How Chapelle’s pet topic has affected my life as a Trans person and a stand-up fan

A lot has been written in the past couple weeks about the transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic, and even anti-Asian content in Chapelle’s latest installment for Netflix. I won’t bore you with rehashing why it’s definitely all these things or why the comedy itself is lazy and dated. Plenty of people have already done that better than I can.

I’d like to talk about something Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos’s has stated during the controversy. Specifically he writes, “With ‘The Closer,’ we understand that the concern is not about offensive-to-some content but titles which could increase real world harm (such as further marginalizing already marginalized groups, hate, violence etc.),” in a leaked company memo. He goes on, “We have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”

I’m here to tell you that even before “The Closer” Dave Chapelle’s new obsession with “cancel culture” and trans people had a profound effect on my relationships with family and friends.

I came out (very quietly and gently and spontaneously) to my mother and aunt about being a trans non-binary person a few years ago. Apparently this was a big shocker to them both, despite over 40 years of signs. My aunt decided to tell her part of the family my news. Unfortunately, my cousin married a toxic hyper masculine Crossfit paleo dude who likes border patrol work. He wears sunglasses and khakis a lot if you know what I mean.

I found out that my aunt blabbed because he started to bully me when no one was looking by muttering enbyphobic things under his breath at family gatherings.

One incident really sticks out: He very loudly announced to the rest of my family at a recent Thanksgiving that he was excited about seeing Chapelle when he was coming to town. He glared menacingly at me the entire time he was speaking exactly as if he were saying something hateful or challenging me to object. (I really didn’t have anything to say on the matter) It was the most aggressive, furious-sounding announcement for seeing a comedian I’ve ever heard. I may be autistic but the subtext was crystal clear in this case. He continued to sulk on the couch and shoot scary looks at me until I left the room.

I got a reprieve due to COVID last year, but now I am sick with dread about how I am going to tell my family, whom I depend on because I am multiply disabled, that I can’t attend any family gatherings that he will also be attending without mentioning this, because they will not side with me. They are not accepting of the changes they see in me, but that is another depressingly common tale.

In another part of my life, I have a friend who is the best friend of one of my best friends. I think that’s the state of things? This person is a stand-up super-fan like myself and at some point it became obvious she thought my stance on criticizing comics was too harsh. Within that strife, she has repeatedly tried to argue with me about the merits of Dave Chapelle’s talent. Although I am invited to gatherings at her place, I am always on eggshells and constantly question whether she is just pretending to welcome me.

Her arguments are standard. He’s just pushing the envelope, and comics have the right to push boundaries, free speech/censorship, cancel culture has gone too far, and (amazingly) he can say what he likes because he’s so talented and “a Black man in America.” I’ve praised his general talent and the brilliance of his earlier work about racism and how he walked away from a big cable deal as has literally every single one of his current detractors. I’ve pointed out that even Louis CK didn’t really get canceled despite sex crimes, because he will always have a following, albeit one consisting of shittier people. I’ve never disputed his ability at comedy or his bravery or insight as a Black man in America. I used to be a huge fan myself.

Chapelle himself seems to be doing better than ever, but by refusing to comment on the fact that Black queer and trans people exist and face the highest degree of danger seems like a willful omission from such a smart guy. The nuance of intersectionality shouldn’t be beyond his demonstrated intelligence. It seems like he’s putting multiply marginalized Black people, especially Black trans women, in greater danger on purpose because to him their transness deletes not just their womanhood, but their Blackness.

But my fellow comedy fan has implied that I should be chill about it because to be upset about what he is now saying is somehow a reflection of racist tendencies on my part. She is choosing to pit my transness (and perhaps my whiteness) against his Blackness and that’s not at all what is happening in my head and heart. Chapelle has a lot of shit wrong with him, but being Black isn’t one of those things. I don’t have a secret racist agenda for not liking the guy anymore. That he proliferates at least three other kinds of bigotry when he himself is an oppressed, brilliant human who claims to be compassionate is an adequate explanation.

How does comedy on a screen put trans people in greater danger? “Harm” can be indirect and while trans people certainly face a lot of direct harm in the form of physical and sexual violence, most of it is social and psychological leading to less obviously direct, but serious and avoidable consequences. For instance, we have enormously high suicide rates and the fear of being safe to leave the house or work with the public is a big reason we live in poverty. Poverty is dangerous.

A lot of the harm we face is systemic – through administrative violence, medical neglect, housing and employment discrimination, the criminal justice system, religious abuse, and family estrangement. Chapelle has created a cute, cool, faux-reasonable yet fact-free framework for discriminating against all types of trans people. For instance, if a doctor who feels icky about trans people can justify not believing a trans person about an ailment because Dave made it seem well-reasoned that trans people are too sensitive and being dramatic, it translates into deadly medical neglect. I hear stories about it every day and that certainly seems direct enough.

Popular, charming bigots make it easier for other bigots with power to enact their bigotry and get away with it.

One of the saddest ironies about the whole mess is that it’s clear to trans people that someone bringing up Chapelle in a challenging manner is a transphobic dog-whistle that sends the message we need to be afraid and hyper vigilant. Chapelle, a Black man in America, has turned his very name into a tool of bigotry. That’s why there are garbage humans who are latching onto him now that he is making them feel smooth about their transphobia. Many are racist shits who are making an exception for him and using their enjoyment of his latest “art” to excuse their own racism.

So that means white people are still using Dave and this time he is allowing it instead of walking away from his recent material. Gross.

As a stand-up super-fan, I am devastated about all this. I dearly want to laugh and not get into pointless fights with friends and family. I didn’t want something I love, that saved my life, to result in so much conflict and the need to write long personal essays that make me sad. Every time a comic I admire shows who they really are, I go through a process of grief. I get no enjoyment from feeling “too sensitive” or having people in my personal life turn it against me. It makes me feel like I am worthless as a friend and loved one and gaslights me about the pain I feel at being demeaned, whether that’s as a sexual assault survivor or a trans person or an autistic person.

