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What it feels like to be Autistic

Three years ago, I asked the question What does it feel like to be Autistic? By the time I wrote that article, I was quite confident in both my Autistic identity and my blossoming advocacy work, but in the time since writing it, I have learned and grown at an exponential rate. So now I feel it’s necessary to revisit this question and explore it further.

So, what does it feel like to be Autistic?

I’ve always been different. Some of my earliest memories are hazy recollections of feeling distinctly different from the expectations of what a person should be. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was being conditioned by society and its normative values. I was effectively being indoctrinated into the cult of normality. This probably explains why I spent a lot of my twenties despising who I was and wishing I could change it.

Our identities, our conscious sense of being, is a social construct. We internalise the experiences afforded to us by our environment. Autistic people often experience Self-hatred and internalised ableism because hatred and ableism is what we experience in the wider world. The building blocks we are given to construct ourselves are born of normative violence.

There is a fundamental issue with me telling you exactly what it’s like to be Autistic; there is a solipsistic asymmetry in my experience. I have never not been Autistic. I have no point of reference in an experience outside of my own. What I can speak to are the experiences that I have had.

Even calling myself Autistic has, at times, felt strange. It was an identity given to me by the world. I exist as David. Others describe me as Autistic. I have internalised and related that description. It has become a facet of my identity, but it is a surface feature of my deeper Self.

I have at times doubted my Autistic identity. I have been so adept at concealing parts of myself that I have doubted their existence. This is all-the-more complicated due to the abstract nature of autism. It is not a natural kind, it is a social descriptor that existed originally to segregate my mind from those who can perform neurotypicality. For this reason, my Autistic experience is often one of Self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

For me, to be Autistic is to bear witness to the detailed connections between all things at all times. I am Chronically overwhelmed because I can not filter out the complexity of the world. I experience the whole, and not the aspect.

Of course, my experience will differ from another’s because Autistic identity is not my sole identity. I am Schizophrenic, I am ADHD, and I am in recovery from addiction. However, my identity is not a maths problem that sums up to a whole person. The distribution of identities onto my person gives the illusion of multiplicity when, in fact, I am a singularity. I do not exist as many, but as one singular experience that ticks many boxes.

So, what does it feel like to be Autistic?

It feels like being me.

Defining and emancipating weirdness: A reflection for Weird Pride

With Weird Pride Day coming up on the 4th of March, I have been considering the way I embody my identity, and how I can use my Self-expression to reclaim neurofuturism from the tech industry and use it to drive us into a post-normal society. It seems to me that post-normal thinking is growing throughout the communities I find myself in. Little by little, we’re getting weirder.

So, how does one embody weirdness? Weirdness is, much like all other adjectives, a social construct. Different cultures and societies have different standards for what classes as weird. Weirdness, then, has been restricted in its own way by normative thinking and what we see as objective weirdness has become somewhat of a caricature. Stereotypical machinations of a prefabricated construct.

True weirdness doesn’t come from the expected. It is not a quantifiable and boundaried concept. Weirdness is abstract, and to embrace, weirdness is to subvert expectation. Weird Pride is not just a refusal to be ashamed of your difference, it is using your weirdness in ever more surprising and innovative ways in order to escape from the soul crushing normativty of the status quo.

Weird Pride is emancipatory. It liberates us from being defined by the observations of others. It is freedom from being a caricature of yourself.

If I can ask one thing of you for March 4th, it is this; be the unexpected. Innovate, generate, emancipate. Don’t be weird by someone else’s standard. Be weird by your standard.

Latest updates on my books!

It’s been a hectic time since I published my first book at the beginning of November 2022. I have worked hard to get The New Normal: Autistic musings on the threat of a broken society out in the formats that people asked for. With that in mind, what formats is it out in?

First and foremost, it is out in paperback and ebook format, available from Amazon in multiple countries, and Barnes & Noble (paperback only, and US only). There are two editions out. This is because the first edition did not meet requirements for wider distribution off of Amazon.

So here are some links if you wish to purchase the paperback and ebook formats:

Lots of you also asked for an audiobook version. So, naturally, I made that happen! The audiobook is currently available on Audible, but will soon be available on Amazon and iTunes. Here is the link to the Audible edition:

So what else?

I recently published another chapbook. No, it’s not a poetry book this time. This is a three part essay on my experiences with neuroqueering, and it is also where I introduce my concept of the Chaotic Self that you may have heard me talk about in livestreams!

The book is called A Treatise on Chaos: Embracing the Chaotic Self and the art of neuroqueering. It is currently available in paperback and ebook, also both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Here are the links:

If I can ask one thing of you all, please share the he’ll out of this news! Tell people about my books, write reviews, spread the word! Being self-published was a fun experience, but sadly, I lack marketing resources and I am being drowned out by some of the other wonderful books that are releasing at the moment. I would love to think that people get a chance to hear my message!

I am published in print in a couple of other places. For more information please click here

The privilege of being neuroqueer

I have, for some time now, discussed neuroqueer theory (as conceptualised by Nick Walker and her colleagues), adding my own takes to the emerging liberatory thoughts of a blossoming post-normal era. I consider myself neuroqueer. Not only because of the relationship between my queerness and my neurodivergence, but also because of the relationship between my Self and normative society.

In my book A Treatise on Chaos, I discuss what I have conceptualised as “the Chaotic Self”. Rooted in the idea that all things tend towards chaos, ever changing, unable to unexperience the events that form our sense of Self. I consider how I have neuroqueered my way to this understanding of myself. What I don’t discuss in that book (although I do discuss in The New Normal) is that I was only able to gain this understanding of who I am through privilege.

