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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