I hope Dave understands that his new fan-base is a direct reflection on his soul rather than his talent. I hope his currently devoted fans in my personal life understand that I, and my comfort in their presence, should be more important than jokes to them. I see you.

Comedy doesn’t supersede compassion. Laughs are never as important as lives.

My Experience with “Peer Buddy” Programs

A great article from Atlanta advocate Ira Eidle about how programs meant to help disabled students often backfire and completely miss the point.

A Dark Side of Autistic Advocacy

Learned helplessness happens when you keep trying to do something and failing unless you are aided by someone in a position of authority or dominant group you don’t belong to. But you can’t really succeed because you are not getting the type of support you need to be independent. Often this person or organization is a member of an established institution, and the methods of aid are designed, purposely or not, to stop you from having long term success on your own. When the person with less power or authority tries to become more independent (like through enacting systemic changes, better assistance or devices), the authority (for fear of losing control) either clamps down on the subordinate or withdraws approval and aid. You are scolded, abandoned, or excluded.

So we just stop trying to do things on our own terms and depend on NTs to direct us and be in charge of organizations and events supposedly built for us.

It’s important to understand how educators, medicalists, and parents instill learned helplessness into young Autists. We are taught that we are so outside of what is acceptable that we must be changed. We must submit. We have to comply. We are taught NTs are always right. It is still very hard for me to stay in the frame of mind that other people are required to at least meet me halfway in communication and effort. We are not the problem; people not knowing how to interact with us is the problem. Neurophobia is the problem. Requiring conformity is the problem. Communication and cooperation are a two-way street or progress doesn’t happen in the long term.

The learned helplessness of many Autists becomes clearly visible when an allistic person or group who has placed themselves “in charge” of Autistic spaces, activities, or organizations abuses, belittles, or ignores the majority of Autistic people within that space. Most of the time we are simply tokenized within these organizations and given the impression that our group concerns are being considered when there is no such intent by the NTs at the helm. We are trotted out as successful or “inspiring” examples rather than experts. When an observant, fed-up, or abused Autist brings up this behavior, the Autistic people in the org can split into two camps: those who are outraged and have likely been upset by similar treatment, and those who will instinctively side with the non-Autistic authority figure. (Some sit the fence, of course, which isn’t actually a moderate position)

In the Autism Industrial-Complex ($6 billion per year profit in America) there are two kinds of Autistic people according to the allistics who created it: the “good” ones and the “bad” ones. The “good” ones will go along with medicalism/behaviorism, not set down boundaries, not demand payment for work and “volunteering” their personal stories and projects, and never question the way our lives and abilities are framed to the general public. Even when some disagree, they stay quiet once they realize the college or organization will stop asking them to contribute.

The “bad” ones question authority, set down boundaries about what we are willing to contribute for free (which is the industry norm), do our own research and examine our own experiences, collaborate with one another to speak out against abusive and coercive therapies, and generally demand equity, direct aid, and Autistic control of funding and research for autism. The “bad” ones confront NT industry professionals who profit directly from spreading incorrect information that harms us. The “bad” ones speak out about exploitation. Although most Actually Autistic people fall in between these extremes somewhere, the allistics are very much putting us into one category or another based on whether we are a liability to their business or not.

Here are some examples of what internalized ableism and learned helplessness makes Autistic advocates say in these conversations. Then there’s an explanation of why this isn’t true or doesn’t matter even if true.

“If we pull out of this [bad-faith] organization, we will lose what resources we do have.”

Yes, in the short term we will lose some resources and lousy “allies.” They will be mad at us and many of us can’t handle that kind of conflict or rejection. However, I have not yet seen any major NT-run organization that has provided extensive resources to us. We still have to do everything ourselves. The most I have ever received is the use of a room for my support group and some bad office supplies I have to drive across town to use. Sometimes they hire us on as token representatives, but these positions by their very nature end up chewing up the person in them and compromising their integrity. There’s a ton of turnover in these orgs as far as the Autistic members go.

How dare you stab [the abusing NT authority] in the back!!!” (By saying something)

It’s never good to “shoot the messenger” when your stated goal is to help people like yourself, but this happens a lot. We are not strictly a medical minority, we are an institutionally oppressed one, meaning we are socially and culturally vulnerable to bad people within these orgs. Especially after the #MeToo Movement, it’s the best policy to believe people with less power when they report mistreatment. Statistics show that the vast majority of these complaints are well-founded and need to be addressed. In addition, we are a population of people not prone to lying or manipulation of this type and non-Autistic people who profit from our involvement without paying or centering us are fundamentally exploiting us to begin with no matter how superficially nice and supportive they may seem.

“So you think that by starting our own thing you can do better, help more of us?!” (sarcastically)

Again, if we are not being heard in the first place and the services we actually need are not being put into place, or we are not getting money and people to create these needed services for ourselves, there’s little loss in moving on and trying to help Autistic people on our own ideological terms. Stop trying to make a place at someone else’s table when they fundamentally don’t respect you; build your own. It’s more work, but at least you will have a good seat from which you can build something that’s real and actually helps our quality of life and care. As activist Morenike Giwa Onaiwu says, “It’s OUR table anyway.”

But we can’t accomplish this on our own!

We have already accomplished so much on our own. We have educated so many parents of Autistic children that they are pulling their kids out of anti-autistic therapies, putting them into respectful programs that are child-led, and learning to relate to their children in ways their doctor told them they would never be able to do. We are getting the word out about us so much that we have shows about our lives on major platforms (no matter how imperfect) and we are beginning to be mentioned in political discourse and sought out by companies for our skills. WE did that. WE came up with the Neurodiversity Paradigm and Movement. It seems daunting because our stories get lost in the media and we are in the early stages of our own civil rights efforts, but the ball is rolling and we are past the “awareness” stage already. [Additional note: Not every Autistic person talking about Autism on social media is part of the Movement in that they believe in its tenets or promote those ideals. Not every Autistic advocate is well-informed on it.]