Privilege doesn’t necessarily refer to the presence of a benefit. More specifically, it is the lack of obstacles and barriers. I suspect this is why so many people struggle to see their own privilege. Much like the Dunning-Kruger effect, you don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t realise the advantage of a clear path through life if you have never had to take stock of obstacles.

I have queered my neurology in a number of ways. One of those ways was the use of mind-altering drugs. I have no doubt that my privilege is what allowed me to do this with no legal repercussions. I also did not have to deal with abusive family and had a safe home away from those who would exploit my journey of Self discovery. I had fewer obstacles to my journey of understanding and growth than those with less privilege.

Neuroqueering requires an element of authenticity in one’s embodiment of Self. It’s necessary to manifest your truth through action, but what if doing so could place you in danger? For BIPOC or other marginalised groups, authenticity can be life-threatening. Authentic embodiment of a marginalised identity is often criminalised or pathologised. Both can land you in prisons or institutions, in some places, it can be met with violence.

Those of us proudly flying the neuroqueer banner need to realise something important. Neuroqueerness is not an individual endeavour. It requires societal evolution. To be neuroqueer requires us to use our authentic embodiment of Self to drive a change that makes a post-normal society safe for all of us. Neuroqueerness that is only accesible to the few is not true neuroqueerness. To be neuroqueer is to fight for the liberation of all humans.

As we move toward a world where normative violence is unacceptable, we need to be prepared for the pushback. Those who benefit from normativity and oppression will not support the redistribution of power. For those with less privilege, this fight could be deadly. As we liberate ourselves, we must make sure to liberate those for whom the barriers to freedom are greater.

I am neuroqueer, and I will fight for your eight to be neuroqueer too.

Neuroqueer: Dismantling our internalised ableism

This article was co-authored by David Gray-Hammond and Katie Munday

Trigger Warning: This article contains references to systemic and structural oppression, multiple marginalisation, and negative wellbeing and identity.

Ableism is prevalent in the wider world, but something that we often don’t consider is the ableist views we hold about ourselves. It is inevitable that after spending our lives surrounded by normative culture, we become conditioned to view ourselves as broken, deficient, or less than. Despite being able to share compassion with others, we still harbour overtly bigoted views towards ourselves.

We internalise the harmful things said to us by our peers and professionals – sometimes even partners and friends. We take them all in and think less of ourselves and we begin to believe that there is something wrong with us.

It is clear that our interactions with other people play a significant role in the development of our sense of Self. Our identity is constructed by interactions with people in our environment, as noted in the golden equation from Luke Beardon:

Autism + Environment = Outcome

When Autistic people are in an environment that constantly belittles and mistreats us for our Autistic embodiment, the materials that we can access to construct ourselves are often self-deprecating.

How does one dismantle a lifetime of criticism and negative views arising from those experiences? First we have to understand the impact that said criticism has had on our psychological wellbeing. We have to recognise the neutrality of human thought, we have to learn that not all thoughts we have are reflective of who we are. It is possible to have negative thoughts without judging them as an indictment on our character. Once we begin to do this we are able to replace the criticisms with authenticity; a refusal to be ashamed of our embodiment. Perhaps, then, this is where neuroqueering comes into play.

It’s important to note the privilege at play when people are safe to queer their neurology. Authentic embodiment of Autistic experience can cost people their lives and their freedom in the wrong environment. Whether we care to admit it or not, not all Autistics are born equal in this society. Many Autistic people are multiply marginalised, and experience more than “just” disability discrimination.

One might ask whether or not neuroqueering is a physical act, or something that can be achieved in the mind. Many of us are at peace with ourselves whilst not openly confessing our Autistic experience. This reflects more on the environments that we inhabit than how we feel about ourselves. We can be proudly Autistic whilst understanding that not all environments are safe to authentically embody those experiences.

We also have to consider the role that the pathology paradigm plays in the existence of neuroqueering. The pathologisation and medicalisation of Autistic experience is the driving force behind most (if not all) of the ableism that we experience day-to-day. The idea that people who do not fit cultural standards of “normal” are broken, has not only created the mistreatment we experience; it also necessitated the existence of a counter-culture- neuroqueering.

How does neuroqueering change our perception of ourselves?

Neuroqueering can involve leaning into our weirdness, regardless of other’s opinions. It can also be radical self-acceptance and showing love to the parts of our Self that others have mistreated and abused. Not only does this allow us to reclaim the narrative surrounding our existence, it also gives us permission to take up the space that we have been conditioned to believe we are not entitled to.

Neuroqueer theory teaches us that assimilation denies us access to ourselves, and thus, denies access to the communities (or environments) that will help us meet our need for connection. Only by being our authentic selves can we find similar others and share in reciprocal validation. Neuroqueering dismantles internalised ableism, and the oppressive structures that have been built in our minds by others. It is a practice which champions diversity whilst appreciating that many of us still need support.

Neuroqueering politicises the nature of disability, centering us as the individuals in control of our own lives. Control that many of us are denied for being authentically Autistic. It allows us to appreciate the aforementioned neutrality of our existence through the lens of pride, and the refusal to be ashamed. It recognises that reduced wellbeing is the result of systemic oppression, and a chronic lack of access.

Transcript of Podcast Interview about my book

Below is the transcript of the podcast interview I did with Natasha Golding about my book The New Normal: Autistic musings on the threat of a broken society with references to my poetry collection Existence.

The podcast can be found here, and both books are available on Amazon here.

