Neuroqueer, an offering

All those years ago, when I got to the same point in my degree that my daughter has just reached (perhaps why it has been on my mind lately), as in that grande finale moment where you hover on the blade’s edge, confronted with a choice between abject originality and hang the consequences…or staying with convention to ensure a steady shot at the final grade you so desperately want and deserve to walk away with…I briefly teetered on that brink before going with my truth and intuition (my primary guidance systems, as ever). It became one of the many wounds of rejection of my life, to not have that decision, a grand affirmation on behalf of self-expression, pay-off so spectacularly.

In hindsight, my intuition is not necessarily well-geared for this world “as it is”; more so for a bigger-broader-future version of it in which all is inclusive, each and every subjective viewpoint held valid and originality welcomed. We have yet to mature into such a world (though, thirty years later, we are slowly getting there, or, I hope I can trust the signs telling me so).

My specialism at the time…Virginia Woolf; my angle…a personal tilt on layers of meaning that I strongly felt (notice that implied modality, “to feel”) hovered in the void between the author’s actual rhetoric and its associated sensory cues…colours, patterns, the very spaces between her words strewn with felt nuance…thus a layer of narrative and interpretation that I perceived hidden in plain sight. Because this is how her words strongly impacted me, recieved via all my multi-sensory modes of perception (surely how and why such an author puts meaning onto paper…in the hope of being received thus) but not so easy to “prove” in a paper, though I was prepared to try.

My attempt was, perhaps, over-daring in hindsight but I took as quite literal the request that the work be “our own”, not regurgitated text books. Typical for me in my fierce independence, I chose not to discuss any of this in advance with my tutor as I already knew they would not, really, understand…this had become my ingrained reality through years of school…so why would I waste effort trying to summarise in bullet-points what it would take an entire dissertation to put forth. My attempt to convey this new spin of mine became its own piece of art.

The gamble was daring and it backfired, as I might have guessed if I had been using my logic and not my intuition (the modus operandi of the world as it stands). I was told, in no uncertain terms, that it cost me my predicted “First” so I walked away feeling jaded and mediocre as my first step into an “adult world” of endless incomprehensibilities. It wasn’t an auspicious start and it set the theme of the next few years of my life, until I finally learned how and where to be fully myself without the consequence of endless rebuttal; the denial of how I experience things with all its complexity and many-layered nuances.

Photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash

These days, a new generation of academics more readily approach the potential of literature, even of cinema, to convey neurodiverse experiences and layers of meaning that are far closer to mine and yet which, at the time I was that literary undergrad (the 1980s), were pushed well out of sight beneath layers of conventional, corridored, interpretation. Ironic, really, that even those authors one could easily suspect to be neurodiverse themselves had, by then, been typecast into rigid formulas of interpretation by neurotypical academics and perish the thought that any student should dare to wander off that path. That, now, seems to be on the verge of changing and I wonder if the number of hits on my post Jane Eyre – nineteenth century Aspie Woman and its inclusion in a list of recommended reading by one university’s literature department is a reflection of that.

Plucking out this academic paper “The Fantastic Autistic: Divergence, Estrangement, and The Neuroqueer Screen in Blade Runner: The Final Cut (2007) and Community (2009-2015)” by David Harley from my morning emails today, enticed by its juicy title, I dived in over my morning tea, so eager to gather its many clues that, these days, I might not feel so all-alone in my literary deep-dives of the neurodiverse variety (because who is to tell me my interpretations of VW, or any other writer with whom I feel the kinship of experience, are completely bizarre or off the mark).

It has introduced me to a new term (or, new to me at least), neuroqueer, as explained in this extract:

Autistic scholar and rhetorician Melanie Yergeaucoined the term ‘neuroqueer’ to describe the “cunning movements” of autism when positioned “in defiance against that which is rhetorically normative” (2018: 27).

In Yergeau’s reasoning, autism is an inherently queer category with explicit historical and contemporary connection to queerness through their shared experiences of “disciplining and normalization,” as well as in the evolving discourses of neurodiversity where “autistic people queer the lines of rhetoric, humanity, and agency” (2018: 26).
The neuroqueer, for Yergeau, accounts for both the rhetorical and
arhetorical actions of the autistic, the oscillation between the two, and the poetic potential of the condition as “an interbodily, beyond-the-skin experiential of detail and overwhelm and intricacy” (2018: 56). In such terms, the rhetorical redirections of autism offer new and exciting challenges to fundamental understandings of all cultural forms. Questions can be posed of assumed spectators, of what constitutes ‘normative’ narrative construction, as well as new interpretations of character motivation and behaviour.” (David Harley, as above).

The author is mostly concerned in this paper with autism in the context of cinema and whilst this is an area that fascinates me as someone who identifies as being neurodiverse and who typically responds to cinema (every bit, if not more so, than books) in quite a different, more complex and nuanced, way to my neurotypical friends and associates, it is not an area I have considered hugely since I have never “not been me” in the context of watching a film (and have never been marked down for my “inappropriate” responses…).  The difference in the general mode and in the sheer depth and intricacy with which I “meet” the cinematic experience no longer perplexes or upsets me, now that I realise my autism, but it certainly continues to interest me, including the potential for this to be taken into consideration, even catered for, by script writers and the TV and film industries as an entire production unit delivering “experience” to an audience. As with any form of “queerness”, not only should we be included but I see how everyone‘s experience of cinema could seriously benefit from this being the case!

