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  • Writer's pictureHina Siddiqui

Queer, Neurodivergent, Me: An account of living on the spectrum in India

Last month I was invited to curate a Tweet Chat about Neurodivergence and Queerness with the Red Dot Foundation / the Safe City App. It was a lot of anxious fun. I came to know what tweet-chats are. And while I was able to articulate a lot about what I feel and understand about my own neurodivergence, the format itself was perhaps ill-suited to my general effusive style of writing, building context and generally straying to side-notes and asides. So I thought I would compile my answers here and perhaps initiate a conversation about autism, neurodivergence, queerness and a few things besides.

A list of words and phrases that I use to identify and negotiate my queerness and neurodivergence. These currently include: transmedia storyteller, writer, gamemaker, sex-educator, queer,  panromantic, asexual, gender fluid, body neutral,  lovequeer, neurodivergent, serial forehead  kisser, maladaptive daydreamer, mother of googlesheets
Identities & Sundry Adjectives: Circa July 2022

"It's like, in everyone's world there is a 'you' and a 'me'. But in an autistic person's world, there is just 'me'."

- Woo Young Woo on why it is hard for her to understand other people, in the Korean drama Extraordinary Attorney Woo now available on Netflix.

Side-Note: While I love the way conversations around mental issues, inclusion and autism are showcased in the series, there are still some points that annoy. These are mainly with the way things are referred to in the series and may have more to do with the translations of the original dialogues than the actual intention of the series. A couple of things that I specifically want to draw attention to.

  1. In the synopsis of the series, Woo Young Woo is described as someone with Asperger's Syndrome. Asperger's (named after Austrian paediatrician and Nazi colluder Hans Aspergers, who is also, unfortunately, the pioneer of autism research - you can read more about this in the book Asperger`s Children – The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna by author and historian Edith Sheffer.) was initially considered as a high-functioning form of autism. It was removed from the DSM in 2013, because of its associations with the man and the fact that it was not really a different diagnosis from Autism. Props to the series for actually discussing this fact and for Woo Young Woo always using Autism Spectrum Disorder when referring to herself.

  2. The translations consistently refer to the titular character as a person with autism as opposed to an autistic person. There are so many reasons that one should not do this, and you can read about them in Dr Nick Walker's essay Person-First Language Is The Language Of Autistiphobic Bigots. But the main issue is that autism is not pathological - it is not a disease to be cured - and I don't just mean this metaphorically. Biologically, and scientifically, autism is a neurological state defined by cognitive atypicalness. To illustrate my point, I am going to leave this quote from Dr Nick Walker's essay here:

"The autistiphobic bigotry inherent in person-first language doesn’t become obvious until you listen to how it sounds when you use that same sort of language to talk about members of other historically oppressed and marginalized groups.
Here, give it a try: People with homosexuality? Children who have Jewishness? Adults experiencing femaleness? Ooh, how about individuals living with Blackness? Are you comfortable with those phrases? If you read an article in which the author consistently referred to gay people as people with homosexuality, adults who have homosexuality, and individuals living with homosexuality, what would be your impression of that author’s attitude toward being gay?"

- Dr Nick Walker (she/her), who describes herself as a queer, transgender, flamingly autistic author and educator, best known for her book Neuroqueer Heresies

Now that those side-notes are accounted for, here is the list of questions posed for the Tweet Chat and my answers to them. I have added in more resources and edited some of the original tweets to make them more presentable in this format. You can see the original tweet chat with the comments from other contributors here.

What does neurodivergence mean? Why should we care?

Existence for the most part, despite social and cultural differences, is shaped around a “standard” version of being “human”. This means that most of the world aligns with the comfort of the dominant majority. This could be as banal as a pair of scissors designed for right-handed people or as complex as household labour being automatically relegated to a certain gender role.

Neurodivergence is when this "standard" is not applicable.

