Not Only the Label

Before I came back to writing and posting it here (for me a profoundly terrifying thing) I was considering whether or not I should just build a new website from scratch. I’ve got a lot more .org experience now, thanks to my work on the Twilight School website, and I would definitely have fun building my own self-hosted blog where the CMS allows me more control over certain elements and I’m not constrained by a client’s finances and design requirements.

There were two reasons why I was contemplating this.

One was that the Twilight School is sponsored by the Salesian College Sunbury, and I’m so far out of the closet I’ve lost the way back to Narnia. Maybe it would be safer to have an online identity that’s a teensy bit less, well, queer?

This is now irrelevant, since I’ve outed myself to the Twilight School community and the world hasn’t imploded. In point of fact, I experienced the entirely underwhelming reaction of … nothing. Man, when I’m steeling myself up to cop homophobia that might even extend to the loss of my job, it’s bewildering to then experience silence. Good, certainly, and I hope this is the beginning of interactions with people of Christian faith who are, if not accepting, at least considerate enough to keep their beliefs about my legitimacy as a human being to themselves, but bewildering.

(I’ve also been sitting on a post about how community does in fact comprise those of us who dare to be queer, and any school promoting their community outreach initiatives doesn’t get to pick and choose which parts of the community are welcome, which is something like being all dressed up with nowhere to go.)

The other was … well, most of the things I’m feeling and exploring right now aren’t all that queer, taken in a separatist/isolationist view that denies the importance and relevance of intersectionality. I’ve been asked to write a piece about turning points for a publication, and while my first thought was to write about the subtlety of turning points, I’m actually thinking that what I’m feeling right now is the turning point encapsulated in the word “autism”.

Very simply, I am thinking and feeling and writing again in no small part because someone finally told me that I am autistic. I am thinking and feeling and writing again because B. R. Kyle nudged me towards the blogs of female and female-assigned non-binary autistics who described so many things I’d been experiencing, enduring and repressing as part of my internal weirdness that it brought me to tears over and over again. I am thinking and feeling and writing again because I now have a psychologist who is treating me as an anxious, depressed, scarred autistic person and not a stubborn, frustrating wretch best tossed in the “difficult” basket.

For weeks I looked at this blog, and while most of my avoidance was just that – anxiety – there was a part of me that felt boxed in by the very premise of my domain name.

I am queer, and I think gender is a personally-oppressive construct I’m better off without, no matter how difficult and distressing it is to be genderless in a binary-gendered world.

I’m also a whole lot more than that, and it’s been a long time since my main focus has been sexuality or gender. Before I fell down the pit of anxiety so crippling I couldn’t do anything – and I’m still struggling to get back that part of myself that so easily did things, to the point that just the daily checking of email is a thing fraught with difficulty and comments are still absolutely out of the question – I wrote mostly about depression and anxiety, because that was where I was at. When you’re drowning, you snatch at whatever you need to stay alive, and if that means putting your pain to words in the search of some kind of meaning, do it.

(I don’t always live up to this belief, so I’ll own my sad hypocrisy, but I do believe in defying society’s expectation that we hide our pain under our sleeves. I don’t want to engage in the self-harm of self-censorship in this idea that so many of the things that make us real are things we don’t show to others or express in all their extravagant honesty. I’d rather be the person that writes vividly about my depression until I’ve bored everyone to death than the person who hides it, smiles at the world and shows a false illusion of accomplishment. No. I’m a pretty fucked-up person, and all the people I want to be when I grow up are the openly fucked-up people who didn’t back away from showing their fears and worries and imperfections. When I’m surrounded every day by my imperfections, as reckoned by a society that doesn’t want to make space for me, what chance do I have other than to try and be gloriously broken? That includes, by the way, sometimes being an absolute fucking hypocrite.)

Disability is a looming spectre in my life. It can’t not be, since it restricts so much of what I can do. It impacts my experiences of being queer and genderless. It puts me in more interesting or even dangerous experiences for being queer and genderless, given that I have to interact with so many more doctors (psychiatrists, pain specialists, GPs) and medical workers (psychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists) in the course of treatment. Disability, more than anything else, silences me, and when my anxiety means I go for months at a time not being able to put fingers to keyboard, it is disabling. I need to write about this. I should write about this.

And now, as a newcomer to this idea that my strangeness and weirdness is just autism, I have three decades’ worth of feelings to put into words.

I’m even just free enough of my anxiety that I can do so.

(You can consider this a warning, if you like, or you can consider it a delightful preview.)

In this light, it might be so much easier to start afresh. Register a domain name that is my name. Don’t define the blog so that readers can get everything and everything that is K. A. Cook, a writer who is too damn human for singular categories to encompass their entirety. Toss up pieces about gender, and Magic the Gathering, and why an office chair made me cry, and my fashion doll collection, and why I’m deliberately writing dialogue with run-on commas, and the non-literary craft things I make on low-pain days, in one chaotic, but real, topical blender.