There is something about the inbetweeny nature of the kind of experience that is the natural territory of the neurodiverse way of being that lends itself to evolution, as and when the various methodologies of life unlock themselves from all the rules and rigidity of what is already known and familiar to most, to venture into the territory and meet us there. We naturally inhabit the void where new potentials emerge by virtue of the fact we are non-conformers and this leads into new extrapolations of experience…and expression.

Harley’s paper has encouraged me to consider, not only that my sensory and perceptual needs should be taken into consideration by film producers if I am to be included in the audience of, say, a cinematic film (avoiding strobe effects, lowering “boom” volumes, for instance, both of which affect me so adversely) but also that the film itself could benefit from layers of subtle, a-typical communication that meet the perceptual advantages (yes, I said advantages) and strengths (yes!) of a neurodiverse audience and thus add artistic depth and potential to the film, not just for its neurodiverse audience but to broaden and stretch the conceptual and sensory experience of everyone watching, breaking new experiential soil for all who receive the fruits of such a venture…because isn’t that what “the arts” are all about? Sooo many films and TV programs seem one-dimensional to me (compared to the multidimensions of my actual experience) and I would love that to change.

Just as, say, synesthesia adds a whole other layer of sensory experience, meaning and richness to my world, such layers of cinematography could create a fuller experience for all audiences, compared to all the limitations of the typically strident and linear plotline (the clue is in the world “line”…my neurodiversity doesn’t experience life that way!), the ever dominant use of rhetoric as primary mode of conveyance, plus the over-reliance upon such clichéd dramatic effects as shock factor and formulaic storylines. I lack the specialist knowledge of the film genre to discuss this topic much further except to say I could well-imagine that neurodiverse screenwriters and directors (or those prepared to explore the kind of material that would include neurodiverse experiences and themes in a positive, celebratory light…not always, as the referred to paper points out, “attached to fantastical metaphors of aliens, robots, changelings, and other signifiers of the unreal and mysterious”) would be a beneficial addition to the industry, just as they have added immeasurable colour and depth to the world of literature for far longer than has been fully appreciated.

As I often touch upon in this blog, my sensory differences invariably add richness and light to my experiences when they are met by healthy, inclusive approaches. This is what the author of the paper refers to as the “fantastic autistic”, being an emphasis on what autism brings in the way of insight, playfulness and enhanced pleasures, qualities we could do with encouraging in this world and I live my life as a constant advocate of the same (yes, through my writing as one of my outlets). Literature and film are obvious mediums for more of this; we actively need to make room for neurodiversity in these places. There is a clear link here from fantastic autistic to the fantasy genre and I would say fantasy, playfulness and positively speculative storytelling are some pretty obvious intruments of evolutionary thinking, inspiring hope and innovation rather than dystopia, disillusionment and fear, as so ever-present in our current film industry.

I am also glad to notice, we apprear to be on the rising cusp of an attitudinal shift regarding what constitutes autism and what this brings to the table of human diversity as we shift our limiting beliefs around the faulty idea of what constitutes so-called “normal”; a shift that benefits us all by collectively expanding our awarenesses and, thus, possibilities. Being the same, doing the same, only brings more of the same, and we are all reliant on a considerable shift taking place now, before all of us, typical or no, become quite obsolete on this planet.

Meanwhile, there is so much more to the neurodiverse experience than is currently clichéd out of existence (or treated as “handicap”) by mainstream approaches. If it takes the occasional use of a word such as “neuroqueer” to position neurodiversity in active defiance to such limitation-labeling then so be it, I am neuroqueer and proudly so.

About Helen White

Helen White is a professional artist and published writer with two primary blogs to her name. Her themes pivot around health and wellbeing, expanded consciousness and ways of noticing how life is a constant dance between the deeply subjective and the collective-universal, all of which she explores with a daily hunger to get to know herself better. Her blog Living Whole shines a light on living with high sensitivity, dealing with trauma and healing from chronic health issues. Spinning the Light is an extremely broad-based platform where she elucidates the everyday alchemy of relentless self-exploration. A lifetime of "feeling like an outsider" slowly emerged as neurodivergence (being a Highly Sensitive Person with ADHD, synaesthesia, sensory processing challenges and other defecits overlapping with giftedness). All of these topics are covered in her blogs, written from two distinct vantage points so, if you have enjoyed one of them, you may wish to explore the other for a different, yet entirely complimentary, perspective.
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2 Responses to Neuroqueer, an offering

  1. cathytea says:

    There’s also a cool term, “autigender”, which I really like! I never feel comfortable choosing pronouns, and that’s why!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Helen White says:

      Yes, I can relate…the whole “choose a pronoun” movement really bothers me as it feels more limited than I am and I don’t want to be nailed like that. Really, I’m open to whatever, open to exploring, and that is my defining trait so I guess, until they coin a word for that, “autistic” or “diverse” will have to do.


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