“I think we can change this org from the inside. They’ll come around to our way of seeing things eventually.”

No. This doesn’t ever work in real life. I wish people were more open to admitting their mistakes and truly listening to us, but that’s not the world we live in. Ask Black people if having Black cops on the force has stopped police shootings or fundamentally changed policing. It hasn’t and it never will. If you threaten an organization more powerful than you by pointing out what they are doing that’s ethically wrong or not effective, they go into defense mode. If these autism orgs ever admitted that the therapies they provide or promote cause PTSD and groom kids for future abuse, they would be open to massive malpractice suits. Their reputations would be destroyed, the medical establishment would abandon them, their profits would dry up. Parents and adult Autistics would be able to sue for millions in damages. They already see us as inferior, I’m afraid to say. We are simply tokenized and when we are listened to, nothing actually ever changes. They aren’t going to upend a profitable business model.

Once you are a part of an organization, they hold all the cards. If they don’t like something you say, they have a million ways of silencing you, kicking you off the board or committee, or discrediting you. And they will in order to protect their interests, money, cure research, and reputations.

But we’ll get in trouble. We might be sued.

Not if what you say is true, you retain any evidence, and you don’t complain on social media, to those outside the organization, or outside of internal communications. If you keep it “in house” they have no grounds for suing you for libel or slander. In fact, if they harm you they are in danger of legal action, but might try to scare you and convince you that you have done something wrong when you haven’t.

So don’t believe them if you have been mistreated or ignored about serious issues. Conflict makes us feel like we did something wrong even when we didn’t sometimes. But if you have been hurt (emotionally, physically, or sexually) or if the org is being nasty and dismissive to the people they are given money to help, they are the ones who need to be scared. Besides, more and more Autistic people are becoming the type of lawyers who specialize in disability justice. We have legal standing just like any other American. This is why we need to back one another up.

We don’t have the skill sets to accomplish our goals without them.

I have to admit it is harder for us to accomplish our goals due to the nature of autism. We are often introverts who have difficulty organizing, finding enough money, and showing up to important meetings and protests. We run out of spoons fast. The supports we really need to thrive and have agency in our lives are simply not there yet. That’s why we certainly need NT allies and aid.

However, we need to realize that these organizations are not our NT allies the moment they decide to ignore our concerns. They may act like they appreciate us, they may try to sway our low sense of self-worth by including us when we have never been included, they will flatter us, boost our creative work (which gives them free advertising BTW), and put us in leadership positions with little actual power. They will even proclaim they support our views, but the proof is in the pudding. Has anything actually changed? Have they given you resources and volunteers to implement the programs you need? Have they been respectful at all times? Are they talking bad about other Autistic people? Are they encouraging infighting? Are they still profiting from therapies we know are harmful to us? Are you still doing work for them for free?

Yes, we need allies, but the industry needs us more. Those of us operating from internalized ableism often feel that the only legitimacy and relevance we have is awarded to us by NT-led organizations asking us to contribute (again, usually for little to no pay). Their approval makes us fell seen and important.

But the opposite is true: they need us to be involved to be authoritative. That’s why they keep inviting us to contribute.

Imagine a conference about racism in America, but most, if not all, of the presenters and speakers and experts are white people. Imagine a symposium about trans people with only one or two trans speakers and experts. Ridiculous and offensive, right? But how many of us have been invited to speak or be on a panel at a conference organized and attended entirely by non-Autistic people who have simply observed us and studied old, outdated information about us compiled by other NTs? How many of us have been asked to speak for all Autistic people even though we are vastly different from each other and Non-speaking and intersectional Autistics are left out? How many of us are allowed to be critical of NT professionals and perspectives when we communicate about our issues at these events?

As long as we are “good” Autistics who aren’t critical, don’t have strong opinions, and don’t make them feel uncomfortable about not centering us and our consensus opinions on Neurodiversity Theory, we are allowed at the big table. And many of us will still side with the NTs because they do not really want to be associated with “rogue” advocates or Autistic people at all. Many of us will work for free and compromise our stance just to feel important and appreciated and included. But as long as that keeps happening, nothing is going to really change and we will continue to die very young. The services we need will never be constructed.

So be a bad Autistic.

Economic Realities of Autism

Personal income potential for the autistic population. If you are autistic ( have autism?) and are an older adult like me, how many jobs have you …

Economic Realities of Autism

From a late-diagnosed friend who gets it. We need to listen to our Autistic elders.

The Truth About Covert Gender Dysphoria

CW: gender dysphoria, genitalia, body functions, sex talk, self-harm

Over a year ago I wrote a post about how I was learning about gender and being Autistic. I stated (pretty confidently) that I was bigender AFAB and totally into men. After the same kind of reflection I had to give my past after being diagnosed Autistic, I redigested my history through the lens of being gender divergent. I had to face some hard stuff about major mental health episodes that were not fully explained by autism, but several wonderful Trans friends have been so helpful. Thank you Zee, Maxfield, Alaina, Jordan, Eli, and Katie. You’ve taught me so much and been so supportive and patient. Trans people understand me in ways cis people have never been able to do.

I also said in my previous post that I do not experience dysphoria, that “my gender diversity is entirely social and expressive in nature.” This turns out to not be true. From what I have observed in others, not every Trans person pops out of the womb knowing their discomfort and mental health problems stem directly from gender dysphoria. To complicate matters, a person can also be Neurodivergent, mentally ill, and/or experience childhood trauma. It can be impossible to unbraid which dysfunction is caused by what. You can mask multiple identities that are socially unacceptable in order to earn love, avoid abuse, and fit in enough to survive. These threads of suppressed selfhood become indistinguishable from one another.

I did a lot of research in articles and on Trans media and discovered that people who figure out they are gender divergent as adults can have covert “symptoms” of dysphoria or signs that are misinterpreted, excused, or denied through mental gymnastics and lack of cultural imagination. For instance, as a child I was completely unaware that people could feel different about being a girl or a boy.

