that make it into the workforce, 20% lost their job due to their autism. 1 in 5. Some days I feel like I’m just waiting to be one of those statistics. I’m incredibly privileged. I have a supportive family at home and manager at work. But I’m still autistic, and I still have meltdowns. I still miss social queues that are to this day, career limiting.

“You seem really positive, how do you do it?”, asked the ANZ Managing Director at a recent meet’n’greet.
“Valium and wine mostly.”

We don’t see those cues. Hierarchies are invisible to me. Sure I know they’re there, but in the moment of heavy masking and not wanting to fuck up, I simply don’t have the cycles to remember neurotypical deference to hierarchy. Autism copilot takes over and now the MD will just remember that trans girl who has a benzo and alcohol problem (I don’t. Fucked if I know where brain got that from.)

Bedtime in Thailand, worrying about tomorrow.

Bedtime in Thailand, worrying about tomorrow.

I set out writing this piece simply because my stupid 3am brain wouldn’t let me sleep until it had a first draft. Which of course I’d totally forgotten by the morning. But the hyperfocus now is fading, and I need to go hug Bunny.

So next time you see a trans girl with a pink Bunny poking their head out of her handbag, don’t judge. You now know why, and didn’t even have to re-do the ally training.

Bunny’s first time in Melbourne. She loved the Crown Promenade.

Bunny’s first time in Melbourne. She loved the Crown Promenade.