The Digital Hyperlexic

Poetry, neurodivergence, book reviews, activism.

Go Visit My New Blog!

by digitalhyperlexic

As of January 22, 2017, we’re discontinuing posts on The Digital Hyperlexic.

Why? Because we’ve launched a BRAND NEW BLOG!

Tes is proud to present a brand new blog, The Teselecta Multiverse, over on the new Neurodiversity Matters blog network being launched by Autonomous Press. You know, the independent press publishing radical, transformative work by neurodivergent and other marginalized folk. We invite you to read our debut post, written by Ian, which is all about pussy hats, intersectional feminism, transness, and the questions we need to be asking.



AutPress! New Submission Guidelines! Book Bundles and Discount Deals!

by digitalhyperlexic

When I was first approached to become a partner of Autonomous Press earlier this year, my partner Solomon and I felt both happiness and amazement. Together, we’d been editing and publishing Barking Sycamores for almost two years, and when we discussed the offer, it made sense for us to join the AutPress family. That was about eight months ago. Now as a partner and the Coordinating Editor of NeuroQueer Books, I’m excited about the new direction AP is taking with its focus on transformative work by neurodivergent authors as well as featuring the voices of marginalized peoples. (By the way, we’ve recently retooled our submission guidelines.) Additionally, we strive to bring readers a collection of “books that wake people up”—and that includes some of our bundles and discount deals, all of which come in paperback and ebook formats.

Autistic Activist Bundle from AutPress

AutPress’ Autistic Activist Bundle contains three excellent introductory texts about the lived experiences of Autistic people. The ABCs of Autism Acceptance by Sparrow R. Jones is a book of essays first appearing on his popular blog Unstrange Mind, seeking to change the ways in which autism is perceived. Also in this gift bundle is Typed Words Loud Voices, featuring work by several writers who type to communicate. Finally, The Real Experts is one of the press’ top sellers, full of insider wisdom about autism written by Autistic adults.

Shaping Clay Trilogy

The second of AutPress’ bundles and discount deals is Shaping Clay: The Elementary Trilogy. This package bundles together the three books released to date in the Shaping Clay series: Nothing is Right, the Lambda Literary Finalist title Defiant, and the epic Imaginary Friends. If you haven’t read Clay Dillon’s saga, start with this gift bundle of books. And since Michael promises that “things are about to get weird” with her next release Gaslight Village, so you’ll want to buy the Shaping Clay trilogy now to catch up on the story. To support Gaslight Village and read it as a serial subscriber, visit Michael’s Patreon.

NeuroQueer Poetry Bundle

Poetry fans looking for bundles and discount deals are going to want Autonomous Press’ NeuroQueer Poetry Bundle, which has all three poetry releases from NeuroQueer Books at a substantial discount. This gift bundle includes Barking Sycamores: Year One was edited by me and Solomon, and is a collection of the poetry, short fic and artwork originally appearing online in our debut year of publication. Also included is The US Book by Michael Scott Monje, Jr., which provides the backstory for both Clay Dillon’s and Lynn Vargas’ universes. Finally, Adrift in a Sea of M&Ms, the Summer 2016 collection released by Michigan spoken-word artist and activist Fable the Poet.

NeuroQueer Horizons Bundle

And…as one of our bundles and discount deals, we’ve added the NeuroQueer Horizons bundle. This is a collection intending to center neuroqueer voices, and it’s a great place to start with our NQ material prior to the launch of the NeuroQueer Horizons chapbook series. This roundup of neuroqueer-written fiction, memoir, and poetry contains the first Spoon Knife anthology, the science fiction thriller Mirror Project, and Monje’s Imaginary Friends, a surreal exploration of Clay Dillon’s childhood from the Shaping Clay series.

I’m really excited about these gift bundles, and I think they’re perfect for gift-giving as well as snagging for your own reading. These are all generously discounted, so if you’re budget-conscious you can easily pick up the ebook versions for yourself. Or if you want to beef up a friend’s personal or academic library, these collections are ideal. We’re gearing up for a series of new releases in 2017 (probably including my own poetry book Time Travel in a Closet—stay tuned for that!), so grab our bundles now and start your collection!

How to Update Your Gender With Social Security: a Few Helpful Tips

by digitalhyperlexic

If you’re transgender and you want to update your legal documentation before the President-Elect potentially takes office, chances are you’ve either encountered some conflicting instructions or you’ve got a case of information overload. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources to help you accomplish your goals before January 20, 2017. Specifically, you might need to update your gender with Social Security. The Social Security Administration has posted a set of guidelines to assist transgender individuals with this process. However, these additional tips should help make this as quick and painless as possible. These are based on my own experiences while attempting to change my gender with the SSA, so individual results may vary.

Make Sure You Have Updated Government-Issued ID

The first step in getting a Social Security gender marker change is to ensure you have a valid, non-expired form of government-issued identification. This will either be your driver’s license, a state-issued identification card, or a US passport. In the process to update your gender with Social Security, make sure that your ID has your current legal name and address. If not, take care of that first before visiting the SSA.

