Let’s all laugh at celebrities that never learn anything tee hee hee

Image description: Two opposing photos. On the left, Kylie Jenner sits in a gold-gilded wheelchair, with short black hair, a black corset, and black heeled shoes. On the right, Sia sings into a white microphone. Sia has a giant white bow in her hair, black and blonde hair which is divided down the middle into both colours, and a white dress

CW: ableism, objectification of women, objectification of disabled women, sex, exploitation

It was the year 2015. 50 Shades of Grey was playing in theaters. Children of all ages were performing “The Dab”. The most well-funded primary electoral campaign in the history of the United States was singing the praises of John Ellis “Jeb” Bush.

From this inconceivable time in history, a rising, soon-to-be-self-made-billionaire entrepreneur, helped only by her generationally wealthy family, her appearances on one of the most widely-circulated reality shows on cable television, and a media circus that fed every one of us proles our daily updates on the brand of yogurt she was eating for breakfast whether we wanted to know or not, would make her indelible mark on Western civilization. But not before being responsible for one of the most widely criticized instances of shitting the bed of disability representation we’ve seen this century.

Kylie Jenner was the front cover model on the December edition of Interview magazine. The cover photo featured her looking straight forward, like an inanimate object, in a wheelchair plated with gold. The photo itself made her look like a sex toy; a motionless mannequin unable to move, feel, or think. If in this photo Kylie Jenner was meant to portray a living woman, then the woman is without cognitive function; non-communicating, non-thinking, non-feeling. In this photo where Kylie is in a gold-plated wheelchair, she occupies the space of a physically disabled woman, portraying these abominable characteristics.

Within the pages of her article in the magazine, where she talks about her life, her values, and her hopes for the future, more photos from the shoot are displayed. She lays motionless and barely covered in a shipping box, fully portraying a sex doll in transit. In other photos she holds a motionless pose with stiff joints, as she is carried off by men.

When you look at these photos, this art exhibit, what do you feel? I invite you to identify and sit with your feelings.

In this photo shoot I see that a model, an abled model with no experience of being disabled, is occupying the space of both a disabled woman and a sex doll. Two things occupying the same space, represented by one form, means that they share the same characteristics. It is to say that a disabled woman is a sex doll. As a sex doll is an inanimate, unfeeling, unthinking, impersonal object for men to use and abuse, so too is a disabled woman. When I look at the man carrying the wheelchair-using, stiff-bodied, incapacitated sex doll/woman, the message I see is, “get yourself a disabled girlfriend lads, she can’t fight back.”

Disabled models, who have a challenging time getting work in an extremely ableist industry, were justifiably angry that an abled model was taking up their space, which is to say, taking up their job. Models who use wheelchairs as mobility aids are nothing new, but very poorly represented.

Nermin Hassan, who uses a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy, wrote in an article for the modelling agency Models of Diversity:

“There are many undiscovered people sharing the same values as one another (about) feeling alone and abnormal as they have never seen someone they can relate to their selves in the media. Unfortunately placing a well known able-bodied model in a wheelchair such as Kylie Jenner doesn’t count.”

Disabled models began to take back their space by wearing a similar kink outfit as Kylie did in her photoshoot and posing with their actual mobility aid wheelchairs, and telling their stories about how their wheelchair is more than just a prop.

Other women who use wheelchairs as mobility aids fought back over Twitter:

Text: “@KylieJenner wow being in a wheelchair is so fun and fashionable! #Ableism is the ultimate fashion statement!”
Photo: Kylie Jenner’s photo of her in a wheelchair on the left reflected by the author’s photo of being in a wheelchair on the right
Text: “As someone in a wheelchair @KylieJenner @InterviewMag, this is offensive. My chair is not haute couture”
Photo: Kylie Jenner in a wheelchair

So why am I bringing up something that happened in December of 2015 now, at the end of the hellish epoch of 2020?

To bring up the lessons that we and the media circus learned five years ago about disability representation, which can be summarized as thus:

  1. If you are portraying a disabled person in an art statement, consult with disabled people so that your statement has the best chance of being positively received by the demographic.
  2. If you are portraying a disabled person in an art statement, hire an artist with that disability, or at least who uses that aid! If you cannot find an artist with the disability being portrayed, or who uses the aid that is part of the statement, you simply did not look.
  3. Knowing a disabled person does not give you expertise in disability representation.
  4. Make sure that disabled people are the ones telling, and in control of, the story.

