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.

Nothing.

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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Certain Eldritch Artefacts (A Kit March Prequel)

Alliterative magician and College graduate Darius Liviu has travelled half the world in search of the rarest of rare magical artefacts: a tolerable talking sword. He knew it wouldn’t be an easy quest, but, after a year of failure, one last rumour sees him risk Rajad’s chaotic, cluttered, terrifying Great Souk. The noise, the smells, the people and his inability to move without provoking disaster make everything difficult, but Darius dares the nightmare in hope of an item that just might draw the eye of the man he loves.

The sword he finds may or may not be tolerable. It may not even be a sword. It has other ideas on the matter of being a lover’s token, however: ideas that make Darius ponder the reason he travelled at all…

PDF | EPUB | Kit March Master Post | Next: The Adventurer King

Word count: 10, 530 words.

Content advisory: Darius is seventeen, and young for a magician, but—being short and transmasculine in a time and place where medical transitioning is less of an option—not so young as he appears that the ageism others display is justifiable, if it ever is. (Personal experience time.) “Normal” used to mean “allistic” but, I hope, in a tone that is meant to be snide-leaning. Depictions of anxiety/social anxiety provoked by being a dyspraxic autistic having to navigate a world (a crowded, chaotic, noisy, busy, smelly, cramped world) truly not designed for him. The behaviour of the stallholders is an exercise in unthinking ableism. The belt is a pushy, demanding, frustrating entity who is nonetheless somewhat ideal as a mentor for an autistic teenager because it isn’t an easily-offended allistic neurotypical human. Whether or not the belt is being transphobic, deliberately provocative or both is open to question. Since mainstream autism portrayals tend to be light on the SPD aspects of autism, I wanted to show both the Sensory Hell of the setting and what Darius does to try to survive it.

Note the first: Yes, this is a rewrite of something I’ve already written. I thought I’d do PDF versions of Kit March so that people (like me) who don’t love reading long-arse chapters on backlit browsers have an alternative. If I’m doing that, well, I should throw in the prequel short stories for context, because the problem with making one of your protagonists a thirty-one-year-old magician with history is that he has history. If I’m doing that, though, I should rewrite this in light of worldbuilding and character development (mostly that Darius is knowingly autistic instead of accidentally so) and make it a proper introduction to knowingly-autistic-Darius and the belt. And if I’m making those changes, well, I should post it on the off chance somebody is interested…

Note the second: Aside from missing sensory realism and deliberate stimming—and Darius’s frustration feels so much more natural to me when accompanied by flapping hands!—the original story’s conclusion strikes me as a direction to learn a set of skills to better mimic Real Neurotypical Adults. As someone learning how to move more in tune with my actually autistic self after a lifetime’s pretence (being the kind of person who falls going up stairs and has destroyed my ankle by tripping over a tennis ball), I’m desperately uncomfortable with this, even knowing that someone who doesn’t know that they’re an autistic author writing an autistic character isn’t like to avoid ableism. So this story has suffered quite a drastic reframing toward an autistic man having the opportunity to discover how he might learn to move, as a Real Neurodiverse Adult, in ways that both serve his needs and see him less abused by the neurotypical world. I don’t want Darius to learn how to be another neurotypical soldier (yawn) who gains great proficiency in the combat arts—he’s here to learn something else entirely, and the belt knows it, even if Darius doesn’t.

Note the third: In societies where pansexuality is the default, which is everywhere seen/referenced so far save Astreut, exclusive monosexuality is a little bit weird. Not so weird that it results in oppression and restriction, but weird enough that that the terms used to describe it by most pansexuals are unthinkingly not-quite-positive.

I don’t think they taught you how to move as you are in a world that isn’t for you, but why can’t you learn that?

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Connection

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accoutrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Connection: Tes meets hir new roommate Holly Naoko, learns from the chattering historian Iris Edmé and discovers ze does, in fact, possess a valuable trade.

Chapter count: 7080 words.

Content advisory: Casual mention—and casual handling, deliberately akin to the way we talk about the latest character to die on Game of Thrones—of the fact Darius ended the Lord of Mul Dura’s life with no small amount of violent, even torturous enthusiasm. Ableist slurs like “stupid” used by a non-verbal autistic woman to describe how people regarded her. A salutary lesson in matters of trans characters’ access to gender-affirmative clothing. An aro-ace protagonist who thinks of hirself as frigid because nobody ever told hir ze’s fine and real and perfect as is. (This will happen.) Also, the word “strange” may not be an in-universe neurodiverse-specific slur to Tes, but given that Efe uses it in such a way and Darius considers it as such, I’ll note that Tes uses it, in moments of despair, to describe hirself as well.