I would like to list my own covert and overt signs of AFAB gender dysphoria from my youngest years to now. [Note: A lot of the more covert symptoms are also associated with Autism, trauma, or mental illness, but in conjunction with the more overt signs, this suggests a mixture of autism and gender divergent traits which is not uncommon]:


  • Being upset about having to sit to pee. Asking my mother why I couldn’t have a penis (this is a distinct early memory) and not getting a satisfactory answer. Trying to pee standing up and making a mess. Dreaming about standing to pee.
  • Being dressed in more feminine clothing than I ever wanted to wear and resenting it. Wanting to wear boys’ underwear and clothes instead of girls’ from a very early age. (This was immediately discouraged and I started playing dress-up like a girl)
  • Not ever understanding how to interact with other little girls and them clocking me as different right away. A lot of that is, of course, due to autism as well which is one reason this has been so difficult to figure out. I’ll never know exactly what made them reject me, but gender non-conformity was definitely a factor.
  • Having profound childhood depression and feeling like I’m not actually “real.”
  • Having “male” special interests.


  • My anxiety, depression, and dysfunction increasing very dramatically with the onset of puberty. I can’t even describe how severe it was or how it felt. This is a common symptom of gender dysphoria. When I got my first period I immediately threw up. I am not particularly squeamish, but I had a great deal of trouble with this body function. Again, Autistic sensitivities can make body functions uncomfortable, but my Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) was always very acute and accompanied by unbearable anxiety and pain without having any actual gynecological condition like endometriosis or cysts. It also didn’t stop once my period started, but only got worse during.
  • Relief of general depression and anxiety when I was put on hormones that stopped my periods. Trans people are often intolerant of the sex characteristics they have and find relief with hormonal changes or when certain body processes are halted or begun.
  • Feeling like an imposter when wearing feminine clothing and feeling like I was wearing a costume. Feeling like a spy or interloper when hanging out with girls (when they would let me).
  • Having a much easier time socializing with boys and trying to prove how “tough” I am to them.
An angry kindergartener dressed in pink


  • Having “deserted island” fantasies where I daydream about how I could present or dress without any observers to criticize/threaten me.
  • Recurring dreams where I have male genitals and feeling grief upon waking.
  • Dismissing my anger at being female by thinking it’s “only internalized misogyny.”
  • Episodes of self-harm associated with meltdowns, but because I felt “angry at my body.”
  • Being embarrassed about having large breasts to the point that I wear baggy clothing, tight bras, and slump to hide them which affects my posture.
  • Feeling distress when I see any pictures of myself and being unable to look directly at the camera (also an Autistic thing, I know). However, my photos always seemed very grotesque to my eye and I never think I look like me.
  • Having a bad reaction to hearing my voice played back to me because it sounds high and girly in recordings compared to when I speak. This is “voice dysphoria” and all Trans people deal with it to some degree.
  • Showering in the dark.
  • Watching Queer and Trans porn exclusively. (It’s incredibly sad that often the only way to learn about FTM changes or Trans sexuality is by watching porn. There is also not enough positive or educational porn/sex ed featuring gender divergent people, although this is starting to change)
  • Preferring to be intimate with bisexual men, closeted Trans women, and kinksters who would engage in role reversal in sex play.
  • Buying men’s toiletries, clothing, and cologne but dismissing it “because it’s cheaper.”
  • Not feeling comfortable with female roles or occupations. I was much more comfortable working with men in restaurant kitchens (despite the sexual harassment) than doing front-of-the-house work which was mostly women servers/hostesses.
  • Not wanting to have children because I can’t imagine my body doing that. (There are lots of other reasons too)
  • People assuming I’m a lesbian and being very confused about me.

There’s a lot of other things, many of which are difficult to divorce from my neurodivergent traits and probably shouldn’t be separated out. For instance, I am actually pansexual and I am attracted to women, but due to general social difficulties I never learned how to “flirt in gay” – or flirt like a normal human at all. The only examples I could study were of cis-normative romance. I didn’t know one can have different types of sexual feelings for different genders.

I also want to point out that a person can go a very long time without connecting these things about themselves to Trans identity, especially if they are required to mask heavily in order to have any kind of life. I didn’t even associate the blatant traits listed above with “I am not gender normal.” I was put on lots of psychiatric drugs that muddled my thinking and due to multiple serious problems, including other types of dysphoria, abused alcohol for a long time. This can be a major barrier to understanding oneself, but isn’t uncommon in closeted people.

To further complicate matters, I am not a binary Trans man – I exist on a non-binary gender spectrum but “center of masculine” as Hannah Gadsby has noted. I love flower patterns, fabric crafts, toe-nail polish, playing with make-up, grumping about men with cis women, and occasionally “dressing up” as femme. I feel much better shaving my legs even though I’d also like to grow my beard. My preference for men/AMABs was also confusing for me. I was familiar with butch lesbians, but I do not identify as such at all and don’t fit into that culture either.

I honestly feel like I am a non-binary bi/pan guy who values their feminine qualities and experience and I will never not be a feminist.

I have gone through many “masc phases” when I couldn’t take the dysphoria anymore and long periods of time when I was trying so hard to be properly feminine that being clocked as queer or masculine caused me distress because I wasn’t performing well enough. I have experienced discrimination and violence due to being visibly gender non-conforming and this has also set me back. Being in my 40s, when I was growing up, the vocabulary and information about gender diversity was not there when I needed it although I always acknowledged that neither boy nor girl was a good fit.

At this point, I exist in a state of questioning and I am trying to figure out what to do to alleviate my gender dysphoria. It is not safe to come out to my family because they will punish me financially and I need their support to stay off the streets and, frankly, they need me too. These are difficult times and there is not much community support for Trans people who are disabled older adults, especially where I live. I have changed my name on social media and made cosmetic changes, but I feel the claustrophobia of the concessions I make for safety very strongly.

