If Neurodivergents Ruled the World

Nurodivergent rainbow infinity symbol over the blue/pink/white trans flag

The pandemic is a generational changing event. It has highlighted inequity built into our society and has given us a chance to rebuild the world better than it was before. But, instead, there is a push in the United States to move forward as if we have learned nothing.

During the pandemic, the world met on zoom and other virtual platforms. Neurotypical people had to learn a new way to communicate, which evened the playing field for those of us on the autism spectrum. I no longer had to sit in a room wondering what body language I was not reading. If someone wanted something communicated, they had to express it.

I worked in an environment that I built for my own needs and not for a manager insecure in his ability to manage. I was able to move during the day and fidget while I was working. I did not need to worry if I was disturbing my co-workers in a cubical next door. I was not bothered by all the distractions happening all over the office.

I have thrived, become more productive, and am less stressed. While I still may not love my job, I no longer hate it. While I still may not be on an even playing field, I am at least closer.

Except neurotypicals, especially those that have risen to the ranks based on their ability to socialize more than their ability to implement logical and practical measures, are uncomfortable. They are no longer in their element. So, instead of reinventing the world to provide a place for neurodivergent individuals, they are trying to push us to go back to business as usual. A world where they thrive, and we fail.

Autistic people are supposed to have difficulty with theory of mind. Yet, I find that neurotypical individuals are more impacted in this area than we. They have never had to live in a world where it is hard, so they invalidate our experiences since it does not line up with their own. We are pawns here to serve their needs or to ignore us when we do not.

During the pandemic, a conversation about mental health emerged. It is not a new conversation. Those of us with mental health challenges have been trying to explain our truths for as long as time. For a brief moment, the world listened. The world had sympathy. Except now it is no longer convenient.

At my day job, we are now back in the office one day a week. We are told that we should be happy to be back where we are with other people. We are told that our year and a half of virtual office communication was not valid because it is only face-to-face that we become people. I have been told repeatedly, in many different ways, that the way I perceive the world is invalid. It is the same language they used before. Only now, I know that the tools that made the world more accessible for me have benefits for everyone. I do not want to go back.

Yet, I did. It was loud. My desk area was arranged wrong. I was full of anxiety about the safety of my office. I could not even find a bathroom because they had not opened the gender-neutral bathrooms yet due to the reduced working population. I had a panic attack. I stood on the side of my building, trying to breathe, trying to put myself back together so that I could walk back inside and shove myself back into the mold they want me to fit. And everyone just pretended my panic attack didn’t happen – because it was uncomfortable for all the neurotypicals.

There are so many lessons that we should have learned from the pandemic. We learned, ever so slightly, what it was like to have our mobility impaired. This knowledge should give us greater empathy for those with mobility disabilities. We should build the world around them. By doing so, the world as a whole will be better.

We learned that there was inequality in technology access and food security. We learned that grocery workers, healthcare workers, delivery drivers, childcare workers, teachers, and many others are all essential to the functioning of our society. We learned that we racially profile and punish BIPOC individuals for the color of their skin. We learned that our world is flawed, and seeing those flaws; we could tare it down and make the world a better place.

Except, we did not learn all this because of the pandemic. We knew it already. It is just easier for those with privilege to go back to how things were.

I say this as a white person. It is so much easier to ignore the injustice that happens to BIPOC every day and everywhere. I could “forget” my privilege. After all, having conversations about our privilege is hard. It is uncomfortable. It should be.

I do not have the answers.

I do know that by giving power to individuals who are not privileged, everyone benefits.

So we should step back and listen to those that have different life experiences than us. This does not mean that we should expect them to teach us – we should teach ourselves. We should put in the work. It is work that will never end.

But, as a Trans Non-Binary Autistic person, I know how much it means to me just to be acknowledged. Sometimes it is small actions that mean the world of difference. I am uplifted when someone else corrects my pronouns when I am misgendered. I am validated when others acknowledge that some aspects are harder to me than they are to them. When I have a panic attack, I would appreciate it if someone would say, “How can I help” instead of walking away like it never happened.

Publishing Independent

Image of a left hand with painted black nails writing with a pen and spiraled notebook. The left hand is holding a mug that reads “BE Happy.”