Natasha Golding

Hello, David. I guess we could pretend that we’re just saying hello to each other when actually we’ve been talking for 10 minutes. I’m Natasha. And we’re here today to talk about The New Normal: Autistic Musings on the Threat of the Broken Society, which is a new book by David Gray-Hammond. David’s also released a poetry book at the same time. So we’ll be talking a little bit about the connection between those. 

I am somebody who follows David’s work and likes having conversations so I asked him if he wanted to do this. So we worked on the idea together.  And I am a pale skinned white woman. Well no, I’m not really a woman. I’m non binary, but I got used to saying it because I can’t deal with explaining non binary to people all the time. So I have kind of so called ‘mousy brown’ hair that’s off my face and in a bit of a quiff. And I’m wearing a cream, like traditional fisherman’s jumper and I’m in an attic room with a chair and some coats hanging behind me. And I’m not used to doing this description. So I might have missed some information out. David, do you want to do your introduction and then let me know there’s anything else I need to say?

David Gray-Hammond

So i’m David Gray-Hammond, I’m a white person of Mediterranean decent I have a shaved head, a beard, thick rimmed glasses, a lip piercing and a ear piercing. I’m sat in a room with blue walls with curtain. Next to a bookcase covered in books. Yeah, that’s about it really.

Natasha Golding  

Yeah, so I don’t have glasses. On and I haven’t got any jewellery on particularly. And my room is white with a grey thing. A grey carpet. I am autistic and I’m also neurodivergent, I have attention differences and I have a Dyslexic mind. And I have experienced periods of great mental and emotional distress. And I come from some folks that are survivors of psychiatric abuse, amongst other things, And yeah, that’s kind of like my neurodivergency. I’m also getting to talking about this. I’m a survivor of childhood abuse, our familial abuse as well as general neurodivergent abuse. So that’s my kind of history and what I bring to today. David, do you want to just introduce yourself as the author, and what you come from.

David Gray-Hammond

I’m David Gray-Hammond, I wrote the book The New Normal: Autistic Musings on the Threat of a Broken Society. I’m autistic, attention differences. I have schizophrenia. And I mean, I’ve done a lot of stuff. I sort of started out as an independent consultant in a voluntary capacity working for a branch of the charity Mind, representing the treatment rights of neurodivergent drug users, working with clinical commissioning groups and regulated death routes. Harm Reduction, that sort of thing. I’ve done drug market profiles in my home city of Brighton analysing different markets for Brighton. I have been writing a blog since about the beginning of 2018. And that sort of how I got to this point today. That’s where it all started. Really. I’m a former Chief Operating Officer of Neuroclastic regular educator at Aucademy and I also host their podcast. I am one of the co-authors of the Creating Autistic Suffering Neuroqueer series with Katie Monday. That probably gives you a good idea of who I am. I also run my own business DGH Neurodivergent Consultancy.

Natasha Golding  

Great. I picked up on ‘having schizophrenia’ because I wanted to ask you what that means to you? And then relate that to essays in the book that talk about mental health as part of neurodivergency? So could you tell us what having schizophrenia means to you? 

David Gray-Hammond

For me, it’s complicated, actually. Because when I’ve had psychotic episodes, I have often described myself as being unwell. And I’m not convinced that inaccurate because psychotic episodes are terrifying. They’re not good for your wellbeing. That said, being schizophrenic in itself I view as a form of acquired neurodivergence. You know I experienced excessive trauma throughout my life and it seems almost logical inevitability, that something like this would arise within me. You know, I accept that. I have a brain, I already had a brain that functioned differently to everyone else’s. And this is just another way that it functions differently. For me, it largely looks like you know, I hear voices. You know, I might have the occasional visual hallucination I do take medication for it. I have a back and forth relationship with with my medication. Because medication for schizophrenia is not pleasant. But it does seem to reduce the frequency with which I have episodes. And I guess mainly, I’ve come to peace with the fact that it’s there. I don’t necessarily like the fact that I can slip into these alternate realities that my brain comes up with. But I strongly feel that it needs to be recognised as a form of neurodivergence. Because so often we tell people with mental health issues that they are ill they are broken, that they need fixing, and I don’t think that actually helps their wellbeing. I think what we’re doing when we say those things is we’re putting the responsibility on to the person and we’re not calling out the structures in society around them that led to those mental health and wellbeing issues. 

Natasha Golding  

So I think that kind of nicely takes us to the topic of the book, which is exactly about this. It’s not broken individuals but the thing that we live in is broken – that the systems and structures that we live in are broken. In a sense my route into neurodivergence is through mental health. I used to work in the voluntary sector many years ago, and when the hearing voices network was beginning about 20-25 years ago. Not beginning but when it was in its, you know, it’s in different sort of stage of history. And that’s when I was sort of first introduced to these ideas about social models of disability and the idea of mental illness as trauma responses. 

So it’s been really good to sort of see how that has grown. And then kind of see how, yeah, see how it crosses over because my understanding was that neurodivergence has always included that understanding. But it tends, maybe whilst we’re trying to sort of promote the idea that we have a sort of strengths based approach to neuro differences, that we’re kind of leaving out the acquired neurodivergence. Or I don’t know that it sometimes feels like, trying to keep ourselves away from it or I don’t know. So that yeah, that’s a thing that I think goes on and you talk a bit about in the essays in the book. I need to talk about …I’m a bit, I’m way more nervous than I thought I was gonna be. So this is fun. I am going to use my script. 

