This post appeared on the original blog. Since its posting, the creator of the Actually Autistic blogs list to which this post obliquely refers has both promised to remove any mention of my blogs from that list, and then broken that promise by linking not only to this post on the old blog, but to the old blog’s About page as well.
The list’s owner also continues to make certain default assumptions about my identity that are, frankly, none of her business.
Or, “Don’t Make Me Yell My Identities. You Won’t Like Me When I’m Yelling.”
In my everyday life, I don’t announce that I’m Autistic but I don’t exactly hide it either. If it’s relevant, I bring it up, even to my kids. So does my husband (in fact, I think most of the people in the school where he teaches and I coach know about my autism from him, not from me). It’s the same with my gender and sexual orientation – I don’t announce them (unless you know what you’re looking at), but I don’t exactly hide them either.
My writing is similar in a lot of ways.
I started this blog right around the time I decided to do my Master’s thesis on autism rhetoric and discourse. I was already in the process of writing a seminar paper on neurodivergence and poetry that I wanted to publish, and I knew that I could not ethically say the things I intended to say and still masquerade as non-autistic. “Nothing About Us Without Us” includes not pretending to be not-one-of-us when one actually is.
My gender and sexual orientation, however, I’ve kept more obscure. “Autistic,” the way we treat it socially and rhetorically, is something of a binary mode: either you “identify as Autistic” or you don’t. Gender and sexual orientation are squishier. I can be (or, as Judith Butler puts it, perform) any shade of gender; I can experience any combination of sexual or romantic attractions. Labeling them is a highly inexact process, and doing so says very little about how I experience the world, process inputs, or use language – the very things that are the focus of my work and that are informed by my autism.
As a result, my language around gender and sexual orientation is deliberately obscure. I prefer “they/them” to any other pronoun in most discussions of third parties. I avoid assuming other people’s genders or sexual orientations whenever I can. I make references to my “husband” and refer to myself in the third person as “she” but I never admit to being cisgender, “identifying as a woman,” or practicing heterosexuality – or anything else, either. I specialize in queer theory, which implies nothing. Queer theory isn’t a field that demands you be queer, only that you do it.
There are several reasons for this:
- It’s really none of your business how I experience my body, my genitalia, or my bedroom escapades, or who I experience them with.
- I want my readers to have to grapple with ambiguity here. (See: queer theorist.)
- People who make certain assumptions as to what I “must” be out themselves to me as immediately dangerous and untrustworthy, no matter what else we might have in common.
If my ambiguity about my own and others’ gender or sexual orientation is intended to do anything, it is to underscore the fact that there is no such thing as a default gender or sexual orientation. “Cis” and “straight” are more commonly performed, sure. We punish the daylights out of most other performances. But that does not make them more “normal,” “average,” or “default.” This is the point.
It is also the point, here, that “cishet,” as a combined gender/orientation, is even less common among autistic people than it is in the general population. I’ve written about this before, and it’s what makes certain assumptions of “default” cishet-ness – cishet until proven otherwise – particularly problematic when it comes to autistic writing.
A comprehensive list of blogs in any community is a great resource. But sorting any community of bloggers by a system that presumes cishet as a “default” status is grossly problematic. It violates privacy and entrenches the very beliefs about gender and orientation that lead to people needing that privacy in the first place. And sorting Autistic bloggers by this system is doubly problematic, because we are even less likely to be cishet than the general population.
It’s not just blogs, either. Sorting any group of people on “default” assumptions of cishet-ness, even privately in your own head, is gross. Don’t be the problem you’re trying to solve.