Why ARE so many NeuroDivergent People Queer? You’re asking the WRONG question!

by | Nov 21, 2023 | Intersectionality, Queer, Neurodiversity, Mental Health

Welcome back. I’m Lyric Rivera (they/them), a late identified Autistic ADHD adult (or AuDHD for short). In addition to being NeuroDivergent in multiple ways that I will not list here today, I am also Queer in various intersections of my life (in that I am nonbinary, pansexual, and polyamorous). I will be your guide on this NeuroQueer adventure.

I found out I was Autistic at the age of 29, and my ADHD (though less surprising to me) was officially identified a few years later. Learning I was NeuroDivergent (a person whose brain falls outside of the “normative” or “average” brain for our current time and space) late in life. The quest to uncover my most authentic self outside of neuronormativity also led me to discover I was nonbinary (genderfluid, if you want to get specific) and going through a very public transition that began in the summer of 2020.

 

Coming out nonbinary has been like coming out Autistic in many ways. Some people doubt what I am telling them is true in both cases.

Many people don’t believe nonbinary people exist. Some people also don’t believe Autism and Autistic People exist. If they believe in Autism, they tell me they don’t believe me, insinuating (or outright saying) I am “faking” being Autistic, nonbinary, or both for attention.

The accusers, who see me happy and empowered in my NeuroQueer identity, thriving for the first time in my life, didn’t see what my life was like before I knew these truths about myself. They weren’t there for the pain and suffering of not having the appropriate labels and terms to describe my identity.

The people who see Queer NeuroDivergent People thriving (without understanding the support and history that went into making that person who they are today) and automatically discount their lived experiences are the problem.

We need examples of Queer and NeuroDivergent role models and figures to be portrayed in media. Not having these portrayals leaves so many of us lost, knowing we are different, without having the language to express and embrace those differences – as I was for most of my life.

Knowing I wasn’t a woman but not knowing nonbinary was an option (because I’d never met, seen, or heard of a nonbinary person before) was a miserable existence of feeling like a lie, a fraud, and a mistake, without being able to explain or articulate why.

 

From about four or five, I distinctly remember feeling “wrong” and having no desire to fulfilling my assignment of becoming “a woman” as everyone told me I would be.

The idea didn’t empower me; it suffocated me. When adults asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say “a cat” because I couldn’t imagine myself as either human option.

Maybe I wasn’t destined to grow up. Not knowing, but feeling different (in my NeuroDivergence and my transness), was a hopeless and isolating feeling I didn’t share with anyone because I was sure nobody would understand.

At school, I was constantly getting in trouble with the teachers, and my peers were bullying and harassing me for being “weird.” Because I was already on the teacher’s bad side, when I went for help, I was told that all I had to do to stop the other kids from picking on me was to “act normal.” The only problem was, at the time, I had no idea my behavior was “abnormal.”

They say hindsight is 20/20, and knowing I’m Autistic and ADHD (combined type) has shed much light on what my teacher and peers had seen as “abnormal.” It was a lot of the stuff I was getting in trouble for in school – being hyperactive, impulsive, loud, stimmy, and curious and questioning nature. Now I know my teacher was speaking to the visible (and what people around me felt were inconveniencing) aspects of my NeuroDivergence.

 

Neither my teachers nor I knew that I was NeuroDivergent —

Nor did we (or most people) understand Judy Singer’s concept of NeuroDiversity (yet) because this was right around the time of the concept’s conception in the late ’90s. Things could have been a lot different had we known and understood then what we know and understand now.

Growing up in a small Texas bible belt town, many people looked down upon any obvious NeuroDivergent struggles I had, viewing them as “behavioral issues” that needed to be extinguished so that I could “act right.”

When I was growing up, most people assumed more discipline, church, and prayer were the answers to my wild and unruly ways (my loudness, hyperactivity, and struggles with attentiveness). Though it raised no issues at home, most people in the South didn’t look upon my Queerness with any more favorability.

Both my NeuroDivergence and my Queerness (and all the layers within) are things society has pushed me to hide because outsiders view these traits as “deviant” and diverging from a norm that I don’t believe genuinely exists outside of the contexts of the current social constructs that we use to describe the world around us.