I think it is important to note that most things in the world make most people uncomfortable at some point or the other. But there is a difference between discomfort and dysphoria. While discomfort is temporary and often disappears when the situation changes…

Dysphoria is far more deep-rooted, more extreme in presentation and has effects that can last for days, weeks, months, even years. It can cause extreme stress, pressure lifestyles and make even the simplest tasks unmanageable and defeating. That is neurodivergence.

neurodiversity is an umbrella term that includes conditions like ADHD, ASD, learning disorders and even depression and anxiety.

In psychosocial terms, neurodiversity is an umbrella term that includes conditions like ADHD, ASD, learning disorders and even depression and anxiety. It was coined by sociologist Judy Springer and you can read more about it in this Disabled World article.

And why should we care about it… well, that’s like asking why we should care about 20% of the population being forced to live in a world that is not designed for them. According to Deloitte Insights and Aon’s Assessment Solutions' review of studies carried out in various countries - India, UK, USA, Australia - this is the global estimate - 10-20% of the global population is neurodiverse. Yet neurodiverse people are often overwhelmingly underrepresented in workforces, in demographics studies as well as in conversations about diversity and inclusion.

Side- Note: As someone who identifies as queer, has always been involved in creating inclusive spaces and in discourse with marginalized voices - even I didn't realize how absent the conversation around neurodiversity was. It wasn't until late 2021 - when the struggle to function on a daily basis became too much to handle - complicated by a hyperglycemic episode and dengue, that I stopped to take cognizance of my own condition. While I was always known as an odd human - owning mainly to my creative nature and high intellectual presentation - it never occurred to me how hard I masked my neuroatypicalness and how much that was affecting me on an everyday level.

What are the top 3 things that people need to realize about the intersection of queerness and neurodivergence?


It is an identity that cannot operate by schemas of social behaviour that so many believe are "hard-coded" into our DNA.

neurodivergents "mask", often going to extreme lengths to mimic socially acceptable behaviour and right royally rogering themselves in the bargain

Side-Note: They are not. All social behaviour is learned. And how easy it is to adapt to the dominant schemas in your environment, especially if they are not governed by some sort of explicit logic - is what determines neurodivergence. While there is a genetic component to mental composition, how it manifests in any given individual is dependent on environmental influences. I am not an expert on this. My opinions are reflective of my experience and research. So I encourage anyone reading this and interested in knowing more to look into Social Learning Theory, Moral Behaviour Models as well as Theory of Mind and Self-perceived Empathy.

Just like LGBTQIA++ people can learn to “pass” in order to be safe and belong… So too do neurodivergents "mask", often going to extreme lengths to mimic socially acceptable behaviour and right royally rogering themselves in the bargain (trust me, I should know.)

Side-Note: To get some insight into masking and camouflage as well as how hard it can be to stop doing that - again, it's not as simple as the just-be-yourself normie narrative flooding the airways nowadays - check this Swaddle article by Devrupa Rakshit: ‘Masking’ for Years Can Leave Autistic People Confused About Who They Really Are

I come back to Dr Nick Walker here, author Neuroqueer Heresies: Notes on the Neurodiversity Paradigm, Autistic Empowerment, and Postnormal Possibilities. And if the book itself seems like something too new to start with, I highly recommend this recording of a live conversation with Dr Walker, hosted by Dan Glenn for the CIIS Public Programs channel: On the Intersection of Queerness and Neurodivergence


There is a disproportionately high representation of neurodivergents amongst non-binary/genderqueer people as well as within the kink, poly and QPR communities.

I had a short struggle with my various identities at one point. Am I asexual, panromantic, non-monogamous, gender-fluid and body-neutral because I am neurodivergent? Or am I neurodivergent because of my sexuality? Or are both shaped by my extreme special interests and maladaptive daydreaming? The confusion and desire for clarity lasted a few days only. Which was completely unlike my usual desire to have very strictly-defined criteria for self-assessment. But I quickly realized I don’t know and I don’t care. Being and becoming me - whatever that means - is the most important thing in the world for me and a simple matter of which label takes precedence is not going to stop me from doing so.

