The Digital Hyperlexic

Poetry, neurodivergence, book reviews, activism.

Tag: Queer

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 »


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.

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 »