My experiences of the book, like, I sometimes feel like some stuff is like fresh air. It kind of like makes me feel nourished. And it’s sort of, it’s almost like, because I don’t read with eye words, I would like …my friend recorded it for me. And so it’s almost like, whenever I need some, some scaffolding for my own advocacy, I can listen to this. It’s like this amazing like source of of like neurodivergent pride. And I personally find it really liberating. It’s also theoretical, which I love, like because it helps me understand how things work. But I like the self-reflective parts as well the way that you then also talk about the essay and where it came from and how you feel about it. So I’m interested in how did you come to make the book – so you said there was blogging happening? So it’s been a sort of extension of that. But why did you get to the moment of like, “Oh, I think I’ll make a book”?

David Gray-Hammond

I started blogging, sort of, in the 2017 beginning of 2018. And since then, I mean, I’ve I’ve probably written a couple of 100 different blog pieces on my website. And when I first started, I wasn’t really doing it with essentially anyone reading it. It was more just like a cathartic exercise for myself. But then people started finding my writing and in particular, a very helpful person called <missing word> came across my writing and invited me to their Facebook group. And at this point, I was just like walking in and I was like, there is an entire community of us and I did not know that this was here. It was a really important moment because suddenly then the Autistic community were aware of my writing, and I was like. You know well I have bit of responsibility now to make sure that I am <missing word>. 

So I started just absorbing information. I was spending time in the group in like various Facebook groups that reading blogs reading research, just absorbing all the information I could. And I was just, I was using my blog, the emergent divergence blog to sort of…it was how I was processing that information. So as I learned something, I would write about it. And I often say I don’t know my opinion on something until I’ve written it. So it was helping me sort of put everything into context of my own life, other people’s lives, and gain a better understanding. And over the years, as I said, I was accumulating a lot of these posts and shortly before I put the book together, I hit 50,000 views on my blog. So I was like, ‘Okay, so a lot of people who’ve been reading this now’. So I always wanted to write a book, but I didn’t think I was able to do it. I didn’t think I’d have the patience to sit and write a whole book. But as it was, I had this idea. And I looked at some of these posts. I’m really proud of them, but they’ve not necessarily been the most popular posts and I suspect it was because, you know, in the blog format, people don’t often go out there and to expereince theoretical approaches. So what I did was I took I sort of thought of this theme of looking at society and how society as a structure was sort of broken by design and I took them off of my website and I started rewriting them. And as I was rewriting them, I was collating them all into one document before I realised “What! I’ve written a whole book”. 

So as you’ll see, you’ve probably seen the self reflection I talked about the fact that some of the essays you know, I had previously written and rewritten.The book itself is actually based on the original essays, off of my emergent divergence blog. But, but what I did was just rework and rewrite them because some of them are years old. I’ve learned a lot more since then. So I’m going to go back and sort of be bringing new life into them. Incorporate my new knowledge I’ve learned a year since writing some of them. I chose the topic of looking at a broken society because when I look around the autistic people in my life the one thing that we all have in common, despite being individuals, one thing we really have in common, and I think it’s one of the we can talk about in a second, but really one of the main shared experiences of being autistic I think is the fact that society is not nice to us. We talked about ‘you know aAutistics living in a neurotypical society’. What we don’t talk about is the fact that that society was designed to keep us out on purpose, because we don’t fit these neuronormative ideas. When you look at the history of, especially European culture and separate culture, as developed, people who are different from what was considered “normal”, in inverted commas. We are boxed out on purpose, and I wanted to highlight that. You’re probably thinking, you know, not just how does this affect our well being? How does this affect our sense of self, our sense of identity? How does this affect Autistic culture? Because whether people like to admit it or not, there is such a thing as Autistic culture.

Natasha Golding  

In my experience because I get to Autistic identity at the age of I think 43. So, the issues around me up until that point had been issues of self identity, because basically, you know, for my understanding, you construct yourself through your interactions with the world. So essentially, if your interactions are never quite being perceived or understood, how do you construct yourself? So the whole thing is a sort of, you know, like a terrible instability. And my understanding of it had been that, like, it’s not a broken like, it’s not as if the system gets together and thinks to itself, let’s fuck those people over. It’s more that you know, like in terms of system theory that the purpose of the relationships and the purpose of the system necessarily create the problem. Because I think when we talk about “you know it’s a system problem”, people think of like, people in a room planning to make life difficult for autistic people, but it’s like a negligence rather than a conspiracy. Do you know what I mean? And that that’s helped me to sort of make more sense to other people when I talk about in those terms, and I think that’s the the thing that’s useful about your book that I almost feel like I’m getting language that I can then use to tell other people. So it helps me build understanding in my community. Because I think one of the difficult things about autistic experience is not having a language to access your culture. So there is an autistic culture but you don’t, you can’t be in it. Because you’re you’re used to having to be in somebody else’s. You know, this kind of thing. So…

David Gray-Hammond 

You’re absolutely right. It’s not a question of people sat down in like a little war room. Right. How do we screw over the Autistics? I talked about this in the book, you know – that we live in a capitalist society which is profit driven. So of course they’re going to want people who create a profit thereafter. Autistic people need accommodations to fulfil a role. And if that’s perceived to reduce profits, then, of course, the system that we exist in is going to be discriminatory against us because if the goal of the system is creating profit, we’re actually costing money, then, you know, we’re going to be perceived differently by that system and treated differently by that system. But fundamentally, I just …I wanted the book to be somewhat of a call to arms that you know, we can be aware of our place in the current system, and we have a choice already. We can either accept it and carry on living in that system. Or we can, as Nick Walker puts it, throw away the Masters tools, dismantle the system, to the best of our ability and rebuild it into something that works for everyone.