I would have, I think, but for two reasons.

One, while I’m not exactly lazy, I’ve got a blog and a backlist of unnecessarily-long essays right here.

Two, and more importantly, this notion of defining a named space so it is predominantly one aspect of my identity is fucking oppressive.

It’s so easy, in the year 2016, to have a million side blogs for dolls, craft things, writing, reading, Magic, gender, sexuality, physical disability, mental illness, autism. I can split myself up into ten different pieces, and I dare say I’d have more readers that way – readers who find one or two aspects interesting but don’t relate to the rest of it. When I look at the approach other, particularly casual, bloggers make, I’m acutely, uncomfortably aware of the fact that, for some reason, it is social practice, despite every minority movement shrieking the importance of intersectionality, to divide and conquer. If one advertises one’s self as a gender and sexuality blog, one probably shouldn’t write a post all about disability and Magic the Gathering.

To have one piece of me properly heard by the audience after that specific dialogue, I need to excise it from the rest of me.

Yet I write almost nothing without even a sidewise glance at sexuality and gender. How can I not, when these things shape so much of my life? I am queer without gender. I’m also autistic without gender and disabled without gender (and the medical profession clings desperately to the constructs of gender and sex as predominant and meaningful). Everything I am, feel and experience is viewed through the lens of the gender imposed upon me. Gender, and the assumption of its presence, never goes away.

Worse is the simple truth that there are so few characters like me. There’s queer characters and trans characters. There’s even a few (not many, but a few) non-binary characters. There’s characters with autism (although not so many written by actual autistics) and characters with chronic pain. There’s definitely characters with depression and anxiety (although probably not so many with personality disorder non-specified). But are there pansexual, aromantic, autistic genderless or non-binary characters who experience mental illnesses and chronic pain? One or two, at most, I suspect, and, sadly, I haven’t found them yet.

These characters don’t exist because editors, publishers and readers think this an aspect of high Sueism – an immature author’s attempt to make their protagonist super special by having them experience too many states of being to be realistic. I’ve seen well-meaning but ignorant reviewers advise writers against this – against writing characters like me, and let’s not forget there are people of colour in the world who are all of those things as well, which means my life is a picnic in comparison – while never thinking that this advice means I get to continue to not exist in fiction. Just make your characters one or two things at a time, okay? Representation for real, living, complex, many-faceted human beings isn’t actually required, and, worse, we’ll discourage and limit those writers among us who are too young to the craft to be constrained by the programing!

(Hi. I’m K. A. and I’m a living, walking, talking Mary Sue. By the way, we need a gender-neutral slang term, because I don’t love gendering myself to make a point. Or we can just stop using a meaningless, insulting, misogynistic label to oppress and limit literary creatives.)

These characters don’t exist because we feel the need to separate who we are and what matters to us and then put it back together in combinations that make the majority happy by lessening the entirety of our experience.

They don’t exist because we’re still too used to the ableist/heterocentric/ciscentric/racist notion that we’re just one or two steps away from the social norm.

If readers here for gender turn away because I’m writing about autism, even though, as a late-diagnosed, female-assigned-but-genderless writer I often can’t write about autism without also writing about gender, what does that say? That I’m only interesting or relevant, as a queer and genderless writer, when I’m not specifically autistic?

If that thought exists, and I do feel it to do so, it cannot go unchallenged.

If I go and create a new blog out of the feeling that this domain name doesn’t encompass the entirety of me, and whatever readers I do have are going to object to my frequent off-perceived-topic forays, I’m not acting out of a need to express my diversity as a single human being.

I’m reacting to, and thereby fulfilling, the heterocentric, ciscentric and ableist belief that gender and sexuality is a thing separate from disability … or Magic or creativity or anything else I feel like writing.

I’m acting contrary to the beliefs that drive me to write about sexuality and gender in the first place.

That’s a sad and terrible tragedy of which I want no part.

So I’m going to stay here, with the same old domain name, and write about whatever I feel the need to write. I’m working on overhauling the design so it better encompasses who I am, but I’m staying. I am a diverse, curious, thoughtful person, and even though this domain name only best expresses one part of me, the truth is that my war against a world that genders me is explicit in everything I experience, feel and analyse. The truth is that it shouldn’t matter, because while the pressure to split my topics into new homes might help readers feel more comfortable, in the sense of being able to follow a blog that only posts to their interests, it doesn’t help me.

We need characters who live and breathe the intersectionality of many experiences and identities, and we need writers who do the same.

I’m going to write, an awful lot, about things that aren’t specifically queer without gender.

That’s the only way I know how to be my kind of queer.