Down the Rabbit Hole: The Language of Autistic Queerness

Increasingly, I’m feeling that there’s nothing about my identities as a queer person that can be separated from my feelings, experiences, world-view and personal sensibilities as an autistic.


I suspect that I’m queer because I’m autistic.

I don’t mean that people who aren’t cisgender, heterosexual and heteromantic must be autistic to be queer. I don’t mean that queerness is intrinsic to neurodiversity (although I will argue that neurodiverse people are more like to eschew cisheteronormativity and amatonormativity in a variety of ways). I’m trying to say that my identity as a queer person is complex, and most of that complexity, if not the entirety of it, exists because, as an autistic person, I have a loose, complicated relationship to many social norms and a body with very different requirements. In this case, I lack the deep, natural, unquestioned physical and emotional connections to experiences like sexuality and gender. That looseness provides space to think and question; it’s easy to reject normativity when you’ve only been anchored to it by the chafing, fraying twine of societal expectation. Even someone like me, trying desperately to perform allism (the state of being not autistic) and fearing the heaping of more difference on top the difference I repressed, still found it possible, over many years, to examine, test and accept labels that define and celebrate more of my differences. I still tried on labels like bisexual, lesbian, man; I still found labels like agender and queer.

The idea that a word like autism can group all the ways in which I have been different is new. I’m a baby autie, in terms of my space in the community, and I don’t deny it for a moment. I’ve been that kind of different all my life though, so the only arguable difference is that now I can retrospectively apply a word—autism—instead of the words I’m used to using, words like “weird” and “strange”. The real difference between me today and me of two, four, ten, fifteen years ago is that I now possess a word that owns, positively, my differences. I can own my autistic traits instead of shoving them to the background and pretending that they don’t exist from the fear that people will only like and accept me if I am half or less of the person I am. In spaces where I feel safe enough to use this word, I can deny nothing. I’m not broken. I’m autistic. I don’t think and feel like you, but I don’t wish to!

(There’s a price to pay for that difference of thought, being that I needs must live in a world not designed for me and experience a range of difficulties that are seldom accommodated or understood.)

This adopting of a new word does make visible to me, though, that there are many other things, including identities and complexities of those identities I am, that I have been pushing away because society tells me these things are abnormal.

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Survival of Naming

My mother, most of the time, can’t remember my real name.

It doesn’t matter how many times I correct her. She isn’t good at remembering things. The birth name, legal name, dead name, the name that I never speak or use myself, slides from her lips, and she never sees me wince. If I do protest, if I correct her, if I show exasperation or annoyance, she gets angry. I know her reasoning: she has a bad memory. It isn’t fair that I expect her to remember a name that isn’t the name she chose for me, isn’t the name she gave me at birth, isn’t the name ingrained in her understanding of the person I am. It’s too hard, too much, to ask her to think something that isn’t there in her own head.

Sometimes I feel strangled, as an autistic person who knows with painful understanding what it means to forget names. I should be more understanding, shouldn’t I?

But it’s my name. It isn’t even as though I’ve changed it to something wildly different: I’ve just hacked off six letters. Why is that so hard to remember?

Her anger works. It holds me rigid and silent. There’s no point in correcting if she’ll only yell at me for being an ungrateful arsehole who isn’t considerate of her memory struggles. She’s patient with me, isn’t she? So why can’t I be with her?

Here I am, strangled again.

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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”.

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All The Puzzle Pieces, Please

I have a roller bag/trolley. It’s a battered railway-issue bag I’ve had for a little over a year, and it goes almost everywhere I go. People comment on it as though it’s funny: they can’t imagine why I need to take it everywhere.

I consider it an accessibility aid for anything that involves leaving the house.

I have things I need to take everywhere with me. My wrist and thumb splints, because my pain is something I can’t plan, and being in pain at work without a splint is a nightmare. A thick hooded jumper, because my hypersensitivity to cold means that waiting at railway platforms at night is agonising. A woollen, hooded scarf, ditto. A large tub of Play-Doh, for stimming. A bottle of water, for timetabled and non-timetabled medication. An umbrella, because I live in Geelong/Melbourne where we can get five seasons in a single day. Lunch, if I’m going to work, because I can’t afford to just buy two meals a working day on the hours I get.