There are many components to writing a book. A debut novel is a time to learn about all the nuances. As I near the end of this draft, my thoughts have been turning to the next steps. I have been researching agents, submitting directly to publishers, and independent publishing.

I have decided to publish my book independently.

The most important thing to me is to put together a good book. I want to create a book that readers want to read. However, I also want my voice there. There is a reason that autistic authors are not domineering the market. Who wants a book celebrating neurodiversity? Readers do, but publishers do not seem to know that.

Then there is my neurodiversity. The idea of having to navigate the social interactions of traditional publishing fills me with anxiety. On the other hand, the idea of handling the same interactions independent publishing makes me excited. It is a power dynamic. In traditional publishing, the publishing house is in control. In independent publishing, I am in control.

However, that also means that I have to do a lot more work. I have to research editors, then enforce my deadlines. Next, I have to work commissioning cover art and copy editing. Then I have to determine how I want to go about formatting and ultimately publishing. Even obtaining the ISBN now falls to me.

These detail-oriented tasks are where being autistic is a benefit. I know how to work hard on projects that are important to me. I may not like editors tearing apart my book (who does), but I know I must grow as an author. I know all these steps are essential to bringing a quality book to print.

I ran a book blog for many years before deciding to move entirely over to bookstagram. I learned there are a lot of horrible independently published books. It turned me off the idea of publishing independently for a long time. Yet, I have since realized that there are a lot of really amazing independently published books as well. Those authors have put in the time and effort to tare down their work to make it even better.

There are still many steps before my book can grace your shelves, but I have a newfound sense of excitement having made this decision.

Yet Another Edit

Three months ago, I was preparing my novel to present to an agent. Now I am working on yet another revision.

As I worked on my synopses, cover letter, and outline, I realized that my novel was not yet ready.

It was a difficult realization to make. I tried to talk myself out of it. I was procrastinating. I was succumbing to the anxiety of putting my work out there. I was making excuses.

Except I had to face reality. My novel was not ready.

It was challenging to face. I love my story. I have read it over and over and feel in love with it each time. I knew someone else would also. I had to take a step back.

My story was too short. At the time, my novel was only a little over 53,000 words for urban fantasy.

So, I’m not a wordy writer. It is not surprising since I have been writing flash fiction for most of the last ten years. Lines wrote in-between children’s meltdowns and work deadlines.

Eventually, I had to realize that it was more than that. My book was underdeveloped. I knew I did not want to put an underdeveloped book into an agent’s hand. I would be turned down for mistakes that I should have already fixed. I know my book will never be perfect, but I realized it was not even good enough.

I printed out the couple hundred pages. I punched holes in them and put them in a three-ring binder. For the last few months, I have been working on revising the story. I found out I was right. My story was underdeveloped.

My handwritten lines have been transposed back into the computer, and I have already added over 10,000 words. These are not frivolous words. These are necessary words. These are words that should be there to help the story progress. To help the reader connect.

I have not finished. I have completed 3/4 of my book, but these last chapters will need the most development. In the end, my book will be better for it.

One day this book will be in your hands, and I will be thankful that I took the time to make these edits – and the many more revisions left to come.

Call Me They

I was raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the 1980s – Pre Olympics. As a child, diversity was divided into the children who were Mormon and the children who were not. My family is Mormon.

This post is not a dialogue on the LDS faith. I do not have those kinds of answers. All I know is that it was a place that I never belonged no matter how hard I tried.

The Morman culture is binary. Past the age of twelve, girls meet together, women meet together, and boys and men meet together. If you are male, you have certain expectations and responsibilities. If you are female, you have a different set. Gender is defined in the home and put on display. Women dress one way, men another.

I remember sitting in our church at a young age. The teacher had prepared a “fun” lesson that included baking cookies. I do not remember what the teacher said that made me feel so invalidated. I remember the emotional impact it had on me. It is the first memory I have of realizing that I was broken.

When I was a young teen, I remember sitting next to my mother at a church conference. There was a man on stage speaking about women’s roles. I remember the anger at this man defining what my life was supposed to be. I remember looking at all the women listening and realizing that I was nothing like them. I remember my mother dismissing my objections.

Except I had no idea who I was.

I knew I was born female.