Obtain SSA-Accepted Proof of Your Gender Change

Secondly, you must have approved documentation to change your sex with Social Security. Currently, they accept the following items:

  • Full-validity, 10-year U.S. passport showing the new gender;
  • State-issued amended birth certificate showing the new gender;
  • Court order directing legal recognition of change of gender; or
  • Medical certification of appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition in the form of an original letter from a licensed physician.

If you need to update your gender with Social Security, medical certification may be the most easily obtainable. Some states will not issue legal sex changes through their court systems, and four states presently do not permit updates to birth certificate gender markers (Idaho, Kansas, Ohio, and Tennessee). Others, such as Michigan and Wisconsin, require surgery for either a court order or a birth certificate change—and for many transgender people, this is either undesirable or unfeasible. For more information, check Lambda Legal’s list of legal requirements organized by state, or contact an attorney or a local LGBTQIAA+ advocacy organization. (The National Center for Transgender Equality has the specific text of what should appear in your physician’s letter.)

Make Sure Citizenship or Immigration Documentation Is in Order

Thirdly, make sure you have appropriate citizenship or immigration status documents if you want to update your gender with Social Security. If you are a United States citizen, you should have a certified copy of your birth certificate (in many cases, the state or local seal will be embossed on the document). For those who are not U.S. citizens, make sure you have proof of your immigration status.

Original Documents Only, Please

When you want to change your gender with Social Security, ensure that all documents you submit are originals. They will NOT accept copies for any reason, and if you’re attempting to update your records in person you risk wasting your time and effort. For those using medical certifications as proof to update their gender with Social Security, it is crucial that they appear on original letterhead paper from your physician’s office and with their original signature.

IMPORTANT: IF YOUR MEDICAL CERTIFICATION EVEN REMOTELY LOOKS LIKE A COPY, SSA MAY NOT ACCEPT IT. I found this out the hard way on my first visit to my local SSA—the staff refused to update my record with the letter I was sent by my physician, which included laser-printed black and white letterhead and no signature. On my second attempt, they accepted my certification that WAS on letterhead and had my physician’s signature.

Update Your Gender With Social Security in Person

Although the SSA indicates you may complete a sex change in your Social Security records via U.S. Postal mail, it’s a better idea to visit a local office in person. You’ll eliminate additional mailing time. Furthermore, you’ll be more likely to receive faster feedback and instructions if there is a problem.

Also, you may be required to check in either electronically or with a receptionist at the location. If so, select either the option for a replacement social security card or a records update (it may be under the “Social Security Card” menu if you’re using a touchscreen kiosk to sign in). When you must update your gender with Social Security, this will save you potential wait time and route you through their service system a little faster.

IMPORTANT: WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT PRESS “OTHER REQUEST” OR “OTHER SERVICES” on the touchscreen sign-in machine. You’ll end up waiting FOREVER. Trust me. It happened on my first visit.

Call Ahead

I strongly recommend that you call the location in advance and speak with either a supervisor or a technical specialist to avoid any confusion when you get there. They may provide you with a policy number to reference in case the employee appears unfamiliar with the procedure to update gender with Social Security. This is probably good practice if you’re transgender and updating ANY legal documents or records with any agency. Despite the best efforts to certify that staff is trained, regulations permitting you to change documentation may be fairly new in some cases and the employee you end up dealing with may not know them.

Go Early Morning or Shortly Before Closing Time

The timing of when you visit your SSA office is up to you. However, if you don’t want to sit and wait too long, it’s probably a good idea to visit either early morning or shortly before the office closes. When I wanted to update my gender with Social Security, we arrived at one of the offices about 30 minutes before it opened and waited in line outside. The line wasn’t too terribly long, and I was seen within 20 minutes after checking in and sitting down. However, when you call ahead, it’s wise to inquire about typical busy times for that location.

Save Time, Headaches, and Hassles

I’m a transgender person who’s trying to get my legal documents updated before Davros-Elect potentially takes office. There are some that I’m unable to do right now (namely my birth certificate, and I’m looking at you, Wisconsin), but I was fortunate enough to be able to update my gender with Social Security. I changed my driver’s license name and gender markers earlier in the year, and I’m working on obtaining a Status Information Letter from Selective Service as well as my passport. I’ll be posting more information as I go through my own processes, which should hopefully be useful to other trans readers scrambling to get things in order before January 20.





An Alternate History of Ninth Grade (Poem)

by digitalhyperlexic

An Alternate History of Ninth Grade

(TRIGGER WARNINGS: Bullying, threat of sexual assault, implied racism.)

This poem is part of my MFA thesis Time Travel in a Closet, which will be released sometime in the next year. Included below will be a link to an audio file of me reading it on SoundCloud.

