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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.

“Just get your sh*t together” and other ridiculous things I have thought

Life is full of ups and downs. My passion in life is helping people climb back from the “downs” into “ups” that often seem impossible at the time. In order to do this, I had to go through a personal hell and walk out the other side. People often tell me how inspiring I am, which I have mixed feelings about, they also ask me how I did it.

Sometimes I worry that people think my journey was straight forward, with a well defined map that I can pass on to those lost in their own hellscape.

The truth is that it has been very much a trial and error situation, with a lot of unwise decisions, and unkind thoughts about myself.

As the title suggests, a thought I tend to have when things are bad is that I just need to “get my shit together”. Thinking like this is wildly unhelpful. Not only does it not offer any concrete advice for myself to follow, it is inherently ableist. It doesn’t take account of the myriad ways I am disabled.

Another unhelpful thing I do when I am struggling is romanticise my childhood. I wish for my days of innocence, denying the fact that my lack of childhood innocence plays a huge role in my struggles as an adult. It’s easy to convince ourselves that the past is where we belong. It’s important to live in the present, no matter what it looks like.

Self-destructing is something I do when things get really bad. It ranges from pissing off the people close to me, to a literal urge to self-destruct. Infer from that what you will. It’s easy to forget that sometimes our most toxic influence is our own mind.

Perhaps the worst thing I do is hate myself. The truth is, I’ve come a long way since “the old days”, and when I am struggling, I forget that. I am my own worst critic. I convince myself that I am a harmful influence, and a generally shitty person. If you ever catch yourself doing this, it’s okay to ask for a little validation from the people closest to you.

We all need uplifting from time to time, don’t be ashamed for struggling.

I hope that these insights into my own self-critical thoughts are helpful to someone. There are times when I forget that I am a human being, and not machine, existing solely to serve the benefit of others. It’s something many of us do, but I want you to know, it’s okay to be human.

Just don’t let the shitty thoughts rule your mind.

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