Nonetheless, it is gratifying to know that there is a disproportionately high representation of neurodivergents amongst non-binary/genderqueer people as well as within the kink, poly and QPR communities.

Here's a bunch of recommended reading by autistic, queer people to help you think through the implications of this.

Neurodivergence as Queerness by Erika Heidewald, who creates Tools for Neurodiversity Theory & Autism Advocacy

I’m Autistic and Polyamorous. Here’s Why It Works For Me. by Leanne Yau (she/they), a polyamorous content creator, writer, and sex-positive advocate, founder of Poly Philia - the largest social media platform dedicated to non-monogamy education and awareness in Europe

NeuroDivergent Polyamory – Autistic NonConformity in My Relationships, a video by Lyric Holmans, an autistic self-advocate from Texas who runs the internationally recognized neurodiversity lifestyle blog Neurodivergent Rebel


There is no single way of being neurodivergent or queer. There is fluidity. There is flux. Which is why diagnostic criteria can never capture the spectrum. In fact, I think even the word spectrum is misleading. Because it imagines a range, moving from one end to the other - where being on one end of the spectrum can often be seen as being more preferable to being on the other end. But the queer experience, the neurodivergent experience is not just a spectrum. The range does not capture the individual lived experience of each of us. And if you do want a visual representation of autistic diversity and individuality, I think you should check out this book: Drawing Autism, where autistic young people as well as autistic artists in the prime of their careers draw their autism. The book is ridiculously cheap on Kindle, but if it still seems like a very big commitment, read Maria Popova's write up on it for the Atlantic. It was my last free article of the month, so I hope you'll make the most of my sacrifice.

What are your thoughts about how the intersection of queerness and neurodivergence is represented in media?

I cringed when I saw the trailer for Amir Khan’s adaptation of Forest Gump. After all the progress he had made with Taare Zameen Par too. Had to leave the room to go calm down. We were getting ready for dinner at my parents’ house, so it was a situation, to say the least.

It's almost as if you're only allowed to be atypical if you are also brilliant.

When I think about Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory (played by notably queer actor Jim Parsons), I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I liked the conversations between him and Amy about sex and their relationship. There were very clear allusions to struggles faced by aroace people in there. Though the specific labels were not used - which is weird given how much the characters like being informed about everything under the sun. There is also a notable lack of any canonically queer characters. The series did become kinder over seasons, giving emotional nuance to conversations. But overall, I think using Sheldon’s neurodivergence as a punchline so often was heartbreaking.

I think Abed from Community was fine. At least he was non-white. Queer and/or neurodivergent narratives in media are overwhelmingly male. It’s one of my very grave annoyances. Which is why I can't recommend Extraordinary Attorney Woo enough. There is a real nuanced portrayal of autism in there.

But all of these stories and representations are very heteronormative and amatonormative. And the characterizations are this peculiar Rainman neurodivergence - with an IQ always over 150 and a special interest is always useful to society - whether it's solving crimes or having a memory that surpasses most human comprehension. It's almost as if you're only allowed to be atypical if you are also brilliant. And rich. Because getting jobs, paying rent, and grocery shopping (and the alarming issues one can face when doing something so basic) are never considerations. It's like the imagination is limited by the normativity of the creators because they can't arrive at all the fullness of a neurodivergent person's humanity without making sure they have very generous parents and an inherited bank balance to support their needs. I mean, Community did include some of that, in an almost tokenistic way.

Mi-chan, my beautiful neuroqueer friend from USA, shared this video with me a few months back. I think it's a great look into the averageness of neurodivergence. Not all of us are articulate superhumans.

I think anime and manhua do a better job. Especially high-school anime. Check out Komi-san wa Comyushou desu (Komi Can't Communicate) and Horimiya to see what I mean. And while you’re at it, check out Psycho-Pass for Ginoza Nobuchika and Chén Qíng Lìng (The Untamed) - both on Netflix - for Lan Wangji - both of whom are very queer and neurodivergent-coded. It is significant to note that Lan Wangji's character is canonically queer - because the source material for CQL is Mo Xiang Tong Xiu's novel Mó Dào Zǔ Shī (The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation) - which is explicitly homoerotic and queer.