Read the rest of this entry »

We Shall Overcome

by digitalhyperlexic

(ALL THE CONTENT AND TRIGGER WARNINGS, including references to racial slurs, strong language, sexual assault, and violence)

I’ve been pretty vocal on my private Facebook page about the outcome of the recent presidential election. Now it’s time for me to go public. This is NOT the post you might think it is. Buckle up. Shit’s gonna get real very quickly. And some of you might not like what I have to say, but I’ve been long overdue to say it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Autistics Speaking Day 2016: Interview With An Autistic Multiple

by digitalhyperlexic

Hey, remember my post from last month? While talking about occupyingthe realities of being Autistic and trans at the same time, I also said this:

“Remember that I said I had to come out of four closets?…The fourth is multiplicity…In my case, Ian [Nicholson] — the person who’s composing this post — is one of four people in the multiple personality system that occupies this body. Three of us are male, and one of us (Nicole) is agender. We’re all transgender by the simple fact that none of us are the gender this body was assigned at birth. And that makes my experience of gender WAY more complex than I would imagine it would be for a singular individual.”

Welp, I decided that today was the day to talk a little bit about being Autistic and a multiple personality system.

No, we ain’t nothin’ like Sybil. Most other multiples we’ve met aren’t, in fact. In fact (and the fact that I’m saying this should be no surprise to most readers), a writer named Static Nonsense pointed out the blatant sensationalism in works like the movie Sybil quite correctly:

“Media portrayals of DID [dissociative identity disorder] that focus on the extreme differences between identities and personalities within a system ignore these very important differences in functionality. They focus on the ‘cr*zy’ instead of opening a window to the depth and variety in how DID can work for a system. And that, in turn, erases our experiences if we do not match these extreme examples.”

We should insert a caveat: what we’re about to discuss are our personal experiences of being a multiple personality system. We’re all different, and each system or collection of headpeople encounters different kinds of difficulties and issues. There are things we don’t go through that other multiples do, and vice versa.

So…You Said There’s Four Folks in Your System. How About Some Introductions?

Sure thing! As a system, we’re known as Tes, which is short for Teselecta, a shapeshifting timeship from the TV series Doctor Who that can morph itself into looking like any person (in the episode “Let’s Kill Hitler,” the Teselecta has morphed to look like one of Hitler’s henchmen in order to assassinate him). And as mentioned earlier, there’s four of us total in here: Ian Nicholson, Ian MacDonald, Nico St. John, and Nicole Asatira.

Ian Nicholson: I’m a transgender adult male, and the one who was in this body first, ever since birth. I’ve always been in here, and always will be. Over the last few months, I’ve discovered that I generated the other system members either out of perceived necessity or trauma. I’m the one that’s usually in front and piloting between 75 and 80 percent of the time that we’re awake. I’m usually the one that handles paperwork, bureaucratic tasks, most of the phone calls we need to make, and other administrative-type stuff. When we meet new people, I’m usually the one that greets them first and gets to know them. I do a large percentage of our freelance article writing and some of the poetry. The other system members describe me as a nerd, and occasionally an obstinate pain in the ass. When I dress this body, we probably look like we raided Michael Stipe’s wardrobe, we’re the lost member of Weezer or on some days, we snagged fashion tips from David Tennant.

Ian MacDonald: Meh. What do I say? I don’t know. I’m a guy, and I’m trans. If you have to ask how old I am, it’s complicated. I’ve existed in this body for 38 years, but I’m a teenager. If that sounds weird, wait ’til you hear how I got here. But that’s for later. I just know I looked in the mirror one day, and there I was.

Nicole Asatira: Alright, I’ll keep it short and sweet. I came about when we were twelve, almost thirteen. I’m an archive. To be precise, I am an artificial intelligence that currently is responsible for keeping our memories stream straight. I mostly hold the memories during the years I fronted, so we don’t lose the flavor of them. I was created by Ian Nicholson to keep us safe from the hot mess of a woman known as our evil, abusive aunt — specifically, to pretend to be a “good Christian girl” to avoid getting hit and screamed at. It didn’t work But I can tell y’all that I ain’t good, I ain’t Christian, and I sure as hell ain’t no girl.

Nico St. John: Greetings, mortals. I was first spawned when this body was around eighteen years old. Were I to occupy my own body, I would be decidedly taller. I still retain a femme aspect in myself, so I am the reason we still have feminine clothes in our closet as well as makeup. I’m a transgender male, I suppose, but my existence is beyond gender. Although we wrote some of the poetry in our MFA thesis Time Travel in a Closet, as far as some of our future writing is concerned, well…you ain’t seen nothin’, yet. 😉

How Did You Become Multiple?

Ian Nicholson: I generated the others for a variety of reasons. Ian MacDonald came into being because we couldn’t make sense of feeling like we should be a “boy” when we looked in the mirror yet we were constantly being called a “girl.” We were two when this happened. Nicole was an attempt to survive — we were terrified that the adults around us would destroy us, so she came into being to get them to leave us alone and stop abusing us. She tried to do this by pretending to be straight, female, and neurotypical. It nearly killed us. And Nico was generated by both Nicole and me. He was crafted as a means to try to understand aspects of life and culture that had been hidden from us in Middletown — he’s a darker being in spirit, but not malevolent, and his creation happened at another point in our lives when we felt once again that we really should be male, but could not even realize the idea of living as one.