These are four simple lessons that we accepted, learned, and moved on toward a better future of disability representation.

Photo: the main character of Sia’s upcoming film “Music”, about a non-speaking autistic woman

Just kidding.

Australian singer/songwriter/voice actress/director Sia is publishing a film starring Kate Hudson as Zu, a woman living with addictions, who becomes the sole guardian of a non-speaking autistic woman named Music. Music, contrary to the disability representation lessons we had already learned from the Kylie Jenner disaster, will not be portrayed by a non-speaking woman, an autistic woman, or even an openly neurodivergent woman. The neurotypical Maddie Ziegler will instead be putting on a performance for us of what Sia thinks it means to be a non-speaking autistic woman.

Under Sia’s direction, Maddie learned how to portray autistic people by watching exploitative videos of autistic meltdowns uploaded to Youtube by parents of autistic children, and consulted with the pro-cure hate organization Autism Speaks to learn about autistic people.

Instead of casting an autistic actor, Sia stated that “casting someone at her level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community.

Sia has broken all four of these very simple, critical, four rules of representation, and has abused autistic people on Twitter who have put emotional labour into teaching her compassion for our community.

So if Sia is unwilling to learn from December 2015, is there anything that we can learn?

Can we learn how to take back the space that Sia has stolen from autistic people, as the wheelchair-using models who took back their space from Kylie Jenner did?

Can we learn how to support each other when we are collectively abused by a high-profile celebrity punching down at less-powerful people?

Can we learn how to enforce these four very simple reference points for making art that the people depicted by it will enjoy?

And can we learn how to ensure that we are not back here in 2025 with another privileged voice speaking over disabled people believing that they can freely use our voice and our image for their profit and playtime?

When is the Best Time to Tell Somebody That They Are Autistic?

A parent of an autistic child reached out to me this week and asked me what I felt was the best time to let their child know that they are autistic.

The stories that I have heard from other autistics, when their family had the autism talk with them, was that it was a range of reactions. Some people started a grief process where they tried to “overcome” autism by working harder to be a neurotypical, but ultimately after years of struggling, had a messy collapse under the pressure of trying to be something that they were not, leading to mental health issues and self-destruction.

I have also heard that some of us experienced a deep feeling of relief when they found out that they were autistic. “Thank God”, they thought, “I thought there was something wrong with me”. Autism became a new way of viewing their abilities and their limits; of respecting themselves and their boundaries.

Finding out that you are autistic may also lead to poor self-esteem if you have a poor view of autistic people. Unfortunately, society imprints all kinds of messages on impressionable minds about how autistic people are burdensome, and unable to do certain things, and many tired, broken, untrue myths about ties to criminal activity and violence. If a person has a poor view of autistics, and finds out that they are autistic, it may be that they could view themselves as worth less than another person.

For the latter reason especially, before a conversation about someone being autistic, I believe that a home should be prepared to welcome and celebrate an autistic person. Family members should have a positive view of autistic people, nurtured through exposure to autistic culture and expression; literature and art created by autistic people about our experiences and our community. This is for two reasons: the best results of letting somebody know that they are autistic are followed up by messages of acceptance, love, and wholeness, and because a newly-realized autistic person will have many questions that should be answered by somebody who they have a deep level of trust with. I feel that autistic people are more likely to be open and candid with somebody who has earned their trust than with a professional at an autism center or somebody who has answers to their questions but whom they just met. So, start with preparing a home that welcomes and celebrates autistic people. Then a conversation can take place when the person is ready.

It may be likely that a person suspects that they are autistic because the signs just naturally appear. Young autistics may notice that they are more passionate about certain subjects than other people, and they notice that other people do not share their passion. Young autistics may realize that they prefer to wear the same clothes year after year while many of their peers proudly display new wardrobes every September. They may notice that they seem to attract other neurodivergent people to them, and have questions of why that is. These questions could potentially be an opening for a positive conversation about autism.

