“Is mad activism a queer issue?”

By Rosie Smith, @rosiefolksongs 

STRONG Trigger Warnings: Sexual abuse, transphobia

Wheesht

Its strange seeing Scots (a language in its own right) being used outwith its normal bounds; namely a few eccentric academics and working class grannies. I doubt the promoters of the latest transphobic hashtag would appreciate much if I gave them a stirring rendition of “Freedom Come A Ye”, not least because its writer, Hamish Henderson, was a bisexual communist.

Is mad activism a queer issue? Well, for me, just about everything is. I cannot separate my mental illness from my gender and sexuality. My teenage mania was explained away as ‘just another slutty bi girl’, later used as an excuse for my abuser to put me through hell. My difficult and emotionally fraught, intense friendships with other teenage girls (that I now recognise as crushes) leaving me vulnerable to them entirely, and utterly decimating what little self esteem I had. Its not as though we only stopped classing homosexuality as a mental illness itself barely a generation ago. I wonder how many doctors I’ve seen who qualified when that was still the case. Depression is hardly uncommon in the LBGT+ community; personally I’ve yet to meet one of us that hasn’t struggled with it. That feeling that there’s something inherently wrong with you, that separates you from your peers, isolates you and marks you out as different – well I defy anyone to feel that and not be a little bit depressed.

Then there’s autism. We can acknowledge the way in which autism is frequently misdiagnosed as other mental health conditions, but why stop there? Although it’s not actually a mental illness itself (rather a ‘developmental’ disorder, whatever that means) it does have a tendency to run side by side with them. While there’s little research being done into it, mention the phrase ‘the inherent trauma of growing up autistic’ to any of us, and we’ll know what you mean. It’s that same feeling, that there’s something inherently different about you, except the world around you keeps saying you just need to try harder to fit in. Again, there’s little research into this, so you’ll have to rely on my anecdotal evidence, but we do seem to get sexually abused an awful lot. It makes sense, after all if you encourage children to ignore their own discomfort and prioritise how others want them to behave, what is that but the perfect set up for abuse. I once saw someone refer to Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) as ‘a paedophile’s dream’ because of the way in which compliance training makes autistics, victims ripe for the plucking. And if you already have ptsd, well, what’s another trauma on top of that?

Where does that leave us if autistic people are more likely to be trans? Well, for me, in a big old mess of trauma. I cant separate being non binary from being autistic, and god knows, the constant feeling like I was failing at being a girl was a massive contributing factor to how much I used to hate myself. The two are so linked, terms like auti-gender and neuroqueer have cropped up, attempting to make sense of the way in which being autistic inherently affects our relationship to gender identity. It might not be a mental illness, but being autistic sure is part and parcel of what makes me mad. Autistics are six times as likely to be trans as the rest of the population (though another study said up to half of autistic people are trans or gender non conforming), but for a lot of us, we have to choose one or the other. It’s ableist as hell, but the myth that autistic people cannot fully understand ourselves prevails. When an ASD diagnosis can act as a barrier to transitioning, despite the overwhelming evidence that it makes us more likely to be trans in the first place, then fighting psychiatric injustice must always include trans people.

If it disnae, weel, awa an bile yer heid.

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