I knew that others labeled me a Tom Boy – a term I despise to this day.

I wore my hair long, as was expected. I tucked it under a baseball cap, all except for one strand that hung down the side of my head. I wore flannel shirts, blue jeans, and a black jacket – every single day.

Are you a boy or a girl?

I would get asked by total strangers, over and over and over again. Sick of the question, I would scream at them, “I’m not a boy.”

It was the best answer I had.

“I knew I wasn’t a boy. I also knew that I was not very good at being a girl.”

Before I could find my own identity, I got pregnant.

At nineteen, my swollen belly defined my gender for everyone. We were taught since birth that caring for children was the role of a woman.

I love all my children, but I hated being pregnant. I felt like an alien being had taken over my body. It did not feel natural, but by that time, I already knew that I was broken.

I became a mother, and I created an identity. I decided I was a not feminine female. I could live with that because there was not anything else.

When my youngest was in kindergarten, I was getting my master’s degree in developmental psychology. I focused my studies on autism spectrum disorder. Two of my children and I had already been diagnosed a few years earlier.

I read an article saying that children on the autism spectrum often did not know their gender. It needed to be taught to them, so they did not become confused. I already knew that my youngest had no concept of their gender, so I went home and taught them their biological sex. Then I told them that it doesn’t matter because they could still play with cars, keep their hair short, and play until they wore out the knees in their pants. Even still, I felt wrong, and I never attempted to teach my child their gender again.

Unfortunately, society had other plans. I will not tell you their story because they would not like me to. Certain people blamed me for allowing my child to be not female. Even though my middle child was as feminine as possible, they thought I taught my youngest how to be masculine. What is worse is I do not even think they realized the harm they caused as they watched it unfold before them.

When my kid told me they were not a girl, my response was “finally.” I knew how hard of a struggle it had been, and it broke me watching them go through it.

Then my child gave me a word – Non-Binary. Then they asked to change their pronouns. Then I realized that my child had taught me the words I had never found.

For two years, I watched and helped my child transition.

Then I found myself losing a piece of me every time that someone called me female. Still, I held off.

“People will not understand if we both identity as non-binary,” I said.

“Who cares,” my child said.

A mother can have a daughter. A father can have a son. Who will accept that my child and I were both born non-binary? I finally realized that I did not care.

Hello, my name is MJ. Please call me They/Them.

One Step Forward

Today I submitted my first short story to a paying magazine.

It is one step.

In a world that has torn me down for being a woman but not feminine enough. For being autistic, but not autistic enough. For being, but for not being enough, this one step is the biggest towards my goal of being a paid author.

Writing is not easy, but it is fun. The process is comfortable. I can perform it in social isolation with minimal contact with humanity. Navigating the publishing world leaves me having panic attacks.

It is our fear that often stops us.

I finally realized that I would rather fail than to have lived never having tried.

I have read repeatedly to celebrate your rejections as they will bring you one step closer to an acceptance. I plan to take the advice. 

I have learned in life that it does not matter if others think you are enough. It only matters that you dare to keep going.

I Am A Writer

I am a writer.

In third grade, I wrote my first story about a tree that grew frogs. In Elementry school, I carried a book and a journal at all times. I played with words more than toys and obsessively recited my newest pieces. 

In Junior High, I had bylines in my school paper and was selected by my school to attend a writing convention for young writers. 

I had my life figured out. I would double major in Astronomy and Creative Writing at the University of Arizona. Until I realized I could not afford to attend college out of state.

Instead, I went to the local university and switched majors like outfits until I decided on English.

The only creative writing class was taught by a teacher that made us listen to bad jazz and refused to say “bless you” when someone sneezed. What right did he have to bless another?

I was eighteen and a university junior, so used to being a child prodigy that I never realized how much I did not know.

I left school.

I got married at twenty-one and had three children by twenty-four.

My children made me a better version of myself, as I did my best to become who they needed.

I went back to school and studied psychology. During my masters, I learned how to whip out a twenty-page paper during a weekend, but I lost the ability to lose myself in the creative.

The kids have grown, two are now high-school graduates. They no longer need me in the way the once did.

I find the need to write building. It is calling to me like a neglected friend. One that was never gone but was waiting to be heard.

I remember that I am a writer.