It may also be that a good time to discuss autism is when a young autistic is met with failure after failure trying to socialize with others, trying to keep up in a mainstream classroom, having ill success in romance (itself based in communication and socializing), losing job after job, or suffering from episodes of burnout. A conversation about autism when a person is at a low point may be more likely to elicit that feeling of “oh there’s nothing wrong with me after all”.

The most important part to me is that connection and acceptance. Finding out that you are autistic can be a traumatic experience, just like trying to live as a neurotypical when you are autistic is a traumatic life. To me, the opposite of trauma is connection. That is why I thrive now for the first time in my life; my connection to other autistic people and to family who accepts and loves me exactly as I am.

Autistic Special Interest or Addiction?

When you witness an autistic person spending six hours a day playing a video game, or on their tablet or smartphone, or compulsively watching the same movie or TV show or being absorbed in books about their favourite topic, a person may worry about it being an addiction, rather than a pastime.  This may be especially worrisome when an autistic person doing their favourite thing cuts into time that is supposed to be used for homework, or cleaning the house, or other healthy activities like playing outdoors with friends.  When a person obsessively does the same thing for hours, isn’t that an addiction?

Keep in mind that our special interests are our medicine.  It medicates the pain of living in a world that is hostile to autistic people.  Many of us may escape into our own special interests because it soothes that pain.  An escape into our interests is relaxing after a long day of being bullied by our classmates at school, snapped at by teachers who see us daydreaming in class, operating under fluorescent lights, taking phone calls at work, and being forced into social interactions with others.  It can restore balance to our lives and help us make peace with our bodies and the world around us.  An overindulgence in our medicine, escaping into our special interest too often or for too long, may just be us needing extra peace right now.  It may even be a cry for help, as there is something significantly bothering us that we do not see a resolution for.

Dr. Gabor Maté, in chapter ten of “In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, offers helpful advice in determining what is a life-fulfilling passion, and what is an addiction.  He writes, “If you want to know, look around you.  Are you closer to the people you love after your passion has been fulfilled?  Or more isolated?  Have you come more truly into who you are?  Or are you left feeling hollow?  The difference between passion and addiction is the difference between a divine spark and a flame that incinerates”.

Our special interests are that divine spark, under this definition.  Our special interests help us come more truly into who we are, by feeding passion and light into our lives.  I also believe that our special interests can, in many cases, be conduits for connection.  An autistic person who shares their interest with another person is a baring of their soul.  It is a sharing of their light and their warmth with you.  The autistic person has found something which pours joy and happiness and purpose into their lives, in the hopes that it will also bring you joy as well.

Neurodiversity Storytime

For Autistic Pride Day this year, held on June 18th, I decided to livestream myself reading Loud Hands: Autistic People Speaking, editted by Julia Bascom, from front to back. Or at least as much as I could before my voice gave out. I shared the livestream with my local community pages on Facebook, as well as Facebook groups for autistic individuals and families. I managed to read out loud for one hour and forty minutes before my voice expired. We read Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn For Us”, and “Autism Network International: The Development of a Community and its Culture”, both being foundational documents of the autistic rights movement. When I checked the video later, I saw that the video had over 150 “engagements”; clicks. There was no way to tell how long anybody stayed on the video, but over 150 people had listened for /some/ amount of time. They might have left my stream on a tab on their computer while they were doing some other work, or listened for a few minutes, or just a few seconds. Whatever the truth, over 150 people had listened to at least a snippet of the foundations of autistic pride and autistic rights.

When somebody asks me what they should read to learn more about autistic pride, they get a waterfall. Read Loud Hands: Autistic People Speaking to learn the foundations of our movement! Read All The Weight Of Our Dreams to hear the perspectives of autistic people of colour and the intersections of disability justice and racial justice! Then read Typed Words Loud Voices to hear from non-speaking autistic people! Neurotribes to learn the history of autism from the 1920s to the 2000s! Aspergirls for autistic women!

The person may have come to me feeling curious and now feeling overwhelmed. Even asking someone to read one of these books is a ten hour commitment. They will come out of that ten hour commitment much more informed and with fresh, inspired perspectives, but often the people who are asking me this question are parents with very little free time, or fellow neurodivergent people who have little energy.