So, You’re Multiple Because of Trauma?

Tes: In our case, yes. The creation of the other three members was due to either a) feelings of extreme conflict that we could not resolve or b) flat-out physical and emotional abuse. With Ian MacDonald and Nico St. John, we felt there was no way to be male when we perceived that we were stuck as a female. Nicole was simply trying to prevent us from getting killed. However, we can’t speak for other multiples, and creation of systems can happen under a variety of circumstances.

You’re All Autistic?

Tes: Yes. It’s an integral part of who we are, no matter who’s in front.

So…What About that Word “Disorder,” Tes? As in DID?

Tes: We’re not sure how we feel about that. We’ve existed like this for so long that we’re not sure we’d even want integration. And it’s pretty useful, in some cases. Some of us are better at certain tasks than others — Ian Nicholson’s happy to deal with the bureaucratic stuff to keep us fed, properly licensed, having money, getting our medicines, and so forth, while Nicole has no tolerance for dealing with outsiders in order to get those things done. Nico comes out when we feel threatened and we need to keep a stranger at arm’s length. Ian MacDonald is the best one at driving. Nicole’s organizational skills are a little better than the others, so she sometimes deals with scheduling.

We should also say here that multiplicity is a form of neurodivergence in its own right. It seems to us that it’s in line with a basic definition of neurodivergent (a term created by Neurodivergent K, blogging now at Radical Neurodivergence Speaking). And because it’s a broad term, as Nick Walker of Neurocosmopolitanism points out, encompassing multiplicity in that universe makes complete sense. In our case, it’s an alteration in brain functioning due to trauma, and because we’re Autistic, we’re also multiply neurodivergent.

That’s about all the time and space we have for now, but we’ll continue writing more about our experiences with multiplicity. We namely wanted to give a basic introduction to our readers of our world.


Double Exposure: Occupying Autism and Transness Simultaneously

by digitalhyperlexic

So…lately there’s been a bit of discussion around the Interwebs that there’s significant overlap between being autistic and being transgender. Recently a friend of mine — Sparrow Jones, who blogs over at Unstrange Mind — talked about this in a guest post here. I briefly mentioned it in The Conversant interview with Cassie Mira Nicholson, my new intentional sibling. And while researchers seem to be interested in delving into the larger questions about why the correlation could possibly exist, people who are both autistic and transgender are navigating realities endemic to both of these aspects of their life. This post by blogger Alyssa Gonzalez, “Being Trans and Autistic Is Weird and Common,” also talks about this too, and it’s what inspired me to write this post of my own.

Those of you who’ve known me since I first began blogging as Nicole will remember that I began talking about being Autistic back in 2010. At the time, I had self-diagnosed as Aspergian and embraced the “Aspie” label. It’s what I had at the time, and how I understood my neurotype. This, of course, came with some positives and negatives. On the good side, I immediately tried to embrace being Autistic, deciding that it simply meant “different” as opposed to “broken.” Yet at the same time, internalised ableism, ignorance, and serious self-esteem issues began to push me towards a denial of the fact that I am disabled.

When the DSM V diagnostic changes came along a few years ago, I was a bit on the fence. I was partially worried that the disappearance of the term “Asperger” would mean that people like me would be missed all over again by diagnostic criteria, and that we’d be left behind when it came to getting critical services and our needs fulfilled. After all, I hadn’t been diagnosed until age 34. As a young person of colour assigned female at birth and growing up in a dysfunctional family, I had been completely overlooked by all the autism hoo-hah back in the 90s that chiefly focused on young white males. And perhaps I should be thankful, in a way. By age 13, I’d already been institutionalised once. Had the “autism label” been slapped on me as a teenager, it’s very likely I would have been committed on a more long-term basis — or even worse, I would not be alive now. Consider the frequent murders of young autistic people by family and caregivers, and you understand why I say this.

However, my evolution of thought and understanding towards embracing my disability began with this post on Shaping Clay. My friend who blogs here, Michael Scott Monje, Jr., discusses why the Autistic identity is critical while she reflects on the perceptions of the “Aspie” label versus Autistic. While I’m not here to police identity, I have also observed that some use of the term “Aspie” is linked to an idea of supremacy — of not being like “those” Autistics who are nonspeaking, who require assistance to carry out tasks of daily life, and so forth. Functioning labels only add to the fuckery at hand, and there’s also some ideological underpinnings of the term that inevitably lead to a divide between Autistics who do the “expected things” of self-care and adulting — holding down a job, paying bills, feeding oneself, and handling one’s transportation, to name a few — and parents who say: “You’re not like my child, and they will never be like you.” Significant is the existence of the blog We Are Like Your Child, whose posts regularly discuss and refute that notion. And once I began to understand these things, I stopped calling myself an “Aspie” and began to refer to myself as Autistic.