Natasha Golding  

Well, this was another thing that interests me about getting more involved in a sort of Autistic pride. Because that, I’m pretty sure that quote is from Audre Lorde. I think, I think it’s Audrey Lorde. So making the connection between other movements of liberation. It’s been an important thing for me, and I guess I wanted to ask about that. Sometimes when I kind of go,’ it’s not us, the system’s broken’, that there’s a sense of like, ‘how’s that helpful?’ So how do you …because I personally find it very stimulating and, like, just describe a call to arms to go to ask the system. So have you come across that problem that people kind of go ‘I don’t want to know that’. That you know, in a sense, it’s easier for them to go ‘no, I’m the broken one’. This happens a lot. I think in mental illness people are more comfortable with ‘no I’ve got the disease’ theb  they are with ‘no I was driven mad by what happened to me’. Do you have anything to say on that like how does a broken society liberate us?

David Gray-Hammond 

I think the main liberating factor in understanding that society is the thing that is broken and not the individual. Is that it takes that sense of responsibility off of us to do something about it, let me let me try to explore a different angle. We are neurodivergent. Nothing we can do is going to make us not neurodivergent. That’s, that’s what being neurodivergent is we are neurodivergent and we will be neurodivergent until we’re gone.  Society doesn’t have to stay the same. So we can either think that our neurodivergent is this big problem in us that we can’t do anything about, or we can understand that society is the problem. And realise that if we want to,  if we have the capacity to – and whatever that capacity looks like is valid – , but if we want to and  have the capacity to, we can do something about society. That really liberates me.

Natasha Golding  

Yeah, me too. And I’ve during times of Autistic burnout, I’ve had times of great hopelessness and despair, which I’m deliberately avoiding calling depression because I think depression is a political problem. Because it’s an individualised illness. It’s not a description of the experience anymore because the language has changed. And I remember having like this idea of like, me being frontline, like if we’re here to sort of help change the world. It’s like, well, at the minute, the only world is me. So my responsibility today is to get this human body through the day without it, getting to the point where it thinks it needs to be removed from the earth. Or you know, like so that the world sort of shrinks. But I think the culture we live in tends to view us as not included in the world that needs changing is what I mean, we tend to see it as like, I’m gonna change the world that happens outside of me, it’s not to do with me. Does that make sense? Have you had experience of your workd being just you?

David Gray-Hammond 

This idea of otherness. So society, whether it’s done intentionally or not, has created this sense of otherness around neurodivergence we are othered to the mainstream. And see, one of the things that can really make us feel a great deal of despair is ‘okay. I feel very liberated that society is broken, but how do I fix it from the outside?’ But you’re not actually on the outside of the system. If we where, the system probably wouldn’t be doing the harm it’s doing to us. The reason the system is doing the harm it’s doing to us is because we are very much in the system. We exist among the structures of society, no matter how much we try to distance ourselves from it. We live in civilizations, we live in various cultures around the world. We are all part of that culture’s!structures and systems. And so we have been othered and we can feel a great deal of despair about that. But it’s important to recognise that we are actually still part of culture, we can work from the inside  to change those structures.

Natasha Golding  

Makes me think about you, you talk in your explanations of ableism and how ableism functions and the connection between racism ableism sexism. I wondered, like, what was your route to…Was there a time where you had more internalised ableism and what’s your route to sort of learning what you’ve learned and that you share in the book on that?

David Gray-Hammond 

I am going to be complelty honest. I used to have a great deal of internalised ableism, there was a time…  if people search hard enough on the internet, they will find an article I wrote for a particular [word misding] that I refuse to write for anymore, where I talked about the fact that I would take a cure if it was offered to me. I you know, I’ve been writing longer than I’ve been in the Autistic community, and as such, it’s taken me it’s only been in recent years, I’ve really done the work to start dismantling that internalised ableism and like anyone else, I still have a great deal of internalised ableism inside me. 

Just like you know, I’m a white person I benefit from white supremacy, you know, we all have sort of these bigoted views conditioned into us to an extent whether we had to admit it or not. And it’s been really tricky trying to search out especially the ableism and try and catch it so I can go right. Why do I think this because I can extend compassion to literally everyone else. But I’m still using this very abelist view of myself. And it’s interesting trying to work out where it comes from.

Natasha Golding  

And that’s a process that you seem to do in your writing, right? That’s what you sort of testify but its purpose is really,

David Gray-Hammond 

Yeah, that book really, really had a good purpose for me, in helping me further dismantle some ideas that I had about myself. It really helped me come to terms – especially with my aquired neurodivergence, the schizophrenia and that. It really helped me through that because I was actually I mean, I started hearing voices when I was 18. I’m 32 now and I only got my diagnosis this year. So it’s been 14 years of psychosis without a diagnosis. So I’ve been coming to terms with various forms of ableism that I have in my life and writing that books helps me pick it apart. And then once I picked it apart, I was able to take all the different parts and kind of lay it out for everyone to see. If this is a problem we all have. I was able to take my experience and perhaps try and create a map that others can use that

Natasha Golding  

Yeah, I feel like that happened in the book for me, so thank you. I wanted to make the connection. We’re talking about sort of theoretical and reflective writing because obviously different sorts of writing and I think… yeah, I was interested in… because I really like theoretical, but because I pass as a woman. I’m not allowed to be theoretical, don’t if you knew that David [sarcasm], but it’s a gendered activity. So I …poetry, I’m allowed to be poetic. That’s the rules of the genders as I’ve experienced them. So you wrote a poetry book as well. So I wondered how …Yeah, what your experiences with those dichotomies of theoretical poetic and how you’ve used that?