But after that day livestreaming the reading of Loud Hands: Autistic People Speaking, I had a realization. The real difference won’t be made by a few people reading the whole of Neurotribes or Aspergirls. The difference will be made by multitudes of people reading just a chapter or a few lines from it.

So Neurodiversity Storytime became a weekly event. Every saturday at 3 PM PST, I jump on my advocacy page, Neurodiversity YMM, and I livestream myself reading literature written by neurodivergent people about our experiences, our pride, our needs, our passions, and about disability justice, with permission from the author. This way, there is no commitment involved; instead of telling people what they need to read, I am walking this journey with the listener. And people only need to engage as much as they want to or are able to. You’re invited!

Keep Believing in the Unlimited Potential of Neurodivergent People

[Image description: five people stand on steps. One woman holds a loudspeaker, and a man speaks into a microphone attached to the loudspeaker. One woman holds a Rainbow Infinity flag with a white background. Two people hold signs, and one says “Keep Kids Safe” while the other sign is out of focus.]

TW: eugenics, mention of addiction and suicide

This speech was given outside of the Alberta legislature on August 27th, 2020, at the #HoldMyHandAB rally for a reversal of the provincial government’s education cutbacks which caused the defunding of close to 20,000 jobs lost in the education sector across Alberta and increased class crowding. One of the most divested staff positions were education assistants who help diverse learners keep up with their classmates. The cutbacks have perpetuated a hostile environment for neurodivergent students and placed barriers to their success in school. “Keep Believing in the Unlimited Potential of Neurodivergent People” frames a position where unequal access to education is a continuation of eugenics programs against certain populations that the government of Alberta has enacted for over a century, and makes the case for education being a key to health, well-being, less demand on the welfare system, and a crime-free society.

Hello everyone, my name is Christopher Whelan, I am a proudly autistic man and a social worker in my hometown of Fort McMurray, far north of here.

I will also introduce this flag that I carry with me; the Rainbow Infinity. It is an internationally recognized symbol of the pride and community that we feel as neurodivergent people; people with minds that work differently than most. The rainbow, as you might have guessed, is adopted from the design of the rainbow LGBTQ+ pride flag designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. It is the symbol of all of us, every skin colour, every background, all of the neurodivergent people all over the world in solidarity, support, and acceptance of each other. The infinity represents the infinite possibilities of the human mind, and the unlimited potential of people with divergent minds. I am here in Edmonton to fulfill the promises of the rainbow infinity, to stand in solidarity with all people with divergent minds, and to hold our leaders accountable to it as well.

Image description: a man holding the Rainbow Infinity flag]

Many neurodivergent students, who we might call “diverse learners” due to learning in different ways than most students, rely on educational assistants to help them understand classroom content, aid them in keeping up with their peers in their studies, and advocate for them in spaces where the student cannot. These educational assistants, EAs, are critical to the future of neurodivergent people and the neurodivergent community. Education is the key to our people not only becoming employable, but becoming leaders. It opens opportunities. It helps us reach our infinite potential. But substandard, defunded education leads us to poverty, mental illness, chronic physical illness, addiction, crime, and suicide. It leads to a reality where neurodivergent people are reliant on handouts from the government to avoid starvation and suffering.

We know this because it has already happened before. One hundred years ago, the government of this province was locking up neurodivergent people in what was at the time called “Provincial Lunatic Asylums”, these asylums, located in Edmonton and at Ponoka, were places where our people were denied an education, and were instead given substandard, church charity-funded occupational training, comparable to the job training that prison inmates receive. They were discharged with the expectation that they would be able to find a job in an unskilled labour position, and no longer burden the welfare system. This policy was, and remains, an ongoing disaster.

[Image description: The Ponoka Insane Asylum in Ponoka, Alberta]

Neurodivergent people, who were continually rejected from workplaces due to ableism, bullying, and abuses they suffered from their co-workers and supervisors, turned to cash jobs to survive. They were forced into sex work and prostitution. They had to sell illegal drugs. They had to steal to survive.