I’ve also undergone a mental transformation in terms of understanding my own gender. For years, I’d been haunted by the notion that I wasn’t really a girl. Christened Nicole Nicholson upon birth, I tried my best to embrace it. However, I remember a moment at age two when I looked in a full-length mirror in our first apartment in Milwaukee. I tried to bring this moment to life in one of the poems in my MFA thesis, Time Travel in a Closet:

“I first saw a boy in the mirror
when I was two.
My brain tickled:
stare into the glass,
look behind your face.

Then I wondered
where my penis was.

I tucked the boy I saw into a back
pocket heart, did
not let him see daylight;
he slept until I was thirty-eight.”

Believe me, I didn’t hate being in dresses. I didn’t despise dolls, or traditionally feminine colours, or things that were perceived as “girly” interests. Truth is, gender is way more complex than that, and cannot be limited to a simple male/female binary. Although I’m male, and I realised this nearly a year and a half ago, that does not preclude me from wearing dresses, using makeup, loving fashion, wearing nail polish, or choosing to present femme. Any suggestions that it does — or the violence and hatred towards transwomen, nonbinary femme-presenting folks who are read as masculine, queer men perceived as having a feminine affect, or gender non-conforming men who elect to break the binary — are rooted in nothing less than misogyny. In other words, an unqualified hatred of women, or of anything feminine.

Now, remember I just mentioned being haunted by the notion that I wasn’t really a girl? Well, it was a sort of a ghost of a thought — an unconscious idea, an ineffable feeling, an untouchable something around which I couldn’t even curl my own tongue. Every once and again, I’d feel that nagging in my mind, linger for a moment in my emotions. And just as quickly as it appeared, I’d magically make it disappear. I didn’t want to even entertain the idea that I wasn’t a real girl. But there it was, and throughout the first thirty-eight years of my life, it refused to go away, reappearing at inconvenient times. I was terrified to even allow it manifest into rational thought, much less tell anyone about it.

What further added to my confusion was the fact that my parents did not insist on gender-stereotyped norms and behaviors as they raised me, yet my family in Middletown, Ohio with whom I lived after my parents split up — primarily my abusive aunt — frequently did. Prior to age twelve, I played with Barbies, toy trucks, Matchbox cars, and Cabbage Patch dolls. I had an Easy-Bake oven and a toy workbench. I read the Oz series of books, the Alice in Wonderland adventures, and about Pipi Longstocking. I idolised those girls, because they were curious, imaginative, and had wonderful adventures. For an entire year, I tried my best to dress like Punky Brewster. And at the same time, I also wanted to be Keith from Voltron, Defender of the Universe. (Truthfully, I’m probably more like Pidge — but that’s a whole ‘nother post.) I wanted to be Shana from Jem and the Holograms AND Panthro from ThunderCats. You get the idea.

However, once my aunt entered the picture, that was all over. All I had shoved down my throat was normal, normal, normal. And I don’t just mean when it comes to erasing behaviours that I now understand to be Autistic, as I’ve documented before. That included the policing of gender norms. I’ve already talked about in my last post how I was judged to be unfit as a romantic female partner based on my lack of volunteering for emotional labour demands. I was also criticised about my lack of enthusiasm for styling my hair (particularly in “white” ways and fashions), my lack of interest in what was touted as “normal things that teenage girls do,” and so forth. After being bullied at school repeatedly and undergoing physical abuse at home, I was content to stay in the world of books for a while and only interact with people I trusted. But when I did express an interest in one thing that’s seen as a “normal teenage girl” thing — boys — I was immediately discouraged and slut-shamed.

Little did I know — and little did the adults around me even know — that my experiences were much bigger on the inside. That nagging feeling that I wasn’t a girl? Well, it kept popping up during my teen years, too. I had the double exposure effect living inside my own body, and with my own sexuality, of a liminal existence of being two things at once — one true, and one false. I felt “queer,” but my understanding of gender confined me to “girl” and thought it was impossible to be queer as I was. At the same time, I was attracted to boys, but felt like a gay boy myself instead of a girl. The idea of being a “girl” attracted to boys in a heteronormative way just did not seem natural to me. It felt incredibly foreign, but I could not put words as to why. Additionally, I was attracted to girls as well, but felt sorta like a boy (and not the “straights” I was surrounded by in school) at the same time.

And during this time — while being called a girl just felt so damn wrong — I tried mimicking my female friends, only to be seen as botching up horribly and then being laughed at. I constantly felt like I was a fraud and a failure, and I tried not to give a shit. But the truth was, it all fucking hurt. Intensely. And it hurt like God’s hammer on my soul when I was accused of being a lesbian by my aunt a few months before my eighteenth birthday. I was called a bulldagger, by the uncle I’d come to trust and admire, the one who’d beaten his alcoholism and had gone clean. It hurt so fucking much that I attempted suicide. Thank God I failed.