David Gray-Hammond 

I’m very much of the opinion thay. And this might sound quite extreme to some people –  theory is an art form. it requires creativity. People don’t just like, it’s not like you’ve just got a machine putting together theories like you need to have that creative mind in order to understand theory and build on theory and create new theory. For me releasing the poetry book around the same time as the essay anthology was I wanted to prove I’m not a ‘one trick pony’ as they would say. You know, I love writing poetry. I will say when I write poetry, and this is probably one of my more annoying habits if you’re a diehard poetry snob, I refuse to follow any particular poetic rules.

Natasha Golding  

halkelujah 

David Gray-Hammond 

I don’t rhyme.  I don’t use things like iambic pentameter, not on purpose anyway, you know, I mean, I’ve got A levels in English literature and all sorts but I refuse to write to poetic, because it’s art, such an expression of me and me is kind of chaotic, honestly. So I wanted to show that I’m releasing sort of together because both sort of talking about the same thing. One is theoreticsl, the other one is typically artistic. I wanted people to look at them together and go ‘these things are just as valid as each other’. But so often, especially when it comes to art, people are like, ‘oh, we need to throw all the funding into the sciences into research and development’, but actually we can learn just as much from creative endeavours, as we do from a very strict academic research development theory. Not everyone is gonna want to access academia. Academia is famously inaccessible to just about everyone including the people who work in it. But art is for everyone. Everyone. I just wanted to kind of prove a point. So I released the two together. Yeah, yeah, that’s…

Natasha Golding  

Me too  I dont rhyme. What’s the name of the poetry book.

David Gray-Hammond 

The poetry book is called Existence. And it’s a lot more personal than the essay anthology because a lot of it is based on my experience of society. And my experience of being neurodivergent

Natasha Golding  

Thats an interesting clarification, though, because, like, how is theory…because to me, theory is personal like, I listened to your theoretical model, or I listened to a theoretical description of how something works in the world. I check whether it matches my experience of the world. And then I adopt it – it is very personal to me theory. It’s not.. but it is…it’s communal, because essentially, you read other people’s ideas and then you integrate them into your own. So how is it less personal to you?

David Gray-Hammond 

This is a tricky question. Because neither of them are less personal to me. But the poetry collection itself is much more overtly personal to me. Like, if you imagine that the essay anthology is like I took the part of my mind that processes theory and sees whether it matches my experience and put that out there. Then the poetry collection is like I took a piece of my soul, or whatever you want to call it. So they’re both personal to me, but from different parts of myself.

Natasha Golding  

That’s really interesting to make that destinction because I often get people tell me…my work website, somebody read it and told me ‘Well, it’s very personal’. And I was like, what’s that mean? That’s one of those moments where I need like a neurotypical translator.

David Gray-Hammond 

I think its imporant to note. This is part of neurodivergent culture, we do things personaly. We can’t just be like, arbitrary and detach. Like, this idea that we will lack empathy and have no emotions. You’ve only got to read the stuff that we write, the things we say, anything that we do to realise that actually we are some of the most emotional and in touch with other people and ourselves, humans on the planet. Because I don’t know. I mean, I’ve seen sort of business things now that are very impersonal. They have no appeal to me.

Natasha Golding  

No, and I think impersonal is somehow the wrong… to me it’s more …I was listening to Harry Harry, Harry Harry, Harry Thompson? Talk about the pervasive demand for autonomy, or PDA. And he was talking about the sacricity of living like how PDAers seem to live with a sort of like, seriousness or like, the significance of what they do is really high. And I totally relate to this. So I think pervasive, I’m like, yeah, really into autonomy. So it well, it has that sense of like, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it. With all meaning. Like I can’t do it with like, surface commitment, or do you know what I mean?

David Gray-Hammond 

Yeah and i think…it brings to mind for me, and for want of a better word because I don’t really want to tie in with religion, but I think for neurodivergent people on the whole we’re very aware of like the sanctity of life. My mother’s a priest, she’s a priest in the Church of England, they have what they call the sacraments, which is like the bread, the wine and baptism, things like that. So there’s only quite I mean, I don’t really subscribe to any particular religion. I’m not particularly sure if I believe in anything or if I don’t want it. But I do see the way that we express ourselves is a form of sacrament because we are sharing literally the most personal thing we can with the world. If anything in this world is even close to be holy. I think it’s sharing yourself. And that’s why I believe and that is why I wanted to the essay anthology and the poetry collection come out together because I couldn’t share my wholel self without both of those parts.

Natasha Golding  

Yeah, this makes a lot of sense. I wanted to ask about your experiences of so called impostor syndrome, which I’m working on the idea that people who don’t experience imposter syndrome are the ones that are actually sort of disordered, because essentially, imposter syndrome is the ability to perceive the way that space is modulated by power. So it’s the sensitivity to the fact that that people are going to restrict your power or your access to something. So thinking about like, your …when you sort of entered the institution of being a writer, or an author, or a poet, did you find that easy to get into those places, or did you find it? I’m curious about yeah, how your identity as a man affected it and you know whether you felt you had the legitimacy to say something?

David Gray-Hammond 

ive long suspected II have some privilege I’ve been sort of unaware of, because I am a white cisgendered male Yes, I’m autistic and yes, I’m queer. But being a white cisgendered male does give you a fair bit of privilege in life, and I have not had  many serious issues with people coming up saying like ‘Why have you said this, like this is harmful or this is wrong?’ Not many people have argued with me. That’s not to say no one has. I’ve had issues in the past with people intentionally misunderstanding my words. But I was lucky that it felt quite easy to start with the blogging because forst nonone was reading it and then the people that were reading it just seemed to love what I was saying. 