The provincial government looked at all of this crime, and once more blamed neurodivergence and disability for the reason for antisocial behaviour. The provincial government in 1928 took a barely precedented move, and legalized the sterilization of disabled and neurodivergent people. In the 20th century, over 3000 Canadians from coast to coast were legally sterilized by doctors; which means they took away their biological ability to have children, saying that fewer neurodivergent people would mean less crime. Of those over 3000 Canadians, over 2800 were in Alberta. The Hitler-sympathizing Social Credit Party of Alberta amended this law, the Sexual Sterilization Act, to allow doctors to sterilize people held in asylums against their will, and later amended it again so that doctors could sterilize people not held in asylums, and all people of all divergent minds in Alberta were targeted.

Obviously, they could not get all of us, because here you all are. Disabled families. Neurodivergent families. Because our families protected us from government interference in our lives then, as you protect your children from government interference in their education now.

After the progressive conservative administration proudly struck down the Sexual Sterilization Act in 1972, we were once more allowed to have families. In the 1970s, the policy of de-institutionalization, the transformation of compulsory confinement in asylums began to slowly give way to segregated special education in schools, and then decades later we would begin integration of neurodivergent students into public schools with assistance from teacher aides and EAs. We would finally be allowed by the government to pursue a higher education; to not be impoverished, out of sight of our community, but to become leaders in our communities; not just grocery baggers and janitors but engineers, architects, nurses, doctors, and soon we would be in the position of teachers and aides helping our own people achieve their potential.

It is for this reason that assistive education cutbacks are an act of violence against our people. It is turning our back on the future, and walking backward toward the days of segregated Special Ed, asylums, and exploitation. The funding of assistive education is an act of goodwill, an act of the belief in the potential of neurodivergent people and the value of our life.

I have been accused of being too articulate to be able to speak on behalf of other neurodivergent people. That I am too “high-functioning”. My ability to be articulate is only due to the school staff who believed in me even when I was failing my tests. Only due to EAs and teachers who surrendered their time to give me extra tutoring. Only due to the people who saw my strengths instead of my shortcomings and dared to give me an academic challenge. Only due to a mother who fought and fought and fought and fought and fought the systemic red tape that was holding me back from achieving my potential.

I could have dropped out. I wanted to drop out. Every night I had a full day’s worth of schoolwork to do at home because I could not focus with all of the white noise distractions in a classroom. But teachers and school staff and my parents still kept fighting for me when I wanted to quit, and now I hold two bachelor degrees, a bachelor of arts in criminal justice from Mount Royal University, and a bachelor of social work from the University of Calgary. They fought for me and they won.

Image description: A man (me), holding my bachelor of arts in criminal justice degree with my mom and dad]

It is only right that I come here and stand with you, the next generation of parents and educators fighting for the futures of your children and our community. Never stop fighting. Keep solidarity with each other, keep believing in the unlimited potential of diverse learners and your neurodivergent family members. We will win.

Autistic and Chronically Ill – You Belong Here

While I do not believe that autism and chronic illness are medically linked, it is undeniable that many autistic people are also living with chronic illness.

When I ask the question “how many of us are living with chronic illness” in my autistic self-advocate groups, many of us are ready to disclose our health concerns. The responses often echo in similar tunes: Irritable Bowel Disease, epilepsy, diabetes, hypertension, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS), are all lived experiences of more than one self-advocate that I know. I had never even heard of Ehlers-Danlos until entering the self-advocacy world.

More likely, I believe, instead of saying that autistic people are more likely to be chronically ill, is that we are more ready to be open about our health if we are also openly autistic. If we are working on unmasking our autistic selves and living with pride, it flows that we would also be working on unmasking our chronic health conditions and speaking openly about them because we are holistically working on being an unapologetic person.

I knew that I had Crohn’s Disease, a type of Irritable Bowel Disease, 11 years before I knew that I was autistic. I am still working on unmasking this part of myself, because I do not want to openly speak about spending up to half of my day on the toilet. I masked and felt ashamed of my ill body for many years. But just as I am unmasking my autistic self, I am opening up about my Crohn’s Disease. I do both of these things for the same reason. Unmasking my autism will help autistic people feel less stigmatized and more able to accept and love themselves. Unmasking my Crohn’s Disease will help people with IBD feel less stigmatized and more able to accept and love themselves.