Note the first: Why, yes, a trans narrator ends up at a school with a trans headmaster and is introduced to a trans teacher and then to two trans students who introduce hir to a third trans student related to the trans headmaster (and we haven’t even met the second narrator yet, who is, well, trans). In fact, I’ll mention that there’s one cis staff member, and most of the named students are, ye gods, trans. I don’t see how this is remotely unrealistic, but, if you feel that way, I’ll mention that, thus far, nobody’s commented on the unrealistic walking corncob. (Who objects to humanity’s habit of forcibly opposing notions of gender on a sapient species that doesn’t require it.)

Note the second: A lord is a noble of no specific gender. A Lord is a noble, magician, mage, ruler or other personage of note, also of no specific gender, who practices certain dark arts and often seeks to live out dreams of global domination. Efe Kadri assassinated several of them.

I want to know. I want to know things. History and magic and talking with my hands. Is it hard?

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The Adventurer King (A Kit March Prequel)

Seven years ago, alliterative magician Darius Liviu met a talking sword belt in the Great Souk of Rajad. Since then, he trained as a swordsman and now works as a mercenary guard. He picked up a few jobs with merchants who don’t mind the loquacious belt, but he is yet to find the work—or the employer—that gives his training and his life purpose. In truth, he’s not sure he shouldn’t just pack up and return to Greenstone. The impulsive, forward and insulting Efe Kadri, or at least his sister Aysun, just might have the answer, if Darius can survive life on the road with the king of Siya…

PDF | EPUB | Kit March Master Post | Previous: Certain Eldritch Artefacts

Story count: 10 245 words.

Content advisory: Efe has a moment of being a casually/unthinking transphobic (and ableist) arse, but he doesn’t get away with it. The belt is still the belt (a pushy, demanding, frustrating eldritch object that cares way too much about sex and will try anyone’s patience).

Note the first: This takes place seven years after Certain Eldritch Artefacts and seven years before the beginning of The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March. The more I came to know Efe Kadri through Darius, the more I wanted to write about how the awkward Darius I first knew came to ride the worldroad with a king who abandoned his throne (and then came to be the harder man who returns to Greenstone). Since Efe and Aysun are so big in Darius’s world, it seemed absurd to not meet them, if only for a story here and there.

Note the second: The major literary problem with being an undiagnosed autistic was my tendency to write characters who are autistic with hindsight but aren’t written in such a way that their autism is acknowledged and centred. (How do you do that when you don’t know what you are?) Darius, more than anyone, is a character who should have been centrally autistic and isn’t. So I’m sure the reader will note the jarring dissonance between the approach in ‘Certain Eldritch Artefacts’, where Darius is just awkward and clumsy and odd, and the approach here, where Darius knows he’s autistic and more of his experiences unique to being so are written into how he experiences his world. That dissonance absolutely exists: the difference is that I now know who I am. Not to mention the fact that a world I created for the sole purpose of a single short story is now the home of a novel. Maybe someday I’ll rewrite it…

Similar people have the power and structure of society behind them, but March’s divergents are magicians: knowledge can’t be surrendered.

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The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March: Introduction

Cover image for K. A. Cook's 'The Unnatural Philosophy of Kit March'. Vector/cartoon styling of a creepy folly/shack/treehouse with various gothic accoutrements and a crow or raven perched on the roof. Folly is surrounded by more vector images of trees, bushes and scrub set on a cartoony green-hill background. Typeface for author and title credit is white stroked with black. The whole thing is very flat/one-dimensional and looks like a still from an 80s cartoon.Tes Alden, collector of words, rescuer of books and counter of objects, knows ze isn’t like everyone else. This wouldn’t be such a problem if everybody else didn’t struggle with it. Hir mother prays a run-down school in the middle of nowhere may be the best place to stow hir brand of peculiarity, and Tes has nowhere better to go.

Darius Liviu lost a limb and his lover in the hell of Mul Dura. He spent the last three months as a guest of the Greensward, crafting a jointed hand from elf-sung wood and trying to ignore the mutterings of the ghost that haunts him. Now, he returns to the College to take up the second-most dangerous job open to a magician: teaching.

Tes just might be a magician in the making, if ze can survive adventures in alliterative magic and hir own lethal curiosity. Darius, though, keeps a secret that makes the usual problems of overgrown rhubarb, basilisk hordes, verbose eldritch objects, shrieking purple monkeys and cauliflower explosions look like nothing at all.

The elves are coming, and nobody fears elves more than Kit March.

Cover credits: OpenClipart-Vectors (stock images) and VAGDesign (typeface).