I suspect perhaps it could be more difficult if I hadn’t been a white cisgendered male, you know, I would extend if you take my queerness out of the equation, which we commonly do hypothetical reasons. For all intents and purposes, I am the stereotype of an autistic person. I’m relativly clever. I’m white, I’m socially awkward. I’m male. They used to call me Sheldon as in Sheldon. Cooper from the Big Bang Theory. Back then, I thought it was really funny. It was only as I came to understand more about my Autistic Self, I was like, actually that really was not very funny. But it’s, I certainly have had privilege in where I am, I’ve had privileges throughout my life, and it’s really the only reason that I’m able to be here and be a published author. 

Natasha Golding 

And that’s really important to talk about because I sometimes talk with friends about like, our – I don’t know… noI think I can say this – to understand that the fact that we’re alive and neither heavily medicated in the mental health system and not physically harmed is very much to do with our class privilege, because our experience of interpersonal abuse, and that we’re protected from a certain level of violence because of our class. And to understand that you are not where somebody else is only because of the money and the education seems an important thing to acknowledge. You know, to sort of really feel how close you came. Do you know what I mean? Like how precarious… I think…

David Gray-Hammond 

I didn’t have the privilege of money, unfortunately. I grew up like  poverty line. I struggled for the best part of a decade in active addiction. We don’t tend to have plenty of money. We’re in active addiction. I have been in a psych ward twice. And that was not a pleasant experience. I’ve had things that have not been great in life, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that my experiences with those knob ratings could have been a lot worse if I didn’t have the privileges that I do.

Natasha Golding  

And it’s …I think that understanding that I don’t know brings a certain complexity. It helps me take seriously precariousness. Which seems important. Yeah, it’s really …I’m looking at notes here to relate this to …

So we’re going to come to the end of the interview, and I just wanted to pick up one of the topics that comes up at various points in the essays. Which I struggle to pronounce…rhetoricity, and somehow the idea is around Autistic, the Autistics lacking rhetoricity? could you explain a bit about that?

David Gray-Hammond 

So I mean, I was very much inspired by M. Remi Yergeau’s book Authoring Autism which is a book thats subtitle is liiterally ‘on rhetoric and neurological queerness’. And there’s this idea in the book that autistic people are either too autistic to be part of the conversation or not autistic enough and it creates this what what Yergeau refers to as ‘demi-rhetoricity’. We are both autistic and not the right sort of autistic. And therefore, doesnt matter what we do. We can’t inform our narratives. And I really wanting to highlight that in this book because I think it’s almost wielded as a weapon in society, for when, when minority groups try to speak out against a system that is oppressing them, that system will then come back with ‘well, your voice doesn’t count because of this reason’. That your voice doesn’t count because of that reason but in the case of autistic people, we will use the example of something that people in the autistic community talk about a lot is “martyr parents”, in inverted commas. Now, if you approach someone who falls into this particular stereotype, and say, “well, actually, I don’t think what you’re saying about your Autistic child is okay”. You know, they’ll come back well, “you’re not you’re not really Autistic. You’re not the same sort of autistic person as my child”. It’s, it’s very invalidating because, okay, we all have different experiences of divergence. 

Because humans, we are all individual and we can’t even prove that we will have the same experience of being Autistic. The only the only way we kind of know we do is through observable behaviours and what we say out loud. We can’t go into someone else’s head and be like ‘Oh, yeah, this is very me’. But the same sense. Take for example, the non speaking community and because they can’t verbally communicate, what they want to say, people than invalidate them and basically say they are too Autistic for their opinions to count or their you know, they’ve got the wrong views on …in fact this is one of my pet peeves actually, is that a lot of non speaking people get excluded from the Autistic community for using the ‘wrong language,’. Language which they don’t get the opportunity to access. And I think it all comes down to this idea of demi-rhetoricity, you know, you’re either too autistic or not autistic enough. Even happens within the Autistic community and we need to just accept that being Autistic is being Auutistic. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is. There isn’t more Autistic or less Autistic, yet we can have various things going on around being Autistic, we can make it a more complex situation. Autistic people themselves are just Autistic. All of our voices are valid, and not everyone’s going to have a really helpful voice like any group there will be autistic people who have very harmful views. Because once again, we’re human beings. There are human beings out there who have some really harmful opinions and views. We should at least start from a place of assuming that everyone has somethin to contribute to accomplish it.

Natasha Golding  

Sounds like a good place to close.

David  

It does, doesnt it. 

Natasha Golding  

So yeah, I’m happy. It’s really good to experience autistic culture and those autistic voices. Getting to the moment in history where there’s books and there’s films and do you know what I mean? Like, yeah, it’s a good time for that. Thank you. Thank you for the conversation today. And thank you for the book. And is there anything else you want to finish up with?

David  

No, no, I think we’ve had a pretty good conversation. Obviously, people can check out my blog where a lot of stuff started from emergentdivergence.com It’s also on Facebook. And if they really want to, they can check out my business page as well which is DGH Neurodivergent Consultancy. That yeah, thanks for having me come and talk your ear off.

Natasha Golding  

But yeah, I am into getting my ears talked off. I think clearly your your consultancy and stuff is based around this deep understanding of how things are happening and not happening. So I’m glad that is there to sort of integrate the knowledge into other parts of the culture and the community its really cool. Thank you, David,

David  

Thank you Bye.