Being autistic and chronically ill can be a lonely experience. Being chronically ill can make you feel isolated, and autism blocks a lot of traditional communication so you feel even more isolated. But you do not have to feel that way, because there are so many autistic people with illnesses, even the same illnesses that you might have.

Send some messages out to an autistic self-advocate group about wanting to connect with somebody who is autistic and chronically ill, and you will certainly find one of us who can share our knowledge on how to manage our health in an autistic-friendly way. There is no need to feel isolated, there are so many of us who would like to connect with you and support you.

Infodumping: Autistic Love Language

Is there something that makes you feel passionate? Autistically passionate? Something you could read about or do every day, consuming as much information about it as you can? Experimenting with it as much as you can? Is there something that you could talk to somebody about for hours?

Many autistic people develop one or more Special Interests, which we fixate on as the most beautiful thing or things that life can offer us. We voraciously consume any information we can find having to do with our Special Interest(s), and play with it in new ways however we can think of.

My earliest memories of trying to make friends with other people is me talking for hours in class about my favourite Nintendo game in grade 3, Donkey Kong 64. I did not want to talk about anything except Donkey Kong 64. I did not want to do anything except play Donkey Kong 64. I had trouble making friends because I could not think of anything else to say, and I was subject to a lot of teasing in school because of it. While my Special Interests have shifted over time, this way of communicating with people, talking for hours about this one subject that the other person probably does not care to hear about, has been my socialization.

When I learned more about autism in my adulthood, I learned that this is such a common part of autistic communication that we have developed a slang word for it: Infodumping. Infodumping is when an autistic person exhausts all of the information about a focused topic that they know of. To me, Infodumping is a love language; not only professing the love I have for a certain topic, I am also risking the rejection that comes with hearing somebody that I admire tell me that my favourite thing is meaningless to them, because I want to develop a connection with that person and this is my hamfisted attempt at developing that connection.

My autistic pride advocacy means that I need to develop connections with many other autistics, to build our community of pride and to work together on projects to promote autism acceptance. I have found that a great way to break ice between myself and a fellow autistic that I need to partner with on a project is to get an Infodump session out. We give each other one or two minutes to spill as much information about our favourite thing as we can, and then we listen to the other person spend one or two minutes spilling out as much information as possible about their favourite thing. This game has worked wonderfully because it requires no setup or supplies, and it can be done in person, over the phone (yikes!), or online. It is a disclosure of our autistic identities that gets seen by the other person, and accepted. Bringing our Special Interests with us and showing them off with pride establishes a space where our autistic selves can be shown off with pride.

Anthem of Affirmation

We are the Autistic people
Born into autistic bodies and brains
Celebrated by a global family of autistic people
Distant, but never having to be alone

Seeing the world through autistic eyes
Communicating through every way we can find
Moving in dances, paces, circuits, flails, and flaps
To regulate, to celebrate, and to thrive

Inheriting a legacy of resistance, survival, and prosperity
Reclaiming the world our Mother gave us
Climbing out of the cells that contained us
The jails, restraints, seclusion rooms, psych wards, segregated classes

Changing the world to meet our needs
Leading our communities to ensure all are included
Educating those that want to hear
The autistics speak over those who speak for us

Not sick or disordered
Not ill or infantile
Not divided by function
A people united by difference

There is no cure for who we are
No miracle potion to fix what’s different
You cannot fix what isn’t broken
Our natural brains and bodies

Play the call for all born autistic
To help build the world we need together
And let every one perform our anthem of pride
In the language we each have invented

Autistics in Love

Image description: Two blue silhouettes of people embracing each other with three blue hearts above them, over a black background

It is 4:00 PM and my partner has not eaten today. He has spent all day writing notes for his online course, and he forgot to shower, drink water, or do anything except his focused task. So I boil a pot of water, add Kraft Dinner, drain it, add the milk, butter, and cheese sauce mix, pour it into a familiar bowl, and I leave it on the table next to his work station. I leave him alone to his work and return to my writing projects. After eating half of the bowl of Kraft Dinner, he thanks me, and states that he needed to eat alone today; that eating in front of another person would be too intimate.