So now here I am, after more than 25 years of “faking it.” I’m 40 years old, all grown up. Owning that I’m autistic, queer, and trans. I had to divest myself of so much harmful shit it’s not even funny, in order to get here. Internalised ableism, racism, misogyny, and cisnormativity — and I’m sure there’s still more manure under which I’m ideologically buried. I had to embrace truth, come out of four different closets, retool my life, and leave a job at a seminary that I’d held for eight years in order to even begin to free myself. I’m progressing towards medical transition once my type 2 diabetes is under better control, and my kidneys are firmly out of danger.

And even now, I’m making new discoveries about what it means to be neurodivergent and trans. Remember that I said I had to come out of four closets? The first three were: as queer when I was 18 years old; as autistic at age 34; and as transgender at age 38. The fourth is multiplicity, a few months before turning 40. In my case, Ian — the person who’s composing this post — is one of four people in the multiple personality system that occupies this body. Three of us are male, and one of us (Nicole) is agender. We’re all transgender by the simple fact that none of us are the gender this body was assigned at birth. And that makes my experience of gender WAY more complex than I would imagine it would be for a singular individual.

It ain’t a cakewalk, folks, but at least I know what I’m dealing with. I’m both excited and scared. Meanwhile, there’s a part of me that’s also worried that all the efforts to understand what makes us folk who are autistic and trans tick will also be used against us to “treat” us, convert us, make us conform, or worse. There are already a lot similarities between queer/trans conversion therapies and ABA, as observed by Amy Sequenzia. Can you blame me for being afraid and suspicious? I’m trying to keep a positive outlook, but elect to be aware of what could harm our common communities as a whole.

Acceptance for one should become acceptance for both. I ask people who are opposed to queer conversion therapy whether they would support ABA — and if so, why is it not okay to force queer kids to change, yet it’s perfectly alright to try to change autistic kids? The effects of either are devastating. These kids emerge scarred for life, and come out as bitter individuals with severe cases of PTSD, along with a learned helplessness and self-hatred in some. The home-grown ABA carried out on me through physical, emotional, and sexual abuse almost killed me. Let me say that again, in simpler terms: ATTEMPTS TO CHANGE ME ALMOST KILLED ME. Had it not been for a bit of internal stubbornness and the support of people who cared about me, it most certainly would have.

Long story short: I’m autistic and trans, and it took a long path of emergence and coming to peace with myself to be able to say both of these things. And there’s a lot more of us out there. It’s time for those outside our communities to embrace both gender diversity and neurodiversity. At the very least, there’s a likely linkage between the two, and acceptance will benefit both.

5 Problems with “Married to an Aspie: 25 Tips for Spouses” (#4 Will Really Shock You!)

by digitalhyperlexic

Yesterday, my friend Dani who blogs at Autistic Academic shared an outrageous article, “Married to an Aspie: 25 Tips for Spouses,” on Facebook. Immediately, several us reacted to it with a mix of amusement, disgust, and horror. By its title, the article purports to be a helpful guide for spouses of autistics. However, it is rather problematic on so many levels. Dani, along with Emma (who blogs over at Lemon Peel) have already written their own responses that are hilariously brilliant and break down some of the worst bits of the original post: one at Field Notes on Allistics and a joint post here.

As a queer autistic polyamourous trans man in a long-term relationship with another autistic man, I also immediately had some issues with the original article. For that reason, I was inspired to write about it, too. In a way, maybe that’s a good thing, considering sometimes I have trouble getting my blogging muse on. So I may have to indirectly thank the author over at My Aspergers Child for some accidental inspiration this morning. Without further ado, here’s my problems with the original article.

1. What, QUILTBAG autistics don’t exist? Apparently not to the blogger. Throughout the entire piece, they refer to autistic-allistic relationships in terms of strictly heterosexual parings. For example, we see this little gem in tip number seven:

“An NT partner needs to understand her Aspie’s background in order to work with him on their marriage. She will need patience and perseverance as well as understanding that he functions on a different emotional level to her.”

While I’m not addressing the inherent truth or falsehood of this statement, I call the reader to look carefully at the pronouns used. The NT partner is referred as “she” while the autistic is referred to as “he.” The author appears to be writing from a heteropatriarchal frame of reference, and I do have to wonder if they have considered partnerships and marriages between two men, two women, two transfemme nonbinary folks, two agender folks, or other non-heteronormative kinds of love relationships. It appears that by the author’s logic, me and my long-term life partner Solomon do not exist.

Which leads me to…

2. The author appears to assume autistics are male. Gender binarism aside, I need to point out the flaws in this assumption. So many of my autistic friends are women or somehow fall in the femme dimension: ciswomen, transwomen, nonbinary femmes, etc. For so long, autism has been viewed through a male-centered, heteronormative lens, which is why so many folks who aren’t male have often missed identification and/or diagnosis. (There are so many issues I have about the medical model of disability and how it applies to autism, but I digress. That’s another post for another time.) This was also true for me, prior to embarking on my social, legal, and medical transition: I was not diagnosed until age 34. And as a formerly female-identified autistic, I often felt erased and ignored by much of the public discourse on autism.

