Why are queer people so mean to each other?

What happens to a community of people who have been raised with sensation of constant, looming danger, of being fundamentally wrong in the way we love and express ourselves? What impact might that collective trauma have upon our bodies and spirits?

Scholars of the brain are fond of saying “what fires together, wires together,” which refers to the brain’s tendency to form neural networks (pathways in the brain that form certain thought, feeling and behavioural responses) that become stronger and stronger every time they are used. Trauma theory holds that traumatized inviduals — and, I would hypothesis, queer and trans community as a whole — have well-worn neural networks shaped around the deeply held physical sensation that we are constantly in danger, that we are bad and unloveable, that others are untrustworthy and violent. Every time we are abused, discriminated against or neglected, those neural networks become stronger, while our neural networks associated with safety and loving relationships atrophy. We become physically less capable of imagining a world where being with others is not synonymous with being unsafe.

Why are queer people so mean to each other?

A Social Model of Neurodiversity at Work

People often ask whether autism (or another neurodivergent condition) is a disability. I’d argue that it is more helpful to ask whether autistic people are disabled (to which my answer would be: in most cases, yes). It may seem a semantic distinction, but it is important: it locates the disablement not in the autistic person’s brain, but in the society they live in and the way the individual and society interact. Autism is not our disability: it may be an impairment, a difference, or some combination. Our disability is the difficulty that arises in our interaction with the specific society in which we live.

A Social Model of Neurodiversity at Work

Autism and Feminism

On top of that, among the things that autists tend to be no good at conforming to are gender norms. It is increasingly widely recognised that there is an intriguing correlation between autism and variant gender identities, but this is a far broader thing. Boys are expected to be competitive, in social games that are often beyond us. We are expected to enjoy team sports, when teams are baffling and most of us are dyspraxic or at least clumsy. We are expected to be part of a universal boys’ club by default, when for the most part other boys are no less alien to us than girls are.

All of this means that the average autistic boy suffers a good deal from the patriarchy. Male privilege means something quite different for someone able and willing to dominate others than it does for a socially confused autistic boy who just can’t get a handle on masculinity. It’s something else again for someone who’s got enough of a handle on masculinity to reject it outright.

Many of the things that men do, to the detriment of women, are things that autistic people are particularly prone to. Men too often talk over women, and fail to listen to what they say; autists tend to find it hard to know when to stop talking on topics of personal interest, and can be slow to process what other people are saying. This can manifest as extreme forms of what men do to women all the time. On the other hand, in autistic women and, to be fair, a large number of men, it can go the other way: staying quiet for fear of imposing or offending in some way.

Autism and Feminism

Giving is getting: the social ‘cure’ for autism (the power dynamics exposed).

Countless micro transactions take place on a daily basis in which invaluable commodities are exchanged. Good will is perhaps one of the most important commodities of all. In so very many contexts good will can be converted (somewhere along the line) into hard cash. Social fluency (of the dominant kind) creates the conditions for this powerful ‘alchemy’.

Without the means to wield this power autistic people can fall prey to a form of ‘social’ poverty which can create a devastating impact on a person over a lifetime, from infancy onwards, from the point at which a child’s babbling is labelled ‘not functional’.

Giving is getting: the social ‘cure’ for autism (the power dynamics exposed).

Musings on Cognitive Dissonance and Integrity

Then I step back and realize this belief is based on the fundamental attribution error: Blaming myself for something that is situational! We cannot live in full integrity in a culture that makes that impossible! The ultimate cultural trauma might just be that we are taught that we can, perpetually causing cognitive dissonance in us (belief 1: Reality is a certain way; belief 2: I have the power to change that reality)! The cultural norm of individualism is wounding us because we cannot find individual solutions to systemic problems and thus are always out of integrity, which can be painful for many of us.

Musings on Cognitive Dissonance and Integrity

Campfires in Dark Forests

Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity. As are other dark forests, like Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and on and on. This is where Facebook is pivoting with Groups (and trying to redefine what the word “privacy” means in the process).
These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments. The cultures of those spaces have more in common with the physical world than the internet.

Campfires in Dark Forests