Late in the evening, I have a breakthrough for a new angle, a research question, for an upcoming presentation on neurodiversity. I pace around our home picturing every facet of the new question. Looking up after my thinking is done, he is also stimming – flapping his hands and rolling his neck. Both of us are out of words for the day, but we acknowledge each other’s communication. I am thinking. He is happy.

We understand each other’s daily struggles – overstimulation, fear of the unfamiliar, having a limited resource of social energy that depletes within the first few hours of each day, and leaving tasks half-finished when we can no longer maintain focus. We develop safety plans together for what to do when one of us sees the other mentally struggling. We split tasks in the home based on how much either one of us typically struggles with the task: I can cook but I cannot do outdoor work due to various phobias about nature. My partner can do outdoor work but cannot conceptualize in his brain the process of cooking. Together, we are a unit, more functional than either of us alone.

Apart from the practicality of our relationship, we are enchanted with each other. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha refers to dynamics like ours as the Lust of Recognition. Relationships are based on empathy, which is based on shared experience. It is very difficult for me to maintain friendships and relationships with neurotypical people, not only because of my autism which disorders my socialization and communication, but because I do not have a neurotypical experience, and they do not have an autistic experience. I can teach people how to be compassionate towards autistic people through education about my experiences, but I cannot teach people what it is like to be autistic in a neurotypical world. But when I am socializing with another autistic person, my experience is empathized because they too have experienced many things that I have. I am recognized. I am seen. When I am in a relationship where my partner and I recognize each other, then nothing that either of us does is considered eccentric or criticized. We are accepted at all times, and loved for our differences.

BIPOC Trans, Non-Binary, Intersex, and Queer Autistic Leaders

Image Description: The LGBTQ+ Pride Flag, with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple horizontal stripes from top to bottom, and white, pink, light blue, brown, and black V-stripes on the left side.

I wish everybody a safe and healthy LGBTQ+ pride month, and for us all to take our time to acknowledge one of the many ways in which autism acceptance ties in with LGBTQ+ liberation.

One of the number of disability acceptance movements of the last 40 years, which continues to coalesce into a modern understanding of autism acceptance, is the disability justice movement. The disability justice movement was dreamed of in the mid-2000s and propelled by Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour with disabilities, who were trans, non-binary, intersex, and queer, and many of which were non-speaking. These leaders included people such as Mia Mingus, Stacey Milbern, and Patty Berne, who founded disability arts collectives in California and used art to communicate their vision of a world inclusive of disabled people.

The disability justice movement is rooted in the radical idea that all lives are worth living; that all people have equal value as human beings, that disability is not a dirty word, that disabled people have a distinct history and culture, and that all disabled people are entitled to equal inclusion and quality of life as able-bodied and able-minded people.

Disability creates challenges to living in a world created by and for non-disabled people, absolutely. My autism imposes challenges on me. But that’s not because I am broken or unfit, and I don’t want pity. I may not be able to articulate myself verbally, but I can articulate myself through art and writing. I may not be able to socialize like most people, but that gives me more time to study history and my other special interests, which gives me happiness and fulfillment. I stim, and this makes people uncomfortable, but I am not responsible for managing other peoples’ reactions to me. That’s their work to do. It’s not my job to change who I am to make other people comfortable.

These hard-won realizations I have made about myself and the autistic experience are wholly due to social justice visionaries who are Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, trans, non-binary, intersex, and queer. I owe my growth as an autistic person, and an advocate, to intersex Métis autistic Amethyst Schaber and their Ask an Autistic series on YouTube. I owe it to queer Canadian disability justice advocates like Alex Echakowicz and Vivian Ly who are working to bring the models of disability justice to Canada. I owe it queer non-binary autistic self-advocates from around the world, like Yenn Purkis, Noor Pervez, and our recently departed Mel Baggs, who was a visionary queer, non-binary, non-speaking autistic.

For LGBTQ+ Pride Month, I am recommending that we all learn more about disability justice and how the brilliant wisdom of Black, Indigenous, and POC LGBTQ+ leaders, must be what drives our work towards a better world for autistic and neurodivergent people.