Gender Copia and Bricolage

A friend shared “Gender Copia: Feminist Rhetorical Perspectives on an Autistic Concept of Sex/Gender: Women’s Studies in Communication: Vol 35, No 1” in response to my “Autigender and Neuroqueer: Two Words on the Relationship Between Autism and Gender That Fit Me” piece. I really like this graf:

Due both to their ability to denaturalize social norms and to their neurological differences, autistic individuals can offer novel insights into gender as a social process. Examining gender from an autistic perspective highlights some elements as socially constructed that may otherwise seem natural and supports an understanding of gender as fluid and multidimensional.

Confronting and denaturalizing social norms describes the terrain of many autistic lives. We’re social construct canaries.

The article goes on to propose a gender copia that sounds like my kind of bricolage.

The sources considered here imply not a binary model (masculine=feminine) or even a view of gender as a continuum, but something more like a copia, the rhetorical term Erasmus used to describe the practice of selecting ‘‘certain expressions and mak[ing] as many variations of them as possible’’ (17). Copia provides a strategy of invention, a rhetorical term for the process of generating ideas. To be specific, copia involves proliferation, multiplying possibilities so as to locate the range of persuasive options available to a rhetor. I find the concept of invention fitting to describe the kind of rhetoric in which many autistic individuals engage when they discuss sex and gender, a rhetoric we might consider, following Mary Hawkesworth, a feminist rhetoric, insofar as it seeks to ‘‘call worlds into being, inscribe new orders of possibility, validate frames of reference and forms of explanation, and reconstitute histories serviceable for present and future projects’’ (1988).

Individuals who find themselves engaged in this rhetorical search for terms with which to understand themselves can draw on a wide array of terms or representations, such as genderqueer, transgendered, femme, butch, boi, neutrois, androgyne, bi- or tri-gender, third gender, and even geek.

Source: Gender Copia: Feminist Rhetorical Perspectives on an Autistic Concept of Sex/Gender: Women’s Studies in Communication: Vol 35, No 1

Autigender and Neuroqueer: Two Words on the Relationship Between Autism and Gender That Fit Me

These words about two words helped me figure myself out more. Passing them along.

Autigender is not explicitly saying that “My gender is autism” – it’s not about saying you are a boy, girl, enby, autism, whatever. It’s about your relationship with your gender.

Specifically, gender is a social construct. The primary deficit of autism includes difficulties interpreting and understanding social constructions. This means that we have a disability that inherently makes understanding gender part of our disability.

Because of this, we can have exceptionally complicated and unique understanding of what gender is, how it affects us, and how we express gender.

Autigender is a word that describes this unique, complicated relationship. So when a person is saying that they are autigender, what they are saying is more or less that their understanding of gender is fundamentally altered by their autism.

Because autigender describes the relationship with gender, an autigender person’s gender can be, well anything. Boy. Girl. Enby. Cis. Trans. Anything. Agender. Gender Nope.

So what about a person who says they are autigender, and that IS their gender? Well, I think this still describes the relationship with their gender – Specifically in this case, their autism affects their understanding to such a degree that they just can’tbe any more descriptive with regards to gender. That leaves the only word they have – autigender.

Source: Candidly Autistic — What exactly is autigender? I’ve seen it used a…

“Autigender” is a term that some autistic people use to describe their relationship with gender. Specifically, it means that they feel that their autism affects the way they perceive and feel about gender.

Unfortunately, a lot of people interpret this as meaning that people think “autism” is their gender, which results in a lot of rage-filled posts on social media about how your gender cannot be a disability. Because, of course, it can’t. Autism is a neurotype, not a gender.

But this is a complete misunderstanding of the term.

No one who calls themselves “autigender” is going to write “autism” next to the word “gender” on a questionnaire.

The fact is that autism is a neurotype that specifically affects our perceptions and understanding of social conventions, norms, etiquette and mores.

Nor does it affect every autistic person the same way. One person may pick up on social norms easily but may struggle with small talk while another remains oblivious to social norms but can banter easily with strangers in line at the checkout.

It’s well documented that there is a significantly higher rate of gay, bi, trans, ace, and gender-queer people in the autistic community compared to the non-autistic community. What researchers haven’t figured out yet though is whether autism is in some way related to gender and sexual orientation or whether autistic people are just less brain-washed by society into following heteronormative stereotypes.

In other words, are there really more gay/trans/queer/ace autistic people, or do they just figure it out/come out of the closet more readily than non-autistic people?

We don’t know yet.

What we do know is that there are some people who feel that their ability to think of themselves as a particular gender is affected by their autism. This feeling is shared by enough autistic people that they have dubbed themselves “autigender.”

I don’t call myself autigender, but I get it. Gender is confusing to me, too.

I don’t feel offended by the idea of autigender. But some people really do. They feel it insults other non-binary and genderqueer people, that it mocks and makes light of their relationship with their gender. Autistic community leaders try to remind people that if you don’t like the term, you don’t have to use it.

But if it gives some people a feeling of belonging and helps them describe what must be a very complicated emotional response, then you should support them and let them call it what they want.

If someone feels their autism is affecting how they perceive their gender, let them call themselves autigender.

Considering how many LGBTQA+ autistic folk there are, I think there’s something in that one way or another.

Source: 7 Cool Aspects of Autistic Culture » NeuroClastic

So what does it mean to neuroqueer, as a verb? What are the various practices that fall within the definition of neuroqueering?