Never mind some of the author’s incorrect and downright harmful assertions. I must deduce that their intended audience is women, and because of this, their adherence to similar conventions in their thoughts does a disservice to a large portion of the potential audience by ignoring their presence.

3. What, no non-monogamous autistics, either? Again with the heteronormativity. They failed to consider that there may be those in their audience who enter loving polyexclusive relationships, or who maintain an intimate network, or who engage in open relationships. I use the term “non-monogamous” being aware that some practice relationship anarchy as well.

4. Excessive emotional labor, anyone? Dani and Emma have already done a phenomenal job of addressing in their own posts how the author seems to assume that in a heteropatriarchal context, the woman will assume the lion’s share of emotional labor. For example, you have cute little nuggets by the blogger, such as this in number eighteen:

“NT partners may begin to feel that they are entirely defined by the role they fill for their Aspie partner. There can be a sense that there is little mutuality, equality and justice.”

That’s not an endemic-to-autism problem. That’s an unequal-social-expectations-based-on-gender problem. I know this personally: growing up, the adults in my family of origin assumed I was female and based on this often judged me to be “unfit” as a romantic partner. “You’ll never get a man if you do/don’t (fill in the blank),” I was frequently told. Or, “you’re a girl, you’re supposed to (fill in the blank, again).” Much of this was likely based on my lack of enthusiastically volunteering for expected, energy-draining emotional labor. And my experience is not unique: autistic women are frequently viewed in a negative light for either be unable to keep up or not complying with society’s overt and covert demands of emotional labor.

Bottom line: whether in an intimate relationship between two people, an intimate network, or relationship anarchy, unequal emotional labor burdens are both unethical and unjust. I know a lot of us are sick and tired of seeing catering to manbabies dressed up as “oh, he’s autistic, he needs a little understanding.” While our needs as autistic people are indeed unique, it is dangerous to use autism as an excuse for abusive behavior, particularly out of cismen. That not only fails to hold individuals accountable for their actions, but also stigmatizes autistic people as well.

5. And how about perpetuating stereotypes? The author seems to be dancing around the unsaid stereotypes of autistic people, primarily those that claim we are unemotional, and incapable of demonstrating love. They appear to assert that we do have emotions and are capable of loving one minute, then in the next they come out with pieces of Dalek fecal matter like this in tip number nine:

“Aspies often has [sic] a specific area of weakness in marriage. They often do not feel the need to express love, and the NT partner can help them understand that this is important. Discussions about how to display affection, holding hands in public and buying small gifts can be beneficial, but don’t be surprised if the results are amusing.”

This is problematic on so many levels.

First of all, my own personal experience proves this to be patently false. My autistic partner Solomon has been by far the most affectionate and loving of anyone I’ve ever been with. Neither of us are big on public displays of affection, but he’s often quicker to hug and hold hands than I am. And physical affection aside, Dani and Emma in their joint post have quite correctly pointed out that trying to play “Pygmalion” with your partner — i.e. pushing compliance with only one way of showing love — is wrong and unnecessary:

“PROTIP: your autistic partner is probably expressing love just fine (and if not, consider that we live in a society that pressures men, in particular, not to express anything that isn’t gun-toting rage) – just in a just-fine autistic way. Rather than condescendingly ‘teaching’ romantic gestures that appear in every cliched rom-com ever written, try noticing how you’re already loved sufficiently that you agreed to marry this person.”

Secondly, the author is making grand, sweeping assumptions about all autistic people. The article is quite multifarious in this, but for brevity’s sake I’m only addressing the point about demonstrating love. In this case, it bears pointing out that autistic people’s ability and comfort levels with physical affection vary wildly. Some factors that affect this can include issues with processing incoming sensory data (including touch and smell), individual personality preferences, cultural norms, and the presence of trauma. For instance, I’ve slowly had to heal from childhood physical and sexual abuse: for much of my teenage years, I was only touched when I was being beaten or molested. So, of course someone like me would reluctant to engage in physical contact! In my case, I desired to, but the trauma I experienced plus my own battles with PTSD have made it much harder for me to actively seek it. It’s slowly happening, but it takes time, like with anything.

And while I’m probably preaching to the choir, I still must warn the reader that this is a case of “your mileage may vary.” I know my experience shares some parallels with that of other autistics, particular those with abusive childhoods; however, it should not be inferred that all autistics are comfortable in participating in physical contact, for whatever reasons.

If you’re in the mood for a good laugh, you may want to read the post that precipitated it all. Or if you feel like picking it apart piece by piece, that’s great too. But on a more serious note, it and other writings like it come from a standpoint not only rooted in false ideas about autistic people but also grossly false ideas about gender, sexuality, and relationships. I’m very cautious about anything written about autistics that’s not by autistics, and this blog post certainly is proof of why. Have fun reading it, if you dare.

