I turn 26 tomorrow. It is also World Autism Day.
When I tell people I’m queer, it becomes a part of their idea of my identity. I mention my girlfriend, and a little light dings in their head to place me into the QUEER category of mental filing. They might be surprised or confused or alter how they interact with me (or not), and it might take a few further interactions for them to get that I mean queer in the broadest way and, yes, they can seriously still point out that cute boy and I’m not just humouring them when I agree.
Most people have a lexicon and background knowledge of what it means to be queer in some way. We broadly make up about 1 in 10, so there’s an awful lot of us out there being non cishet in some fashion. People recognize the concepts of bullying and gay-bashing, there are tv and movie characters who are out and proud, there are celebrities. I can say that I’m queer and it means something that we mutually understand, even if clarification might be needed on the details.
When I tell people I’m autistic, they don’t know quite how to react. Autism is kids in corners who headbang, boys who can’t speak or won’t speak, right? Autism isn’t adults who hold down steady jobs–including ones with customer service aspects!–and speak fluently (most of the time). The box in people’s heads is too small and ill-defined to fit me, and they are surprised, sometimes even angry.
Autism awareness isn’t inherently a bad idea, but the narrow scope of the spectrum that is promoted for awareness is very much dangerous and harmful for the rest of us. Autism, for me, means making enough of a single food to eat for a week, because making different food every day feels overwhelming. It means planning and rehearsing conversations, and then worrying when things don’t go as planned. It means auditory processing issues that leave me nodding at work and hoping I’ve timed it right, or not being able to hear over the sound of the tram. It means sensory issues that make it hard to hold my girlfriend’s hand sometimes. It means an encyclopedic knowledge of Kate Miller-Heidke lyrics. It means misunderstandings and hurt and bullying. And none of those are things you can see, if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
I want an autism awareness campaign that promotes actual awareness of the huge, wonderful spectrum that encompasses all of us. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses; what we share is an unusual way of experiencing the world. When I tell people I’m autistic, I want them to be able to easily fit me inside that mental box and understand that it means I might not be great at social cues and probably like routines, that I’m probably good with facts and rules, and that I probably have some sensory issues to work around.
Even more, I want people to understand that we–every single person–can inhabit more than one box. My mental filing system cross-indexes, fuckers, and yours can, too, with some practice. My being queer is not invalidated by autism, nor is autism invalidated by my being queer. It is often people who know that I’m queer who seem most surprised when I mention autism, because I am already in one minority group box in their heads.
Intersectionality is the concept of how different oppressions mix. Every person who belongs to multiple minority groups will experience it differently. For me, being queer, autistic, and genderqueer, it means erasure. I am allowed to be queer or autistic (gender doesn’t even cross most people’s minds, and since I’m not picky about pronouns it sometimes doesn’t come up).
I want to live in a world where it means acceptance. That starts with true awareness, not trite campaigns.
My name is Ali, though sometimes it's Eliot.
I have many tumblrs, which you are welcome to also visit:
Fuck Yeah, Kate Miller-Heidke - the only active Kate fan site, which is baffling.
The Branden Rose - the only active Monster Blood Tattoo fansite, which is less baffling.
I also have a semi-successful etsy shop, which you should visit, below.
A brief history: