Neuroqueer: An introduction to theory

This article was Co-Authored by David Gray-Hammond, Katie Munday, and Tanya Adkin

The emergence and popularisation of Neuroqueer theory in the contemporary disability rights discourse and Autistic rights movement represents a significant step forward. Not only does it encourage pride in ones true self, but it emancipates the Neurologically Queer from the normative attitudes that society so often indoctrinates us into. For many people this term may be new, so in this article we will explore it’s origins and meaning.

Where did Neuroqueer theory come from?

Neuroqueer theory was conceptualised individually by Dr. Nick Walker, Remi Yergeau, and Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon, however Walker also gives credit to Remi Yergeau for expanding on the concept. Walker has a definition of neuroqueer theory in her book Neuroqueer Heresies. She does however give the following caveat-

“I should first of all acknowledge that any effort to establish an ‘authoritative’ definition of neuroqueer is in the some sense inherently doomed and ridiculous, simply because the sort of people who identify as neuroqueer and engage in neuroqueering tend to be the sort of people who delight in subverting definitions, concepts and authority.”

Walker (2021)

Walker has an eight point definition in her book, but to summarise-

You’re neuroqueer if you neuroqueer.

What is neuroqueer?

To start, what is Queer?-

…queer as not about who you’re having sex with, that can be a dimension of it, but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.”

bell hooks

Neuroqueer, then, is the idea that individuals who do not to conform to neurotypical standards are neurologically queer, further queering their bodyminds. Queerness begets more queerness. Not everyone who is Neurodivergent neuroqueers, but everyone who neuroqueers is Neurodivergent. Some might question if one might be able to unconsciously neuroqueer, we will explore this further in another article.

Why do we need Neuroqueer Theory?

The neurodiversity paradigm allows Neurodivergent people to reframe our bodyminds through the lens of a minority identity, difference rather than deficit. Neuroqueer theory takes this a step further, by emancipating us from societal normativity, through intentional acts of defiance. Neuroqueer theory could inform the disciplines of Critical Disability Studies and Critical Autism Studies, as well as the Autistic rights movement, following on from the origins of the neurodiversity paradigm.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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