Is this what it means to be dangerous, to speak words aloud and bear the tangle of confusing feelings that follow?

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Representation: A Primer

I hate those “how to write [x minority]” posts.

I hate them with the passion I currently reserve for Malcolm Turnbull, the entire Liberal party, and the mainstream media who portray Bill Shorten’s opposition to the plebiscite as though Shorten is the bad guy killing marriage equality. (No. Just no.) If you’re Aussie, that should give you some indication of the strength of my hatred. If you’re not, well, exchange “Turnbull” for “Trump”. Got it? Hate, hate, hate. I hate them when they’re written by members of the minority group in question. I hate them even more when they’re reblogged by people who aren’t of the group in question and don’t understand that these posts are just checklists of “How To Write The Other” in slightly more palatable form.

(I know that plenty of people who share my identities will disagree with me. Awesome. Keep on doing what you think is right. There’s space enough in the world for both of us.)

It doesn’t matter that society has marched on and the word “other” is no longer in use. The impact is still othering. I am still reminded, every time these things cross my dash, that I am so abnormal I need an instruction sheet in order to be properly rendered inside someone’s fictional universe. How is this not othering? Why shouldn’t I find it, at the very least, uncomfortable? These pieces aren’t written for me, but they’re written about me as though I am so rare and unusual there’s no expectation that I’ll happen across people talking about me as an object. Yet, inevitably, because I’m a writer who reads about other writers, I do. Have you ever happened across people talking about you behind your back? That’s how these pieces make me feel: itchy, hurt, violated, momentarily unreal.

I object to that like I object to the plebiscite and a Prime Minister who wants to pay Australian hate organisations to spew hatred for the person I am as though that’s right and fair and natural.

The fact is that it takes an awful lot of imagination, empathy and research (be this lived experience or diving into a realm crafted by other people’s stories) to write minority (be it in the singular or intersectional) characters. In fact, it takes imagination, empathy and research to write anyone well, and if you can’t look at your character and step into their skin enough to make them real, you probably shouldn’t be writing them. No how-to-write or what-you-should-write guide will give you this no matter how slavishly one follows said list. No guide will make up for the absence of listening to other people’s stories. A good character, though, will surpass stereotype if they’re written with empathy and heart. Readers will forgive stereotype if characters are written with empathy and heart!

However, meaningful representation, and dialogue about it, is more than just writing a character from a minority group and calling it a day, even if said character ticks all the correct boxes on the how-to post. I don’t see this much talked about, but it’s a conversation I keep on having and want to keep on having. Some of it has come to light in feedback I gave to a writer; some of it has come to light in the fandom’s response to the character of Saheeli Rai in Magic the Gathering’s Kaladesh release; some of it I’ve been nursing, as a grumpy, bitter reader and writer, for several years.

Please note that this is targeted with an eye to fiction writing, but it applies, with some modification, to other creative formats and to how we go about discussing representation in general.

1: Not all representation is meaningful.

I’d like to make the case that there’s two kinds (at least) of representation: incidental and meaningful.

Incidental representation is when a character happens to be an identity that doesn’t much matter, if at all, to their character arc, plot, or role within the setting. They just happen to be of a non-majority identity because, despite what media tells us, the world isn’t solely comprised of white dyadic cishet able-bodied dudes.

Meaningful representation is when a character is in some way about their identity (or identities): it is expressed in their character arc, plot or setting. A character can be incidental representation in one way and meaningful representation in another. A biracial, bisexual character with chronic pain whose character arc is about the experience of being biracial and bisexual, but just happens to suffer chronic pain in a few scenes that don’t impact the story’s plot or their character arc, might be said to be meaningful representation of race and bisexuality (and their intersectionality) but incidental representation of disability.

We need to recognise the difference between incidental and meaningful, as people who talk about representation in fiction, because so often I see works promoted as great representation, go in expecting meaningful representation and get only incidental.

2: Meaningful representation is a state only possessed by a protagonist/antagonist/narrator.

I believe that believing anything other than this causes irreparable harm to minorities who need to see themselves as central characters in a world that tells us we don’t exist. Representation is only meaningful if the character is a protagonist, (sympathetic) antagonist or narrator.

If I had a dollar for every time I saw and will see a book on a trans fiction list only to discover the trans character is never a narrator, has no story arc of their own and only exists in relation to a cis protagonist’s plot and character arc, I’ll never have to work again. I wish like fuck people would stop talking about this as though this representation is profound and meaningful. It’s incidental at best. In fact, if the character exists as only a learning point, it’s not even incidental representation! To profile this as representation sends a terrible message to trans people: we’re not the star of the show; we are unimportant; we are supporting cast characters in someone else’s story; we are so uncommon and unusual that there’s no point in our lives being front and centre. It says we only exist in relation to a cis protagonist, but we’re supposed to be happy with this. That’s not good enough.

