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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.

More on Zeno’s Paradoxes and the issues with Autistic to non-Autistic communication

As you may have noticed from my most recent blog post, I am somewhat down a rabbit hole at the moment. In my previous article I discussed Zeno’s paradox of plurality and how it applies to the dehumanisation of Autistic people and the double empathy problem.

Today I would like to consider another of Zeno’s paradoxes and how it applies to the double empathy problem.

This particular paradox was known as the Dichotomy Paradox. Essentially, it explains that when travelling from point A to point B, one must first travel to the halfway point between the two. To then travel from that point to the destination, you must travel half way again. This continues infinitely when travelling towards a fixed destination and thus Zeno argued that you can never reach point B.

When considering communication across different neurocognitive styles, one must also consider what the goal is. If we presume that the goal is “successful communication” then the double empathy problem tells us that this is very difficult due to the different styles of communication. Despite this, Autistic people are always expected to be the ones to put the emotional labour into communicating. This has been discussed by Rachel Cullen, a recording of a livestream with Aucademy featuring them can be found here and here).

We then encounter the dichotomy paradox. Neurotypicals remain a fixed point in the goal of successful communication, while we as Autistics are constantly expected to move towards the goal by accommodating their preferred communication styles. It is as if we are constantly reaching the halfway point, and never reaching our destination. No matter how well we accommodate neurotypical preferences, we are caught in an infinite regression of distance, not achieving the aim.

This to me, highlights the deeper issue of dehumanisation and objectification of Autistics. Neurotypicals (perhaps subconsciously, sometimes consciously) consider themselves the pinnacle of humanity, a goal that all should be striving for. We know from the existence of the various compliance based behavioural interventions, that Neurotypicals do believe this in many cases. Evidenced by the fact that it is considered “gold-standard” to teach Autistic people to hide their Autistic nature.

As Dr. Monique Botha mentioned in their recent seminar, there is a reason why researchers and professionals insist on person-first language. “I want to eradicate autism” sounds much less like genocide than “I want to eradicate Autistic people”. However, both of those statements mean the same thing. This is justified because whether or not they overtly see it, neurologically queer behaviour and experience is seen as non-human. Remi Yergeau argued this dehumanisation was due (at least in part) to a perceived lack of rhetoricity in their book Authoring Autism.

Autistic people are viewed as husks, mindlessly performing nothing, controlled by an abstract spectre called autism. This then is perhaps why so many neurotypical people insist on person-first language, and ignore our preference of identity -first language. Why would they take a step towards the all consuming spectre? Surely it is better to leave such a thing trapped in that infinite journey towards a goal that is never to be reached.

This, then, is the appeal of neuroqueering to me. When I embrace my neuroqueer self, I no longer have to be trapped in the infinite journey towards performative neurotypicality. I escape the dichotomy paradox by abandoning societal expectations, and being true to myself. True to what nature intended for me. I am Autistic, I am divergent, and that divergence is a thing of beauty.

We need to raise up our fellow Autistics, high above the dichotomy of neurotypicality and neurodivergence. We need to embrace a world in which these words are redundant in meaning because no one group has the power to oppress another; and when our fellow Autistics are lost in the dark, we need to shine our own light, and guide them back to the daylight.

Neurostandardisation: considering the oppression of neurodivergent individuals

For quite some time now, the neurodiversity movement has spoken about the harmfulness of behavioural techniques. These techniques are used to prevent the outward indications of the Autistic neurotype. They are generally aimed at children, and almost always lead to significant harm being done.

The use of such techniques belongs to a wider issue with the way that society views neurodivergence.

What seems most obvious to me, is that the existence of words such as “neurotypical” already imply that there is a typical standard that we diverge from. Words like “typical” and “standard” can be considered the descendants of the pathology paradigm, and the ableism that came from that worldview.

Under the pathology paradigm, anything that sits outside of the box of “typical”, is broken and in need of fixing. In the case of autism, this has led to research into deficits, resulting in the direct oppression of Autistic people through the use of harmful cure culture.

This cure culture attempts to standardise the mind, hence “neurostandardisation”. It is an attempt to bring the neurodivergent individual into line with a neurocognitive standard of existence. It’s not always medical and behavioural interventions either, often it is the societal culture that forces neurotypical people to camouflage their neruodivergent traits.

The question then remains as to why society forces neurostandardisation onto people.

I am firmly of the opinion that society at large has three reasons for clinging on to the pathology paradigm, and using it to oppress and “standardise” others.

1. Those with privilege in this society are afraid that by giving others more, they will have less.

2. Keeping minority groups in an oppressed state, requiring them to “fit in” means that the privileged do not have to consider the failings of their own culture and society.

3. Those who thrive in the dominant culture are unwilling to put the effort into learning how to live equitably with minority cultures and groups.

When you consider the origins of bigotry, I start to feel like the pathology paradigm has played a huge role. Mel Baggs wrote of how most (if not all) forms of bigotry are rooted in ableism. Nick Walker writes extensively of the privilege of neurotypical autism professionals in her book Neuroqueer Heresies. One might consider that having privileged member of a dominant culture in a position of authority over a minority is a blatant conflict of interest.

Neurostandardisation can then be recognised as the forced assimilation of neurodivergent people into the dominant culture, while keeping them in a position of disadvantage. It is a tool of oppression that takes many forms, but is ultimately the goal of the pathology paradigm. A paradigm that seeks to invalidate the existence anything outside of it’s limited, reductive, and quite frankly incorrect view that such a thing as “normal” exists.

This is why the existence of advocacy is so important. Where oppression exists, we need voices that can shout loudly, and expunge the false beliefs of the current sociocultural paradigms.

Until those beliefs have been dismantled, neurodivergent people will always be lower on the ladder.

Radical Advocacy: Being an advocate in a hate filled world

Recently I have found myself considering the direction that my advocacy is taking. I have found myself reading extensively on “autism theory” and, on the other hand, writings by actually Autistic authors.

At first I felt broken by what I had realised. Our world is built on a paradigm that by design oppresses anyone outside of it’s cultural standards of normal. What can we do about such a hate filled world? How can a minority group take on a system that is set up to silence them?

The answer is the opposite of hate. Which some might call love, but I find that utterly reductive and terribly clichéd. So if love is what drives us to stand up for another, then advocacy is the tool that we use to do so.

Where the hateful and oppressive masses sit in silent glee as all that is not “normal” is destroyed and hidden away, a self-advocating culture amplifies the voices of those who may otherwise go unheard.

Some people think that the job of an advocate is to give the oppressed a voice, but this is not true. An advocates job is to listen, and communicate what they hear in a way that can no longer be ignored.

Advocacy isn’t always about representing another person. Often as advocates we have to sit with ourselves and listen to our own inner voice. What helps us? How did we unlearn that? An advocate must be able to reflect on their own experience, and how that impacts the people they are standing up for.

The most radical thing an advocate can do, however, is to unlearn the systemic lies that society has drilled into us since birth. As Autistic advocates, the greatest lie we have been raised with is that society has a standard that we must adhere to.

There is no standard, there is no normal. This is a mistruth used to keep us static. Our society desperately wants our silence, so it fools us into thinking that we diverge from “normal”, when the truth is that what we truly diverge from is the dogma of a world that craves our indifference.

From a young age we are taught that our difference makes us broken, a shameful secret to be remedied or hidden from sight. An advocate must stand tall in the knowledge that our diversity is what makes us beautiful.

That, is what can combat a hate filled world. Not love, but advocacy that guides the world into seeing the beauty in our differences, instead of trying to eradicate them.

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