  1. Being neurodivergent and approaching one’s neurodivergence as a form of queerness (e.g., by understanding and approaching neurodivergence in ways that are inspired by, or similar to, the ways in which queerness is understood and approached in Queer Theory, Gender Studies, and/or queer activism).
  2. Being both neurodivergent and queer, with some degree of conscious awareness and/or active exploration around how these two aspects of one’s identity intersect and interact.
  3. Being neurodivergent and actively choosing to embody and express one’s neurodivergence (or refusing to suppress one’s embodiment and expression of neurodivergence) in ways that “queer” one’s performance of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, occupation, and/or other aspects of one’s identity.
  4. Engaging in the “queering” of one’s own neurocognitive processes (and one’s outward embodiment and expression of those processes) by intentionally altering them in ways that create significant and lasting increase in one’s divergence from dominant neurological, cognitive, and behavioral norms.

Source: Neuroqueer: An Introduction

I didn’t have the vocabulary for what I felt back in Southern Baptist Texas in the 1970s and 80s, but I was uncomfortable with and resistant to gender norms as a kid. They felt: silly, arbitrary, oppressive, confining, unnecessary, counter-productive, irrational. They did not make sense. They did not fit.

A small, shareable anecdote of the ways norms went against my grind, from a lifetime collection:

I didn’t openly express myself in dress much—I was deathly afraid of being noticed and totally unsure about what I felt—but I would splash some color in. I opted for a pink tinted coating on a new pair of eyeglasses once. Kids at school gave me grief, but I liked them and came to wear them as a defiant badge and also a sort of shield. My father had the coating removed.

Several burnouts and a retirement later, I have zero capacity for masking, for attenuating myself to the sensibilities of surrounding bigots and bullies. I enjoy my pink and my flower print Thai fisherman pants and wistfully wishing I could dial my gender to my pansexual, polyamorous, genderpunk, genderqueer mood.

Autigender and neuroqueer are the best fits I’ve found after a lifetime of seeking. Perhaps a term that fits even better will emerge. Perhaps it’s already out there for me to discover. I’ll keep reading other queer autistics as we help each other figure ourselves out.

Previously,

The Meaninglessness of “Evidence-based”

The autism industry, among others, has rendered the term “evidence-based” meaningless.

I think we’re just going to have to let the term “evidence-based” go. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the extent to which a practice is described as evidence-based, and the quality of evidence supporting its use.

Source: Dr. Kristen Bottema-Beutel on Twitter

This is particularly true of behaviorism and ABA.

And if it turns out that, contrary to widespread assumptions, behavior modification techniques aren’t supported by solid data even when used with autistic kids, why would we persist in manipulating anyone with positive reinforcement? A rigorous new meta-analysis utterly debunks the claim that applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is the only intervention for children with autism that’s “evidence-based.” In fact, it raises serious questions about whether ABA merits that description at all.

You might assume that those who use the phrase “evidence-based practice” (EBP) are offering a testable claim, asserting that the practices in question are supported by good data. In reality, the phrase is more of an all-purpose honorific, wielded to silence dissent, intimidate critics, and imply that anyone who criticizes what they’re doing is rejecting science itself. It’s reminiscent of the way a religious leader might declare that what we’ve been told to do is “God’s will”: End of discussion.

Moreover – and it took me awhile to catch on to this – behaviorists often use “EBP” just as a shorthand for the practices they like, in contrast to the (progressive or humanistic) approaches they revile. It doesn’t matter if the evidence is actually weak or ambiguous or even if it points in the other direction. They’ll always come up with some reason to dismiss those inconvenient findings because their method is “evidence-based” by definition. (On social media and elsewhere, you can get a glimpse of how modern behaviorism resembles a religious cult – closer to Scientology than to science – with adherents circling the wagons, trading ad hominem attacks on their critics, and testing out defensive strategies to employ when, for example, people with autism speak out about how ABA has harmed them. Or when scholarship shows just how weak the empirical case for ABA really is.)

Which brings us back to that new research review. The work of eleven authors – including, interestingly, an ABA therapist – representing the University of Texas, Boston College, Vanderbilt, and Mount Holyoke, it was published in January 2020 in Psychological Bulletin (PB), a prestigious social science journal that specializes in lengthy integrative research reviews. The article is not a polemic. It does not consider, and appears not even to be informed by, any of the broader objections to ABA that are raised by autistic people or that I’ve raised here. It confines itself to describing peer-reviewed research. The authors cast a wide net, looking for every English-language study in the last half-century that compared an intervention group with a control group in treating children up to age 8 who had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This yielded 1,615 separate results from 150 reports representing 6,240 participants.

The most striking finding in this research review is how few high-quality assessments of “the primary approach used in clinical practice” – that is, ABA – have ever been conducted. In fact, the great majority of ABA studies were so poorly designed that they didn’t merit inclusion in this review. Rather than comparing the results of different treatments for groups of children, behaviorist journals commonly publish single-subject studies, in which one child is assessed before and after treatment. (This method was invented by behaviorists back when their behavior-shaping efforts were limited to lab rats.) You don’t have to be a trained data analyst to see the serious limitations of this method in terms of the results’ lack of generalizability. For the authors of the PB review, these limitations were so glaring that it didn’t even make sense for them to bother with the results of single-subject studies. Yet those dubious results are the primary basis for behaviorists’ claims that ABA is “evidence-based.”

Source: Autism and Behaviorism – Alfie Kohn

It’s now often just marketing jargon. Practices that are accepted as evidence-based generally don’t have to try to sell themselves as evidence-based.

I’d be curious how many things labeled “evidence-based” are for profit.

Source: Noah Sasson on Twitter

I am likewise curious.

Previously,