Meaningful representation involves characters like us telling and showing our stories for our benefit. If a work doesn’t do that, it’s not meaningful representation. We writers need to stop pretending it is; we readers need to stop pretending it is.

If you’re writing a character to be meaningful representation, we need to enter their world. The story needs to be about our lives as that identity. They need to be a protagonist, (sympathetic) antagonist or narrator. Period.

3: Not all representation should be or must be meaningful.

I’m so damn white I glow in the dark. I cannot write meaningfully, based on my own experience as a person, about characters of any ethnic background or identity that isn’t distant-English-migrant-white-Australian and white-Dutch-migrant-Australian. All the research in the world will never give me that bone-deep knowing: this isn’t my story. As someone who is used to people not me telling my stories (and often telling them badly), I feel that I cannot and should not write about racially-diverse characters with a central focus on life lived as an identity not mine.

(I know other creators will, unequivocally, disagree with me. Disagree away. This is a personal position, coming from a place of repeatedly having my story taken and poorly repackaged by others who don’t have my lived experience. I’ve also got nothing but respect for those writers who see the failures in how my stories are treated and want to do something about it while prioritising my experience and feedback in the process of making sure better, honest, accurate stories are accessible to people who are so in want of heroes.)

However, I can and should and must write characters who are incidentally racially diverse (or experience disabilities or sexual/romantic/gender identities I don’t). I can and should decide that my autistic trans headmaster is black in a fictional world that is and should be and must be as racially diverse as the real one. He isn’t, though, meaningful representation. This doesn’t mean I don’t research or don’t think about the role racial identities play in this setting. It doesn’t mean I don’t go and read works by trans people of colour. It doesn’t mean that I don’t try hard not to be an offensive, ignorant white arse (although I probably am). It just means that this character isn’t written to be meaningful representation on that axis.

A character doesn’t have to be meaningful representation in every aspect of their identity, for reasons of authority, access, ability or setting, and that is acceptable, as long as we don’t make the mistake of treating incidental representation as meaningful. This said, we all need to make a world where meaningful representation of all minority and intersecting minority identities (especially that written by people with lived experience of those identities) is extant, vibrant and accessible.

4: Incidental representation is correct, appropriate and important.

This is especially important for any of the many, many characters in a work who stroll on stage for a minute, speak a few lines and wander off again. Supporting cast/minor characters can be and should be incidental representation. Have your gamer protagonist meet a retail worker who just happens to be disabled. Have a character who just happens to struggle with auditory processing ask your protagonist for repetition before realising what was said halfway through the second time! Have these characters carry out their minor plot-required interactions while also being representation, because this resembles the real world. I’d get a such a kick out of seeing even a minor character in a book with prosopagnosia and auditory processing disorder who has to remember spoken names and match them to faces, even if this has nothing to do with anything else that character does. We need to see that our lives exist in fictional worlds.

It’s also important for major characters, narrators, antagonists and protagonists. If you cannot or will not write meaningful representation, please give us as much incidental representation as you can. Reasons of authority are a good reason for choosing the incidental route, speaking as someone who’s read cishet writers try to write stories centering on the experience of being gay, lesbian or bi/pan. (Some manage it. Many don’t.) It is better by far to write incidental representation that acknowledges we exist than to write terrible meaningful representation or no representation at all.

As before, we need to stop treating this as meaningful representation. It isn’t. That’s okay.

5: Representation solely for the purpose of representation isn’t functional representation.

If you write a disabled (or any minority) protagonist as representation who plays no role in terms of the story’s plot, you haven’t written true representation. If you write a disabled antagonist as representation who only enables another protagonist’s character arc and possesses none of their own, you haven’t written true representation. If you write a disabled narrator as representation who can be excised from the story with no change to the plot, you haven’t written true representation. If you write a disabled character who exists just as a lesson or motivation for an able-bodied character, you haven’t written true representation. If you write a disabled minor character who plays no role (however utterly minor) in terms of the story’s plot or setting or interaction, you haven’t written true representation.

A character with prosopagnosia who sells the protagonist a game has a function in the narrative in addition to being representation, even if only serving to get the game from the shop into to the protagonist’s possession. A person who wears a splint and is described as no more than that but exists only to pass the protagonist in the street is an object lesson: here be disabled people. A disabled person as an active but minor character who exists in the framework of the fictional world you’ve created to send a message about the setting is fine; a cardboard cutout whose job is only to remind the protagonist and/or the reader that we exist is not.