I wish there was a clear path to resources and support for every gender-questioning person no matter where they live, but that is a long way off. Luckily, things are changing for gender divergent people and there is information and community online, but actual support services are mostly missing or discriminatory, especially if you are diagnosed Neurodivergent or a member of other minorities.

The gender questioning flag. Queer vexillology thinks of everything

Some Changes to Native of Nowhere (the blog and the person)

Recently it has come to my attention that a number of people actually like the stuff I’m writing. I’m so glad you are getting something out of this. Sometimes I feel like I’m screaming into a roaring wind and lost in the deluge of voices on WordPress. So thank you to those who have told me in recent emails that you appreciate my work. It is truly one of the only sources of self-esteem for me since I lost my job to COVID.

However, I was reading over all my past posts and found some things to be outdated and cringe – particularly when I use the term “Asperger’s” in earlier posts. There are also points where I don’t feel as if I uplifted or centered minority and particularly BIPOC Autistics enough. In my attempts to explain the difficulties of white women in standing up against white supremacy and patriarchy, I was insensitive to the very real damage to minorities that white women perpetuate every day. White women absolutely need to be held very accountable for the harm they do regardless of the reasons.

Therefore, I am going to change past instances of “Asperger’s” as I am disgusted by the history of this term as a human, an Autistic, and a person of Jewish decent. It can be upsetting to readers and I understand why. I am NOT going to change much else about my posts, because I don’t believe in “dirty deleting” my own development and my mistakes.

I am also debating whether to change the name of this blog due to the use of the word “Native.” No one has complained, but I want to be sure. Although I am not using it in a sense of claiming Indigenous American heritage, I should probably not capitalize it as “Native” is an identity that is not mine. So it will be lowercase after this posting. I am still seeking feedback about the appropriateness of this, but I have only found material warning against non-tribal members calling themselves Native in the context of claiming vague Indigenous heritage.

I am also going to be posting some updates about my “gender voyage” where I will be discussing some personal, revealing things but I hope that I can shine a light on the wide variety of gender experiences out there through talking about what I have learned about myself. The most surprising thing about becoming an Autistic advocate and activist is discovering the intersection of queer/trans and neurodivergent identities. Many late-diagnosed Autistics find that as they “unmask” their Autistic selves that they are actually wearing multiple masks in the name of “passing” as normal and not drawing more negative attention to themselves. It’s a whole complicated thing.

I just want to say that I see you all doing your best to hold it together during these dark and anxious times. I am doing my level best as well and writing this blog is one way I stay sane.

Thank you for your time and support!

It’s time to talk about why no one pays Autistic advocates

Three years ago I was finally clinically recognized as being Autistic. I say finally because I was almost 40 years old and had suspected I was on the spectrum for over 20 years. My entire adult life I had “failed out” of society for reasons I could not then explain. I jumped around from one low-paying job and abusive workplace to another and I could tolerate none for long. I had no references, wealth, and a very crummy, abusive safety net. (Most of which is still true).

I decided that my secondary teacher education and English degree would be sufficient along with my intensive study and life experience in making me an excellent autism educator and writer. What I didn’t expect is that although people like me are increasingly in demand at conferences, symposiums, and colleges, the market price for our expertise is exactly zero dollars. 

We are never (I’ve checked on it) offered money unless we have gained national attention and that attention usually comes at the behest of those trying to use us as inspiration porn. No Autistic person gets paid unless they are privileged enough to have neurotypical agents or advocates who support them by negotiating for us or giving us funding for mass-market publication and promotion. Unfortunately, this has led to mostly white, verbal, straight, cis, NT-passing, “no-ID,” and/or well-supported Autistics gaining visibility while more intersectional voices are completely buried. We hardly ever see BIPOC Autists, Non-speaking Autists, multiply-disabled Autists, Autists with criminal records, homeless/impoverished Autists, or Autistic people with many  intersections and difficult identities.

And those are the voices which are the most compelling and insightful about exactly what needs to change to help all Autistic people.

This exploitative norm is reinforced with bad-faith arguments like, “But the other guests are doing it for free.” Most other presenters at autism conferences and institutions of higher learning are professionals who use these events to promote themselves, their practices, and their publications/paying work. They are getting advertising out of it at least, although they are still more likely to be offered compensation in money. Autistic advocates often have no other gainful work and public speaking is especially stressful for us. We spend more time in preparation and face a greater risk of not being taken seriously by parents, students, and mental health professionals who attend. We are asked difficult and often triggering questions that we are nonetheless more qualified to answer than non-Autistic “autism experts.”

Another argument is, “But there’s not enough money for us to do that.” Lemme tell you a true story: For several years, venerated and well-endowed Emory University in Atlanta has had a class on autism. Most of the semester, students learn about autism from very outdated and debunked material put out by neurotypical sources and taught by a neurotypical professor. For two of those years that I know of, local Autistic advocates (who are acquaintances of mine) have been asked to come spend a morning educating the class about autism from an Autistic perspective. Neither were offered any compensation even though one advocate was unemployed and going through a terrible divorce and could barely afford housing. (He passed away soon after he educated students there for free).

I wrote both friends about requesting at least a small honorarium for their life experience, trouble, time, and expertise. One was too afraid of losing the gig to ask, and the other was so blown away by even being included that he didn’t feel right asking for his time and work to be respected. I’m pretty sure Emory could scare up fifty or more dollars to make it worth their efforts.

There is no subsidized/endowed organization that can’t spare some scratch for us if they actually care about minority voices.

Here’s what happens when we do ask for money: We are simply passed over, many times in favor of less intersectional Autists with better supports and less of a sense of what they are worth. I’ve been seated on autism conference planning committees where proposals by Autistic presenters who request any amount of money are thrown on the “No FUCKING Way” pile automatically. It was terribly dehumanizing to witness and it showed me what neurotypical professionals really think of us.