Updates: Graduation, Poetry, and Living Authentically

by digitalhyperlexic

Well…it finally happened. After two years of study, I graduated in July with my MFA in Creative Writing from Ashland University.

I'm a newly minted MFA :)

I’m a newly minted MFA 🙂

I can’t say enough good things about Ashland’s low residency MFA program. I worked full time during the two years I studied, and the program was perfectly tooled for people with full time employment, families, and other responsibilities to be able to study and improve their craft. At the same time, the program was rigorous, and exposed me to a wide variety of writers and many different poetry craft styles. I feel a little bit more capable when it comes to revision, and now I have a book of poems that I’ll be shaping (hopefully) towards final publication in 2017: Time Travel in a Closet.

Speaking of poems, I had six poems out of my MFA thesis published recently in Issue 23 of Assaracus from Sibling Rivalry Press: “Timeships,” “An Eldritch Abomination Spends Three Weeks in an Asylum, 1989,” “The Time Traveler, to His Mother,” “Shaving,” “Double Exposure,”and “Genesis.”

Assaracus, Issue 23

Assaracus, Issue 23

A New Chapter

In the last few months, I’ve also undergone some major life changes. At the end of May, I left my former job at a major Catholic seminary, at which I had been working for over eight years. About a year and a half prior to actually separating, I began to sense that I should plan for the next stage in my life. Although I only had a small inkling of all of this in late 2014, I was actually planning for a new chapter.

Although the mental, emotional, and spiritual signals of needed impending change began to sound off inside me shortly after I began MFA studies, it was another personal revelation that edged me closer to it. In late 2014, I came out as transgender to my life partner Solomon. After that, I slowly discerned through my circle of friends and family and began coming out to those I trusted most.

By the time early 2016 arrived, I was “out” in all of my social spaces except for my place of employment. However, I found a couple of coworkers whom I considered to be close friends and whom I trusted, then came out to them as well. I did this because I could not continue to exist there in silence as a transgender man, pretending to be a woman, and frightened out of my wits that I would be outed to administration and then fired.

My friends at my former employer were trustworthy and supportive, but as my need to undergo medical transition via hormone therapy and other procedures became more apparent, so did the unmistakable truth that I needed to leave my job. I did what I could to support my family during the year and a half I worked there as a closeted trans person, but I am glad I no longer have to contend with my fears. I am also glad I am no longer part of a wider religious organization that fails to recognize human diversity in all of its forms, and whose spiritual leader refers to transgender people as an “annihilation of mankind.” I still love and value my friends and former co-workers, and am grateful that those who knew stood by me as I finished my tenure there.

And as I sensed my time there was coming to a close, I knew I needed to find some other form of income. After some deliberation, I chose to become an independent contractor writing web content earlier this year. I’m slowly learning new things, and I feel much better that I’m in a little better control of my destiny, and that I can provide for me and my partner.

To explore my transition journey, I’ve started a brand new YouTube channel. It’s mostly a combination of vlogs, poetry, and me rambling about various neurodivergence, transgender, race, poetry, and other topics. You’ll also get to see and hear me as I change physically over time.

Over the summer, I also participated in a long-distance interview over email with Cassie Mira Nicholson. We talked about trans identity, neurodivergence, intentional family, and poetry in the latest issue of The Conversant.

Left to right: N.I. Nicholson and Cassie Mira Nicholson

Left to right: N.I. Nicholson and Cassie Mira Nicholson

The irony is within the last three months of leaving my job, graduating with my MFA, and starting a new career, I also turned 40. The second half of my life is beginning. It’s a little scary, but I’m excited about what it will bring.

-N.I. Nicholson

The Only Way Out Is Through: Or a Bit of the Story Behind Time Travel in a Closet

by digitalhyperlexic

The following is a slightly edited and expanded version of the introduction written for my thesis while studying in Ashland University’s MFA program. I will be defending my thesis this July, and in our introductions we were each asked to discuss a group of around ten texts that form the “literary genealogies” that influenced the poems in our theses . This is also intended as an update since my original #MyWritingProcess post, which I wrote prior to both beginning my MFA studies and my transition.

CONTENT WARNING: Mentions of suicide, physical and sexual abuse, homophobia, anti-blackness, and ABA.

“Everybody communicates. Words are beautiful. Our words have value.”

These words by author and autistic activist Amy Sequenzia are simple, clear, and remarkably profound. Infinitely beautiful, and bigger on the inside.

With my words, I come to you as a survivor, a man with scars both inside and out. I spent my childhood and adolescent years occupying a series of closets, all nestled within each other like Russian dolls. I knew that my family expected me to be a “good Christian girl,” not the oversized, socially awkward, frizzy-haired, hormone-driven, hopelessly unfeminine dork I saw in the mirror. In their eyes, that “me” was absolutely unacceptable, and they reminded me of this nearly every single day until I was eighteen years old. Meanwhile, I hid the physical, emotional, mental, and sexual abuse that I endured at their hands. They demanded that I keep all of this, too, inside a closet. Read the rest of this entry »