 

NeuroQueering is an idea first conceptualized by Dr. Nick Walker for a grad school class in the Spring of 2008.

Examining the intersections of being both NeuroDivergent and Queer and exploring how these aspects of one’s identity can influence one another is one way we can NeuroQueer together.

I am Autistic, which (for me) means struggling to fit myself within social constructs as non-autistic people seem to do effortlessly. I don’t fit within the box. I make my own box.

Society’s ideas of what people of varied genders should be don’t apply to me. I see these constructs, which I observe objectively, saying, “No, thank you!” They don’t seem logical or sensible to me. Similarly, being NeuroDivergent impacts who I am attracted to (and who I’m not).

Mostly (with a few exceptions), I tend to be attracted to most women, some men, and many gender-non-conforming humans. The people I am drawn to also are almost always NeuroDivergent (in both my romantic and platonic relationships).

NeuroTypicals don’t do (and never have done) it for me.

 

Even before I knew I was NeuroDivergent, I dated and befriended other NeuroDivergent People.

Even when none of us knew we were NeuroDivergent, we seemed drawn to one another, as if we had our own NeuroDivergent version of Gay-dar.

Perhaps it’s something familiar in how other NeuroDivergent People communicate or move. Maybe it’s the trauma, and we bond over our shared experiences of being othered in a world not designed for those with brains like ours.

Even without the language or knowing ourselves, I find it amazing that so many of us manage to find one another. We recognize something in one another that cannot be quantified in words other than “you are my person,” “you get me,” and “we get each other,” but we don’t know why.

We gravitate to others like us, other members of the neurominority.

Queer People are more likely to be NeuroDivergent, and until recently, a lot of the data in this area has been about Autistic People, including one of the most extensive studies to date (of five datasets including 641,860 people) that found that:

 

Transgender and gender-nonconforming people are three to six times as likely to be Autistic compared to cisgender people.

While much of the recent attention has been on Autistic People, this association with gender identity is not specific to Autism. In two datasets, transgender and gender-diverse individuals also had elevated rates of ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, OCD, learning disorders, and schizophrenia compared to cisgender individuals.

These connections aren’t limited to Autistic and other NeuroDivergent people’s experiences of gender but also how we experience (or don’t experience) attraction to other people. For example, research from the University of Cambridge suggests that autistics are less likely to identify as heterosexual and more likely to identify within a more diverse range of sexual orientations when compared to non-autistic people.

In the coming years, I hope to see more studies on how many people of other NeuroTypes (brain types) identify as Queer.

Though the emerging data in this field is fascinating, part of me worries that groups who wish to harm Queer and NeuroDivergent People will try to twist this data to use it against us, as it was in the recent attempt at anti-Autistic, anti-trans legislation in Missouri.

The panic and fear around “why so many Autistic People are trans” ignores the lived experiences of Autistic Trans People (intentionally).

We didn’t ask to be rescued because we didn’t need help. Autistic and other NeuroDivergent trans people are not confused. We know exactly who we are, and the question of “why” we exist undermines our humanity, shifting focus away from our needs.

 

Why ARE so many NeuroDivergent People Queer?

We don’t waste so much energy looking into why other marginalized groups exist (anymore), but Queer and NeuroDivergent People are still heavily stigmatized and looked down upon in society.

Maybe it’s in our brain structures; maybe it is genetic. Maybe more of us are queer because our NeuroDivergence makes us more likely to question things. Maybe there aren’t more Queer NeuroDivergent People at all. Maybe there are just more of us who are open and aware of our Queerness.

Perhaps more of us are aware and openly Queer due to already being outcasts because of our NeuroDivergence. Maybe, we don’t feel a need to hide our Queerness to protect an image of normalcy that we don’t possess (because NeuroDivergent people are often seen as ‘strange’ or ‘peculiar,’ the original meaning of the word Queer) by NeuroTypical People.

There are many theories about why, but what matters is that Queer NeuroDivergent people are here, there are a lot of us, and we are not going anywhere.

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