“But is this really something as bad as exploitation?” you might ask. Imagine if you will a convention about the Trans Experience in America. You are a Trans activist/advocate/scholar who wants to share what they know. You get to the conference and discover every attendee and speaker is cis and are considered bigger experts because they have studied the Trans Experience in books which had no input from Trans people at all. You discover that the cis “expert” speakers are getting some sort of compensation, even if it’s just advertising, but no members of the population being discussed are compensated in any way and neither are you even though your minority status makes employment much more difficult. You yourself have no other source of income.

Is THAT exploitation? I don’t think any LGBTQ allies out there would disagree that it is. In fact, I think they’d be furious and call out that organization in the strongest ways possible.

However, I have experienced this exact scenario multiple times in the context of Autism and the neurotypical organizers act offended if it’s brought to their attention. There is “abled fragility” in abundance. I have realized too late that I was set up to look like a self-narrating zoo exhibit for no pay even though I was ill with anxiety and I spent many hours preparing the material.

This a common problem in nearly all advocacy, but especially disability advocacy.  It is assumed that if we are alive and appear to function that we have adequate employment and support when mostly we do not. It is assumed that somehow the mere exposure will lead to better things for us. This is rarely, if ever, true because exposure doesn’t matter if absolutely everyone thinks they can get away with not paying people like yourself.


And everyone does get away with it. Here is why:

  • Autistic people are conditioned to feel they are unworthy, inadequate, and burdensome. This makes any kind of superficial recognition or respect seem weightier to us than it actually is. We are expected to be grateful for even being asked what our lives are like. In other words, we are expected to do unpaid work for being treated with the same kind of consideration that regular people automatically receive for their specialized knowledge.
  • We are considered to be “less expert” on our lived experiences and personal education than those who have not lived it. There is an assumption that we are unreliable witnesses to our own lives because we are mentally/socially inferior.
  • We have less ability to effectively negotiate and assert ourselves and our needs because we were never taught how to and have a different set of social aptitudes (like hyper-empathy). We were either too sheltered or too neglected to be taught these important self-advoacy and promotion skills.
  • Organizations use our positive Autistic traits against us; namely, our extreme passion to “get our message out” and make things better for others like ourselves regardless of our own sacrifices and our discomfort for discussing crass subjects like money. We are selfless and it is weaponized against us.
  • Other people don’t see an issue because we are considered to be medically sick people rather than a culturally oppressed minority (which was also the  problem for Trans/Queer people at one time).
  • For those of us with more externalized Autistic traits (dyspraxia, Non-speaking, low-masking) being taken seriously is far more difficult, including within the advocacy community itself.

At the end of the day, we are considered easy to dupe because we are “inferior” or even subhuman but there are big benefits to organizations for “including” us despite doing so in deeply offensive, tokenizing ways. Many shifts in how we view the labor of oppressed minorities, and especially developmentally disabled people, are going to need to occur before we are valued enough to get paid according to what we deserve to earn. Unfortunately the best way to accomplish this shift is by giving Autistic advocates, particularly intersectional ones, much more platform and letting us communicate at as many events as possible. But the best way to get a good advocate to stop their advocacy is to continually deny any payment – we cannot sustain the work without it.

So, baby steps to humanhood and financial stability I suppose?

Native of Nowhere Survives Another Decade

Ten years ago at exactly now, I was packing my car for the long drive to Portland, Oregon trying to find a place where my personality was less alienating for me. When I got there, my hosts were terrible, everyone judged me for the same reasons plus my Southern accent, and I was unable to find all the “weird” that Portland claims to keep. I discovered I was too weird for Portland as well and I shouldn’t have watched Dig! so many times.


I came back to the South nine months later in an epic cross-country solo road trip on nearly no sleep while very mentally ill, my terrified cat in the back seat. I moved into my parents’ house again and soon began a tepid relationship with a classical guitarist for a year. We were both on the spectrum, neither of us knew it, and we “coped” with our general dysphoria by drinking a lot.

We broke up and I proceeded to flail around for mental stability. I was 33-34 years old and had failed at every attempt to “adult” my way to respectability despite my intelligence and talent. I was experiencing extreme pain in one of my fingertips and no one believed me about it for the next three years, but I was unable to work for long, fix food for myself, or function at all. Eventually I had three excruciating surgeries to remove a very rare, very debilitating series of tumors with the help of a charity organization. During the chronic pain, I drank even more and acquired a third DUI one summer night.

That night when I was 35 years old changed my life – for the worse in the short run and eventually for the best in spite of what was done to me. I was tied down and tasered by the cops during a mental health crisis and had the next three years of my life utterly destroyed. I became a shut-in while dealing with the tumors and unable to drive.

It’s hard now for me to comprehend how beaten down and subhuman I felt mid-decade.

During all this, I went to community college to get a secretary degree and failed to complete my studies. I received no accommodations although I tried as hard as possible to get help without any concrete diagnosis or disability. I was sexually assaulted a few times during this period. I was trying as hard as possible to make my parents love me and get society to tolerate me by wearing multiple masks which resulted in dissociative identity problems on top of the PTSD.

I was very close to taking my life for real (rather than just fantasizing about it like I had since turning eight years old) when I decided to go off of the ever-changing psychiatric cocktail I had been fed since I was fourteen. It was not easy. It was like tripping for about three months, and not in a pleasant way, while the drugs worked themselves out of my system and I readjusted. I stayed off the booze for the most part.

It finally dawned on me in my new mental clarity that I was not a broken freak or a loser, but rather a remarkable type of person and this culture, this country, is built to quietly dismantle people like me. I didn’t fail out of society; every layer of society had failed to protect me.

And then 2016 happened. And then #MeToo.

And then I was clinically identified as autistic.

The past long three years, for reasons personal and political (because there is no difference), I have made the decision to live openly by not hiding my identity as a neurodivergent person with a lot of unpopular opinions to share. There has been backlash for this in my life from family and the autism industrial complex.