Natasha Golding  

Bye.

“Why are you so quiet?” Autistic voices and the fight to be heard
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"you've been told all your childhood that it's rude to interrupt. and now you have grown up and speak only when there is a pause in the conversation. but suddenly you understand that neurotypicals are all interrupting each other and this is quite normal. but you are already used to not interrupting and waiting for a pause in the conversation and do not understand how to normally maintain a conversation in order to talk, but at the same time not to seem rude "
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Society is built upon a surprising number of rules that, when fully considered, seem rather arbitrary. In actual fact, societies rules are not arbitrary at all. They are deliberately designed to keep minority groups quiet while amplifying the voice of the oppressors.

I think most Autistic people have come across this particular micro-aggression. Sat in a social situation, listening, waiting for our chance to join in…

“Why are you so quiet?”

It’s a loaded question, because the truth is that society has conditioned us to be quiet. Don’t interrupt, don’t shout, don’t swear, don’t do anything that might upset the status quo. A status quo that upholds the victimisation of Autistic people while allowing those who want us eradicated to hog the microphone, so to speak.

It’s hard enough to know when my turn is in a conversation, let alone when the entire room is breaking the very rule that has caused my bewilderment in these situations. Neuronormativity dictates that everyone’s voice and opinion is equal, while silencing those who are harmed by this worldview.

Why is all of this relevant? Because I want you to understand why the titular question is micro-aggression.

Back to the social situation, I am lost and scared in a neurotypical environment, people speaking over each other and interrupting. Meanwhile my pavlovian ass is adhering to the rules that have been instilled in me since I could first speak.

What does this mean for Autistics trying to be a part of the conversation within the Autistic Rights movement?

It’s not just a room full of people speaking over each other and drowning us out of the conversation, it’s a world of people who think they know better. The irony being that when they don’t give us the chance to speak out against their rampant pathologisation of our identities, they use our silence to uphold their outdated and harmful beliefs about us.

The silence they instil in us by never giving us the chance to talk, is the very thing they use to justify calling us an epidemic. We social outcasts can’t possibly contribute to the economy through silence, can we?

So, sod the rules.

I will speak up and over the navel-gazing masses who believe me to be broken. I will stand in defiance of their arbitrary social rules, and I will live a life that feels right for me and my neurokin.

We are not broken, we are not ill.

We are quiet because you don’t give us the opportunity to step up to the proverbial mic.

So yeah, I hope that answers the question.

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.

I’m not Asocial, I’m AuSocial: Conceptualising Autistic sociality and culture

Being Autistic is a nightmare (sometimes, actually, a lot of the time). This isn’t because being Autistic is inherently good or bad, but rather because we are a minority group, and as such experience direct and indirect oppression from the privileged majority. Given that the world is designed by and for that majority, and doesn’t particularly give a shit about us and our experiences, it’s unsurprising that certain misconceptions are held about us.

One of the prevailing misconceptions is that as Autistic people we are overtly asocial beings. It is taken as common knowledge that we are the friendless weirdos who don’t understand social cues, but can recite every train we’ve ever seen.

This misperception of asociality feeds into the tragedy narrative that props up the pathology paradigm, therefore justifying our eradication as a supposed act of mercy.

The truth however is that Autistic people have a complex and satisfying culture that, despite attempts to the contrary, remains intact and keeps many of us alive. This culture comes with it’s own communication style (as evidenced by the double empathy problem) allowing us to lead social lives that are often more protective than those of an allistic neurotype.

The truth is, I am not asocial, I am Autistically social. I am AuSocial.

This AuSociality means that we have access to a community that can often be wildly supportive, and a true joy to be a part of. This community does wonders for our wellbeing, which we can see in the work of Monique Botha, looking at how community connectedness appears to have a direct and causal correlation with reduction in minority stress.

The obfuscation of our AuSociality is a good example of hermeneutical injustice, wherein a significant portion of our social experience has been obscured from sight through structural and systemic oppression and prejudice.

Of course, to admit that Autistic people are social creatures would threaten to undo decades of research. To consider that we have lives with friends and connectedness would mean that theory of mind and it’s associated phenomenon were akin to that which one might throw into a burning oil drum.

I leave you with this; should we maintain the status quo, and continue to be treated ad non-entities, beings of the void with no social value, devoid of feeling? Or should we dismantle the society that devalues and oppresses us, carving out a new society that treats us as the beautifully divergent human beings that we are?

Neuroqueer theory and the Self

When considering our potential, we often think in finite terms. Normativity has dictated that which a human can be. We are also bound, in principle, by the finite nature of our mortality. Thus, we are limited by both cultural and biological variables. However, the limits of what a human, a person, can be are not what we were taught as children.

By consistently queering ourselves, we break down the walls that neuronormative society has built around it’s definition of humanness. To be authentically neurodivergent and neuroqueer to boot, we create infinite potentialities of our person(s).

To be neurologically queer, is to cast off the chains that are used to bind the Self to cultural standards and normative society. This is the first step towards a neurocosmopolitan society. When we realise that the Self can be more than divergent, we open ourselves up to endless possibilities.

The entelechy of my Self is one of growth and change. I speak often of the transitions I have been through; child to adult, innocence to trauma, addiction to recovery, recovery to psychotic. To queer the Self, one must look inwardly at the experiences that have shaped us, and then to the outward expression of those experiences. To freely express the Self is to have the loudest hands in the most quiet room.

Let us queer society and unlock infinite potential.

I am my Self, I am human, and we all have infinite potential within us.

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