In the absence of you – Self portrait

Set/Photography-timer/Post/model/makeup/costume/words: Angelique Joy
Year: 2020

A coming out and a going back in, over again. 

Neurodivergence//Neuroqueer//Genderqueer

What does it mean to ‘Come out’? Or to ‘Unmask’?
Initially, I had felt that both are founded in the idea that there is an absolute normal center (see- NT Cis, het white male) that we are deviating from and so we must confess that deviation… but, in that confession we are further consolidating the idea that there is a center, a normal from which our difference exists… I think the idea of that norm is a most ridiculous and damaging social construct that should be destroyed… so why come out? I have nothing to come out from….

But, I live in a little bubble. 
It is a political position to openly deviate from that centre, because that centre is still considered the social norm. I also realised it is an incredibly privileged position to say I do not need to state these things because I can hide in plain sight (mostly, well I desperately try), others do not have that option, and so, I am here. Sharing the things and standing with those who do not have the privilege of hiding – I see you and I am with you. 

For me, all of this is deeply personal and extensively political. 

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THE UNMASKING – I am Autistic. Actually, Audaciously Autistic.

I was diagnosed mid last year and have had a lot to learn and unpack since then. At first I felt like I wanted to tell everyone and beg for their forgiveness and explain, Oh please forgive me! I am just Autistic. I am so sorry I am weird or seem a bit off… I am sooo sorry you thought I thought I know everything, I was just excited or trying to connect with you! I am so sorry I already said that to you and now you think I am being fake or misleading because I am repeating myself…. I had just run out of scripted material. I am so sorry I asked too many questions or did not respond in the way you expected of me, I am sorry I am verbose and write too much or talk too little, I am so sorry I feel too much too often, I am so sorry I cry all the time but do not want to hug you….

But, the more I learnt the more I understood my own lived experience, the more I saw that a lot was not my apology to make. I have made many mistakes in life and have had a lot to work through, but my Autistic traits are not those things. What I did have to work through was my internalised ableism and shame at never measuring up to neurotypical standards..

Last year, we were very, very privileged to have found ourselves in a situation that meant we could release ourselves of the financial stress of B’s house… and, my youngest teenage offspring came to live with us full time… For the first time in our life we felt safe, we slowly defrosted from constantly living in flight or fight… and the strangest thing happened, all of us, crashed and fell apart in different ways… Things we had not realised we had not dealt with came to the surface… For me, that led to a prolonged Autistic burnout and shutdown, barely able to leave our bed. It meant going to the new house to fake as much as possible and just do what we needed to get it ready and coming home and napping for hours, it meant all of our energy going into the needs of G & L… and then crying for hours when they went to school because I was unable to move- for months and months. 2020 for us was about creating and caring, but not in any of the ways we expected. 

Shutdowns have happened many times before in my life, but never for this long. It slowly started and I knew it was coming… but usually, those times have been preceded by really traumatic events or at the end of a really heavy stressful year… but good things were happening?! I thought perhaps I had gone into early menopause… But no. Thankfully this led to a diagnosis and understanding for me and for L and formal diagnosis for each of us. And, an informal understanding that our lil household is most definitely made up of various Neurodivergent beings. 

Learning about Autism, Neurodivergence, Neuroqueer and Autigender have been the single most validating and affirming things I have ever learnt. Understanding that everything I have failed at and been not good enough for or been too much for is forgivable/understandable when viewed through the lens of Neurodivergence. I am forgiven. By myself. I am not a failure, I am not worthless. I am just a square peg who has spent their whole life trying to fit into a round hole and never quite measuring up despite the corners I have cut off and the edges I have shaved. 

This is why I have spent so much time learning and unknowing and unpacking and searching because I was trying to find this. This unknown thing that nothing else explained and no one else understood. 

The Lost Girls (With a strike through the word ‘girls’) and now I am found. 

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Existing, for me, is and has always been to feel and to know vast internal worlds that converge and intersect with prickly, repeating external worlds. 

I have always called them universes, my world is made up of universes… of light and colour and sound and people and emotions…. full of depth and richness… to be me is to notice worlds others don’t see, to have an internal world that is a starscape full of depth and experience…. an ocean I can fly in, an ocean I sometimes drown in. 

I feel love in ways others can not fathom, in ways that make my heart burn in my chest, but, I equally feel pain, so deep the cells in my bones hurt and often at the smallest of things. Worlds of light and dark, polarities, suspended and connected. 

These worlds are transmuted through my body, a physical response…. I am a bodymind, not separate from the other, connected, a feedback loop. Transversality. 

I forever exist in painfully, beautiful, overlapping and intersecting worlds- from the body to the mind and back again, from the internal to the external, and of course, back again.  

For me, this is what it is to be Neurodivergent. This is what it is to be Autistic. This is what I love about being me. To float and fall in these universes… 

How painful it is when I must leave them and exist in the banality of this everyday, of vapid conversations and nonsensical expectations. 

I am an alien on the outside in, looking out and within. I often feel without my body, floating and unable to grasp the things everyone else seems to take for granted. I am often unable to see the rules that govern every interaction but have felt the punishment of deviating from those rules. I’ve had ‘friends’ exit my world and communities expel me and I genuinely never know why. I have spent a life desperately trying to pass as the ‘woman’ I was meant to be and have been reprimanded for never having performed it ‘good enough’. I am trapped in moments ‘Masking’ and forever feeling fake and unknowing who I am inside all of the layers. Obsessed with identity. Because EVERY SINGLE human interaction I have ever had, I am coding on the fly, I am trying to read and respond, I am madly flicking through my scripted recipe cards to find one that fits and replay it… On occasions I use the same scripted card with the same person, the situation seemed repeated, but I had no other cards. Fail. I was so tired, I did my best and still got and get it wrong all the time. 

Neurotypical, heteronormative social performances have never made any sense to me. Oppressive requirements, but to deviate often means the loss of safety and community… and in a * very real * sense the loss of financial security. So we attempt to cut away the parts required. So much pain and actually still never being enough. This is the part I dislike, but if I view this in the context of a world not making space for difference, there is nothing wrong with me!

I am the MOST authentic version of myself when I am here. Alone in a safe space just being and typing. Or, on the few occasions I have made a genuine connection with someone and we are both speaking deeply about the universe and all that is connected within it. This version of me, this version that you are reading is me, all of me. If this is not congruent with how you see me in person- it is because the world has shown me it is not safe to be this full version of me. In my own world and in every sense of the word I am Neuroqueer. 

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THE COMING OUT – I ‘AM’ nothing in terms of gender – I love ‘Enby’ and gender-non compliant but my new fav and most appropriate is ‘Autigender’ and I adore Genderqueer. 

My gender is not a fixed address. It is something I am constantly interrogating, expressing and exploring. The more I research and learn the more I find new frameworks to help explain my lived experiences of self, and gender. Gender to me is the most ridiculous of social rules, spending a large chunk of my life trying to be a good Christian woman and then a sexy (see- desirable) strong woman aided a loss of self and compounded a feeling of otherness and oppression. 

I still do not go outside expressing myself how my heart would love because I am uncomfortable or exhausted with needing to explain. And because Adelaide. B & I regularly get yelled at, stared at and have had people take our picture in a ridiculing way. In some situations I do my best to pass as a chubby, pretty middle aged woman because this is the safest/easiest thing… But for the comfort of others every part of my internal self wants to die.

This last phrase expresses everything it has felt to me to be Autistic and gender questioning –
BUT FOR THE COMFORT OF OTHERS EVERY PART OF MY INTERNAL SELF WANTS TO DIE. 

Autigender is a phrase that speaks to the intersections of how Autism impacts a person’s experience of gender. There is a statistically high amount of Transgender and non-binary people in the Autistic community. I identify so much with some shared Trans and non-binary experiences, in a way, I am moving through from one expression of my identity and gender to explore another. I also feel connected to the lived experiences of sexism and violence experienced by women, but to put the word ‘woman’ with myself physically makes me feel sick. (and the thing is, it always has)

I often feel betrayed by my fat, curvy body and I long for a thin body that could pass as androgynously sexy and severe. But then I realise that so much of this is because we still view neutral as ‘masculine’. And so, I am trying to accept my fat flesh and elastic chest where it is at. Non-binary people who are AFAB can wear frills and bows and still be non-binary and your expectation for a non-binary person to present as something neutral and paired back is founded in patriarchial ideals of gender. 

Queer as a mode of doing and becoming is my favourite meaning of the word. I have been bestowed with many labels in my life, I choose Neurodivergent, Neuroqueer and Gender(all the becoming and unfolding ones). 

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My masters proposal is due on Thursday. I was supposed to be doing that, I am looking at the intersection of Posthumansim, Neurodivergence and Expanded Photography as a way of creating new modes of seeing and being. I am struggling to focus down those three topics. That is what I was supposed to be doing. But I am coming out and starting the process of unmasking instead. 

I long for a Neurocosmopolitan and Posthuman world. 

‘I would rather be a Cyborg than a Goddess!’ 

(A quote from Donna Haraway- a Cyborg Manifesto)