But it was all worth it – even these past three years of constant existential panic and alarm as the world burns and heaves with discontent. There’s nothing like finally having the language and framework for understanding where you fit into the universe, if not humanity. Once I knew I was a non-binary autistic person my purpose snapped into focus and my genuine identity began to solidify.

I began to value myself, take up space, accomplish things, and heal the profound gaslighting of the first 40 years of my life.

Trans pastor and speaker Paula Williams says, “The call to authenticity has all the subtlety of a smoke alarm.” I think the major conflict in the world right now is the battle between authenticity, objectivity, and facts and the forces of greed, illusion, and mass manipulation. There is power (and risk) in authentic perspective, in truth telling, in abandoning language that frames people and events in false terms.

I feel a great awakening of people who refuse to be silenced and destroyed by tired and dangerous social controls and this is most apparent in the new visibility of gender queer and/or neurodiverse people.

2020 will be a year of great upheaval as well as shocking enlightenment.





Hyperlexia and the Radical Concept of Autistic Advantage

reading-kid-1I am many kinds of weird, but the first label I remember is “bookworm.” My parents discovered I was a really easy kid to mind after I could sit up on my own; just put a big book or catalog in the floor and I would sit for hours turning the pages and staring at them.

I learned speech by intense observation and repeating whole adult-sounding paragraphs cribbed from newscasters and TV commercials. I was initially behind my peers in reading, but went through a mental expansion between first and second grades that suddenly landed me in “gifted and talented” special education. They tested my verbal IQ in second grade. After three questions, the lady switched to the adult version of the test which I also blew away. I went from barely grade level at the beginning of first grade to college level reading by fourth grade. Meanwhile, my physical and social development were stunted and I didn’t feel human.

This is a typical tale of a certain type of atypical child – the hyperlexic who becomes academically gifted but socially isolated. Hyperlexia is “a syndrome characterized by a child’s precocious ability to read. It was initially identified by Norman E. Silberberg and Margaret C. Silberberg (1967), who defined it as the precocious ability to read words without prior training in learning to read, typically before the age of 5. They indicated that children with hyperlexia have a significantly higher word-decoding ability than their reading comprehension levels.[1] Children with hyperlexia also present with an intense fascination for written material at a very early age.” – Wikipedia

Most of the sparse material I found on hyperlexia is dedicated to imposing a system of subtypes with the sole purpose of divorcing it from autism. As the hilariously-named Darold Treffert, MD, puts forth in a lengthy article with no scientific merit, there are three subtypes:

Type I: Regular-ass smart kids who begin reading early but whose peers eventually catch up.  “This form of “hyperlexia” is not a disorder; it does not require treatment. These children, usually very bright, go on to have very typical, successful lives.”

Type II: Hyperlexics who exhibit “a savant-like ‘splinter skill’ associated with the autism.”  These are the ones who are in trouble, folks. But, first can I say that there’s no reason to call something autistic kids tend to excel in a splinter skill. It’s just a skill that need not be splintered away from the diseased tree that is the pathological autistic child according to Darold. He concedes, “However, the precocious reading ability can itself be a valuable treatment tool for teaching language and social skills and should not be marginalized or disregarded as unimportant or frivolous.” Then Darold shows his true colors by saying, “Unfortunately, as I will point out, some clinicians and other specialists hold that when precocious reading ability is present, and when coupled with comprehension, language and social difficulties, it is always part of an autistic spectrum disorder. I do not subscribe to that view.”

Type III: Early, obsessive readers who show lots of autistic traits, but then eventually “outgrow” the autistic traits which “fade over time.” The Type III description is too amazing to not include in full:

The hyperlexia is coupled with an intense fascination with letters or numbers. Yet in spite of the intense preoccupation and ability with words, there are, correspondingly, significant problems in understanding verbal language. Comprehension of that which is masterfully read is often poor, and thinking is concrete and literal. There is difficulty with, and paucity of, abstract thinking. There may be some behaviors and symptoms commonly associated with autism spectrum disorders as well including echolalia (repeating rather than initiating conversation), pronoun reversals, intense need to keep routines (obsession with sameness), auditory or other sensory hypersensitivity, specific intense fears, strong auditory & visual memory, and selective listening with the appearance of suspected deafness. In this group of children these latter “autistic” traits and behaviors are only “autistic-like” however, mirroring those seen in autistic disorder itself.

But totally not autistic because “in contrast to those in Autistic Disorder, these ‘autistic-like’ symptoms fade over time as the child ‘outgrows’ his or her ‘autism’ as some parents have described that transition. I call this group Hyperlexia III.” Darold the Great wraps up his theory by telling us exactly why it’s necessary:

The purpose of this posting is to describe these different types of hyperlexia and to point out the necessity for careful differential diagnosis among them because of differing treatment and outcome implications, along with alleviating some of the unnecessary distress and worry in parents when a diagnosis of Autistic Disorder is applied prematurely and in error to some children who read early.

And this is from 2011. But drivel like this is still used to perpetuate fear of having a child with a different neurotype. Here’s an example of a Warrior Mom, PhD, nearly begging for a different diagnosis to be created for her hyperlexic child who is actually autistic.

It’s pretty clear that Type III Hyperlexics are also neurodiverse, but this points out how flawed the analysis of clinical blowhards can be, blatant bias against autism aside. Many avid autistic readers are exactly the ones who used reading as a skill to blend in and overachieve so as to be included in society and win love. We learned how to interact with people by reading fiction and reading has been shown to teach better empathy. Apparent lack of cognitive empathy has long been a poor litmus test for autism and reading can help a kid figure out how regular people interact and what they expect.

I used reading and intelligence to learn to mask autistic traits, but the problems, like anxiety and social confusion, never got addressed.

I think it’s impossible for many people to understand that a medical condition can confer both difficulties AND advantages, that a person can see their autism as both disability AND privilege. It’s part of why the whole thing is so weird: Our cognitive profiles have high peaks and some low valleys which is why it is characterized by some as “spiky.” Hard things are easy; easy things are hard.