Not the most perfect, but from Left to Right: Lan Wangji, Miyamura Izumi, Komi Shoko, Ginoza Nobuchika (All images sourced from respective fandoms)

I must take a minute to say that the most soul-affirming representations of the intersection of queerness and neurodivergence I’ve found were in fandom. Archive of Our Own all the way!

And as far as games are concerned… there has been a burgeoning of queer rep in visual novels, dating sims, zines and games people make for their own enjoyment. Narrative is no longer restricted to the Hero's Journey of a spoiled man-child - at least not in indie games.

But then again, I don’t play too many big-name/AAA games. And I was trained in game-making by a very inclusive, queer-friendly organization - Code Coven. For me, they have pretty much become the standard of what a kind, inclusive, nurturing learning environment should be.

We still have a long way to go for equitable representation in games. Just like with any media. You can get an idea of things from this research by the Geena Davis Foundation.

Also, a specific note on the Indian Gaming Scene... In 2014, the Indian Government literally banned Dragon Age: Inquisition because it had a gay character in it. I don’t know what has changed since then.

I’ve only been here for about 2 years now in the gaming scene, with access to those who create popular content. All I can say is that you have to fight tooth and nail for inclusivity of any kind within the Indian context. And I don’t see any conversation about it happening within the industry itself - there is certainly no queer visibility that I can make out in indie studios or on gaming servers. It's actually even hard to find femme/female rep.

Which is why I am very keen on making my own games. Though it's slow going, it's going to happen. It's ineffable.


How do we make room for queer people, with mental disabilities, in our social narrative?

I think culturally, we need to move beyond binaries and normativity. Period. Stop questioning it. Stop wondering about the logistics of it. Stop being concerned with overwhelming the masses who can only tolerate one label at a time. We are moving towards a post-normal, post-transformative existence. Get used to it. Or get off the fumken hyperspace vessel.

I wrote an article recently for Probably Relevant, a newsletter I edit and write for, created with my beloved Ragini Singh Khuswaha for her company ArtNowThus. Leaning heavily into my queer neurodivergence (or neurodivergent queerness), this article is a labour of love that keeps driving into the multiplicity of narrative through the centering of traditionally marginalized voices. Instead of continuing the rant here, I am going to encourage you to go read that article. It's fumken beautiful.

What does it mean to queer the concepts of romance, love, family, care etc?

There is no sliding scale of significance - social, cultural or legal - for the kinds of connections we can create and embody

I am a 36-year-old parent. My children are between 27 to 31 years old. They were all informally adopted during the globally traumatic events of the years 2020-21.

I have two incredibly amazing women, right here in Pune, who are sometimes closer to me than myself.

Mi-chan, who I speak about often on here, who lives in America, who I have talked to only over email and messages for 2 years now (with a couple of video calls thrown in), who is also neurodivergent and queer. I care deeply about them and we are definitely going to live together at some point.

Currently, I adore someone in Hungary. We share a love for gardening. Another in Japan, who makes incredible art. These are real people I have interacted with. My feelings for them are not romantic, not sexual, but certainly all-encompassing. I feel exactly the same way for a character from Psycho-Pass (10 points if you guess who) and at least 3 others that I have created within my head. All of these are equally true and deserve equal amounts of my attention.

I have two cats and a biological family.

For me, there is no difference in what I feel for all of the creatures mentioned above. I want to cook with them, talk and make stories with them, manage household budgets, cuddle, plan, create and live around them - geographical distance notwithstanding.

And queering the concepts of romance, love, family and care for me means that when I share this truth about myself, it does not become a means to other me. That there is no sliding scale of significance - social, cultural or legal - for the kinds of connections we can create and embody with humans, non-humans, imaginary creatures, living creatures and everything in between.

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