I’ve also got optional things I take everywhere with me, like my netbook (I use all time I spend on trains), deck boxes and a dice bag (you never know when you might run into someone and regret not having a deck on you), a playmat (this makes it so much easier for me to pick cards, even sleeved cards, up off the table) and other odds-and-ends (wet and dry tissues, nail scissors, deodorant, a tape measure because the Warhammer players never bring their own and sometimes the store one gets lost). Yes, I have the bloody kitchen sink, but you’d be amazed at all the times someone has needed something I just happen to have.

I also have a rainbow-striped satchel over my shoulder for absolutely-bloody-essential things like wallet, headphones (I need something to drown out the noises made by other people/traffic/trains), coin purse, meds, bandaids, notepad and pen. A satchel bag where I can just reach in without pulling the bag off a shoulder and unzipping is so much better than a backpack, even if a backpack is less gendering.

I also need, quite simply, a place to put anything I buy.

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The Agency of Hardwiring

A friend sent me this article on the correlation between transgender identities and autism spectrum disorders. (Please read on before clicking.) I don’t ever want to say that being trans is an autistic thing – although it happens that all the trans people I know are also autistic, which is a bias most likely explained by the habit of like-minded people flocking together – but when I look at the significant amount of non-binary (which, I remind everyone, is a transgender identity) autistic bloggers, I’m all for acknowledgement. It meets my lived experience, after all.

What I didn’t quite expect was some scientific bullshit about “extreme male brain” and lack of empathy used to rationalise the existence of binary trans-masculine autistics, i.e. the assumption that female-designated autistics are “more masculine” in brain function and therefore it’s reasonable for many of them to be trans men. This invalidates every conversation I’ve ever had with another autistic person (whom I generally find to be more empathetic towards me than the average neurotypical), ignores the fact that autistic trans women exist and furthers an assumption that often denies female-designated people diagnosis (because if we’re not autistic in ways commonly expressed by men, we’re not seen as autistic). It also comes with a massive misunderstanding/mislabeling of the trans experience and forgets, entirely, about non-binary people when it’s not contributing to even more gendering. It’s okay; we non-binary folk are used to not existing. It’s the story of our lives.

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Your geeky, my geeky, girl geeky

This is long.

Also, as of time of posting, Wizards’ website is down for maintenance, so links may or may not work.

You may or may not know that I have two major fandoms. (I like a great many books and most things that are European melodic metal, but they’re not fandoms for me; most of the time I don’t discover that Eluveitie or Dark Tranquillity released their new album until six months after the fact. Likewise, I can wait a few months to get the latest Robin Hobb, even though every time I read her books I grin because I had a friend who was ultra-conservative Catholic and a Hobb fan, but cut off contact with me as soon as I started coming out, and I bet she just about imploded when she started reading about Sedric and Carson in The Rain Wild Chronicles.) One is Magic the Gathering, because it’s a trading card game that’s amazingly feminist for a mainstream property targeted at dudes, and while I think the technical writing in Uncharted Realms is most often terrible, predictable or bleh, I’m always impressed by both the worldbuilding and the lack of gender-essentialism in MtG’s terms, titles and characters. Now, if Wizards can only continue their impressive work on gender-equality in Legendary characters (in Tarkir block more than half of all Legendary characters are female, and the number goes up when you count twice-printed characters like the original Khans and the Dragonlords) with equality in their roster of Planeswalkers, and take the great move that is Alesha, Who Smiles at Death and Ashiok (but only if they stop avoiding pronouns and declare Ashiok to be specifically genderless, please) to more queer Legendaries and Walkers, I’ll die happy.

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Marriage equality, you ask?

So I’m sitting on the couch watching morning TV because I’m sick as, and then a blue sketch image, vaguely resembling ice, flashes up on screen. I can make out the words “sex” and “marriage”, but not until the presenter starts talking do I understand that the scribble on the tip of the iceberg is “same”. Oh, wow, clever metaphor. Who knows what hell lurks underneath, right? Three minutes later, I get a second advertisement, because it’s not enough that I’m reminded once that I’m a secret danger to the fabric of society, no: I have to endure it again.

Great. I already risk homophobia when I step outside the house, go online, watch a TV show or open a book – now I have to get it in the advertisements as well? What happened to government-sponsored political spots about workers’ rights and attempts to flog toothpaste and muesli bars?

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