So can some kids just be really good at reading and not be autistic? Sure thing! But probably not if there is a genuine “intense fascination with written material from a young age.” And not just the words on the pages, but a deep affinity for books as objects of comfort and refuge. I’m that chick that reads at the bar. My house is infected with random stacks of the things. Just seeing them lined up calms me and I go on vacation to famous bookstores.


I know a young autistic boy who is minimally verbal but talking more every day because he is teaching himself to speak through reading. He loves books and flipping the pages as a stim. He already knows how to read and is only around 4. His favorite word is “books.”

I know an autistic man who takes a textbook full of algorithms to dinner with his wife.

I credit my verbal IQ and obsession with books with my psychological survival as an autistic person. (I credit my physical survival with being middle-class and white.) While autism made other aspects of my existence difficult, reading and learning made me surprisingly resilient and able to think my way out of despair. I would be lost to myself without the ability to read and put my frightening experiences into context, to learn about my phobias, and escape from the angst of being alive.

So just let kids read and don’t call it a damn disorder!



How the term “self-advocacy” is misused to stop the progress of autistic people

None of

After I was diagnosed at 40 as autistic, I wondered what the next steps for saving my life would be. I asked my psych evaluator and allistic-led sources in my area what I should do, and the answer invariably was “keep self-advocating.” I looked into what “self-advocating” meant and  here’s what I found:

“Self-advocacy refers to the civil rights movement for people with developmental disabilities, also called cognitive or intellectual disabilities, and other disabilities. It is also an important term in the disability rights movement, referring to people with disabilities taking control of their own lives, including being in charge of their own care in the medical system. The self-advocacy movement is (in basic terms) about people with disabilities speaking up for themselves. It means that although a person with a disability may call upon the support of others, the individual is entitled to be in control of their own resources and how they are directed. It is about having the right to make life decisions without undue influence or control by others.” – poorly cited Wikipedia entry

“n. the practice of having mentally disabled people speak for themselves and control their own affairs, rather than having non-disabled people automatically assume responsibility for them” – Collins Dictionary online

Well that sounds delightful and empowering!!!

Those of us trying to form a larger movement by and for autistics are still incorrectly called “self-advocates”

But that’s not what the professionals telling me to “self-advocate” meant. It didn’t mean that I was to have more control over what drugs I was prescribed, how I was addressed by professionals, that I was to be led to appropriate resources and helped to access them, or that I would be able to “call upon the support of others.”

They used the term “self-advocacy” to mean the opposite of that. I would speak with a mental health provider and ask for help with accessing programs, starting programs that would help my community at large, support to fight the over-pathologization of my condition by local medical professionals who wouldn’t listen to me self-advocate, a therapist who was autism-informed (for adult women no less), or even training for how to self-advocate, and the answer was always, “We can’t help you with that. Those things don’t exist here. Keep self-advocating.”

It took me a few years to find the right people and programs.

I thought reaching out to professionals was, first of all, what they wanted us to do because we are not considered experts on our own inner experience. I also thought looking for ways to help yourself by accessing available resources was self-advocating.

They were in effect telling me to “bootstrap” my way out of systemic oppression with no help from the autism-industrial complex. Doctors DO NOT generally listen to the opinions and treatment plans, no matter how well-informed, of non-conforming, invisibly disabled women. This is clear by the number of posts in autism groups which relate how abysmally difficult this is because of bald-faced intersectional discrimination. I needed someone, anyone, to go to the doctor with me to a. be a witness to my ill-treatment, and b. back my ass up in there! As a cognitively disabled woman, I do not possess the necessary credibility. But I was being told, “Go up against this powerful man and impenetrable institution alone.”

Find us the money, train us to empower ourselves, help us get the backing we need to create support systems according to what we say we need. 

Autism centers in America DO NOT generally have many resources for autistic adults including classes for self-advocacy training. Even though autistics are giving one another tips and tricks online, we still run up against the wall of our own poverty and discrimination. The problem isn’t that we aren’t self-advocating or trying to; it’s that people refuse to give up the power they have over us. We have no leverage.

It’s interesting to note that other culturally marginalized groups are not asked to self-advocate, because they are seen as being oppressed rather than intrinsically broken. As the black community has pointed out, they simply don’t have enough resources to self-advocate under the level of repression they experience. Neither do we, no matter how good we are at being the squeaky wheel and insisting upon ourselves. No matter how much we research our condition and the medications we are given. No matter how self-aware we are.

Implying that advocates are only looking to help themselves personally plays into the dangerous false narrative that autistics are self-absorbed and have no empathy or broader social awareness.

We need people outside our community to care enough to reach down and help lift us up, and share their superior coffers and connections and reputations, because we are often literally unable to speak for ourselves and not heard when we do. For instance, black people need direct action from white people to reach their civil rights goals, without whites taking over the narrative and stealing the funds.

Autistic people need exactly the same thing from allistic people. Stop putting all the onus for change back on the most powerless. Find us the money, train us to empower ourselves, help us get the backing we need to create support systems according to what we say we need. 

The truth is this: self-advocacy is primarily a term used to put down the efforts of #actuallyautistics advocating for all of us. Those of us trying to form a larger movement by and for autistics are still incorrectly called “self-advocates.” In fact, most of us can advocate for others better than we advocate for ourselves. This framing gives disability organizations permission to not properly compensate autistic activists for the unpaid labor we do to give our community a centralized voice and civil rights. Our huge hearts, passion, and sense of existential urgency is leveraged against us and we burn out with little to no support.

Implying that advocates are only looking to help themselves personally plays into the dangerous false narrative that autistics are self-absorbed and have no empathy or broader social awareness. The saddest truth in all this is that the autism industry does not want us reaching our own internal consensus on the issues, joining together, and advocating for systemic change. It would really mess up their bottom line if we became self-determining, a true community. We would have a united front for ending ABA, gaining financial power, building cultural credibility, and eventually not needing them once we have autistic professionals, researchers, and representation in place.

Enjoy this fun video!

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