If someone walked past me and described me as a person wearing a hand splint, that leaves out the fact that my splint is bright pink hard thermoplastic now covered in layers of dinged-up, grey-edged white medical tape to hold it together, is fastened with green valcro and is worn on the right hand by a short-haired genderfucking person who also carries a rainbow satchel, wears hiking boots and is usually fidgeting with a bead ring necklace, a telephone cord hair tie/bracelet or, these days, a tangle. I’ve barely begun to describe myself in that long sentence, but a glance at my splint tells you I’m unconventional and either broke or that I’ve had problems with my hands for long enough to crack my splint. (Both, in fact. The smell of said splint will also tell you I’ve owned and worn it for a long time.) Consequently, there must be more one can say about our character with a splint to give them a function in the setting via making a statement about the world in which they live (at very least).

If even a minor character needs to have a relationship to the plot or setting to be real representation, a protagonist, antagonist or a narrator must have a role in the plot and their own character arc. They need to be a hero if not the hero (if a protagonist). Otherwise the message is this: we exist to make a point, to educate the protagonist and/or the reader, to exist so readers don’t complain or to push other characters into action, but, despite the fact you venture into our worlds and depict our lives as minorities, we do not and cannot exist as a proactive character who grows and develops and directs the action in our own right. We need to be as much a part of the story as we are a minority character.

We cannot exist only to educate and demonstrate on the matter of our minority identities. That’s called objectification and it isn’t good enough.

6: Readers will disdain representation that exists solely for representation.

If you’ve gotten this far, it’s safe to say that you know analytical readers will see straight through a character written solely as representation. The feedback given by Magic the Gathering fans on Mark Rosewater’s claim that Planeswalker Saheeli Rai from India-inspired world Kaladesh was pushed as a visible protagonist but had no main role in the plot demonstrates the feeling that an important-as-representation character had better have some impact in the story – what’s the point of her existence, otherwise? None of us have forgotten the prior, hurtful treatment of another female Planeswalker, Arlinn Kord, also a minority demographic as a middle-aged woman, who looked pretty on Shadows over Innistrad card art and fulfilled no story purpose despite the importance of her character.

Majority readers (or readers uninterested in representation) won’t like these characters any better. These people read for compelling characters, clever writing and a good story. They’ll also notice representation that exists only for representation, only they’ll see it as an unwelcome intrusion that interferes with their ability to enjoy the story, and they’ll likely be even more scathing in their condemnation. They don’t want to be hit with reminders of their own privilege, and representation that has no other function but representation doesn’t soften that reminder. It doesn’t give the reader any reason, through character arc or plot, to keep on reading, confront their privilege and learn. It does give them every reason, no matter how grounded in privilege and hate, to close the book.

Nobody wants representation that only serves the needs of representation, not plot, character or setting.

7: Real representation is and always is real character (with a real purpose).

Real representation is a character written with empathy and heart, be it incidental or meaningful, who has a function within the story. Make your character more than their minority identities. Make your character express and internalise their identities in ways unique to their personality and history. Make your character as human as you are and whatever representation attached to them will be worthwhile to someone, no matter your mistakes. You will make mistakes. What I know about autism is filtered through my experience of being autistic, but there are so many other ways to be autistic and experience autism that what I know is minuscule at best. I’ll attempt to write them, because we cannot have autism represented solely by those of us who are eloquent when handed a keyboard, but I’ll likely fuck up as much as I get it correct. Like everyone else, I’m human, which means we try our best and learn from our mistakes.

Good characters, though, always earn my forgiveness, and I suspect most readers will afford me the same generosity.

Real representation, the kind of representation that changes how people think and feel, the kind of representation that tells us we too are heroes and human and valid, starts with real character grounded in real motivation.

Write me a trans, autistic, queer character who wears a flanno shirt with the sleeves rolled up because men’s shirts are too big in the shoulder and boy’s shirts are too short in the sleeve, bites their lip, spins on a desk chair and smacks their knees into the sides of their desk just to hear the dull thunk noise made by bone hitting wood … while paging through their battered Macquarie to compare “miniscule” versus “minuscule”. That’s all I am in the last two minutes, not counting the pain in my wrist (five or six on the pain scale, usual minimum level of pain if I wish to write anything), the fact I’m shamelessly blasting Celine Dion and my feet are freezing. Or that I stopped halfway through writing this to yank the shit out of my own hair and, when I noticed that, roll a D20 across my desk. There’s so much more to me than just “trans”, “autistic” and “queer”, and I am those things in ways unique and specific to me!

Write me a character that is as human as I am and you are, and I’ll smile and call it, gladly, representation.