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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Erin

Neuroqueer Justice - a working draft

Updated: Mar 4

by courtney wade

This is based on the framework of Patty Berne's "Disability Justice - a working draft."

The work of all these amazing people has transformed me & I hope to honor their lineage by creating conditions for further neuroqueer transformation. Sending deep, gratitude-filled thank you's across time and space to Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Lydia XZ Brown, Aimi Hamraie, Dustin Gibson, Talila 'TL' Lewis, Mia Mingus, Patty Berne, Alice Wong, Sins Invalid, adrienne maree brown, Audre Lorde, Aurora Levins Morales, James Baldwin, Remi Yergeau, Liat Ben-Moshe, Angela Davis, Prentis Hemphill, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Ejeris Dixon, Moira Bailey, Sage Crump, Stefanie Lyn Kaufman-Mthimkhulu, Mimi Khúc, Imani Barbarin, Jen White-Johnson, Stacey Milbern, Stella Akua Mensah, Grace Ortez, Azza Altiraifi, Asantewaa Boykin, Yazan Za3za3, Kendra McLaughlin, Elizabeth Ellcessor, Nick Walker, Damien Milton, Steven Kapp, Kassiane Asasumasu, and Athena Lynn Michaels-Dillon.

The Neurodiversity Movement

Since its inception in the early 1990s, the Neurodiversity Movement has largely centered White, cis, heterosexual, able-bodied men - sometimes women, provided they bought into the gender binary & the sexism of mainstream Autism discourse. While the Neurodiversity Movement began as a (White-washed) political project, "neurodiversity" has since been institutionalized through the Movement's creation of a neurodiversity bureaucratic sector and societal co-option of the concept for virtue-signaling rhetoric used to advance capitalist, colonialist, and eugenic interests.

One of the two main strategies utilized by the Neurodiversity Movement could now be recognized as "neurodiversity cultural strategy."

"Cultural strategy is a field of practice that centers artists, storytellers, media makers and cultural influencers as agents of social change. Cultural strategy speaks to our broadest visions and highest hopes. In the realm of social justice, this means forging and preserving equitable, inclusive and just societies." [1]

Much of neurodiversity cultural strategy centered 'neurodiversity movement journalism' and autiebiographies. These narratives sought to tell Autistic stories and counteract harmful stereotypes of (White) Autistic people that pervaded popular American and UK culture - sometimes at the expense of other neurodivergent identities and communities. They were written uncritically, in the context of the Medical and Psy Industrial Complexes. Much of the early literature relied on cure or diagnostic discourse and erased intersecting identities - and, in turn, neurodivergent community members with intersecting identities.

Carceral Cultural Strategy & the Neurodiversity Movement

With this in mind, I would like to suggest the concept of 'carceral cultural strategy.' These early efforts of the Neurodiversity Movement, in addition to its other major strategy - the creation of a neurodiversity bureaucratic sector, were intended as a liberatory political project. However, the larger movement did not take a critical, intersectional, or anti-oppressive approach. Because of this, the cultural strategy aimed at forging an equitable, inclusive, and just society in/advertently furthered carceral logic and served to fulfill the mission of White Supremacy, capitalism, and the Medical, Psy, and Prison Industrial Complexes.

The idea of carceral cultural strategy also comes from the (divorcing) White Supremacy Culture source. Technically, White Supremacy engages in cultural strategy. Instead of being liberatory in nature, it serves to further supremacist, capitalist, and carceral aims. Naming carceral cultural strategy visibilizies this process, facilitates critical approaches, and highlights the end result of this type of strategy - carcerality.

The Conversation on Cultural Strategy with Jeff Chang, Liz Manne, & Erin Potts continues,

"Over the long term, cultural strategy cracks open, reimagines and rewrites fiercely-held narratives, transforming the shared spaces and norms that make up culture." [1]

This points us to continue in the lineage of the Neurodiversity Movement, but reimagine and rewrite previous fiercely-held narratives in order to transform our spaces into anti-racist, anti-oppressive, intersectional, and critical ones that strive for collective access and liberation.


Cliffhangers of the Neurodiversity Movement

Proponents of the Neurodiversity Movement are starting to acknowledge how the movement has neglected QTBIPOC in advocacy & community. However, these new narratives are only lightly edited and most of the content remains intact. They often fall back on language such as the "lack of" recognition of intersectionality and critical analysis or that QTBIPOC were "left out."

While all of this may be true, it obscures the real issue - an ongoing commitment to/unwillingness to divest from White Supremacy and the active oppression of neurodivergent people with intersecting historically-oppressed identities. The issue here is not scarcity or "lack" - the capacity for transformation is abundant. Recognizing patterns and understanding systems and complexity is *especially* abundant within the neuroqueer community. Nor is the issue passive - we must recognize the agency that the institution of neurodiversity has had in controlling the narrative of the movement and the ongoing violence in our community caused by "simply leaving people out."

While the Neurodiversity Movement made unprecedented and ground-breaking progress in the fight for neurodivergent rights, it has followed much of the same trajectory as the Disability Rights Movement in its use of creating a neurodiversity bureaucratic sector and engaging with State-sanctioned institutions to lobby for neurodivergent rights. This reliance on the State & leadership comprising largely of White, cis, heterosexual men and women leaves cliffhangers to be addressed in much the same way that Disability Justice addressed the cliffhangers of Disability Rights, with approaches such as:

  • centering QTBIPOC experiences & decentering White, cis, heterosexual experiences

  • identifying & understanding the infrastructure, underlying logics, rhetoric, & mechanisms of neurotypism & understanding how it intersects with other forms of oppression

  • exploring community-led alternatives that are intentionally designed outside the State & pairing these constructive abolitionist efforts with targeted strategies that dismantle neurotypist institutions

  • organizing a broad-based popular movement that centers the political & strives for solidarity instead of separation, i.e. with QTBIPOC & among Autistic, ADHD, Mad, non-speaking, intellectual disability, & TBI communities


Neuroqueer Justice is Disability Solidarity is Anti-Racist is Abolitionist

Disability Solidarity praxis also sought to address a cliffhanger - closing the gap between disability and racial justice. As disability, autistic, mad, & neuroqueer solidarity and neuroqueer justice flow from the lineage of disability solidarity, I want to make explicit that neuroqueer justice praxis is disability solidarity praxis is anti-racist praxis is abolitionist praxis.

While I will go into this further in another post, the characteristics of White Supremacy Culture are also characteristics of Neurotypical/Neuro-majority Supremacy Culture. Characteristics such as Belief in One Right Way, Either/Or Thinking, Worship of the Written Word, Quantity over Quality, and Perfectionism are at the core of neurotypism. By committing to neuroqueer justice, we also commit to anti-racist praxis. Neuroqueer justice must identify not only how these characteristics are functions of neurotypism, but also - and simultaneously - functions of anti-Black racism and racism more broadly. We must commit to a radical historical literacy that remains dedicated to intersectional epistemic justice.

While we pursue this ongoing anti-neurotypist and anti-racist education, we must create the conditions for neuroqueer justice, damn solidarity, and collective access and liberation - outside of the State. Grounding ourselves in transformative justice, abolitionist, and access-centered praxis, we can co-create new worlds, new universes, and new futures while dismantling existing oppressive systems. Neuroqueer justice follows a fractal praxis of neuroplasticity - of continuous transformation and growth towards what is practiced, like transformative and healing justice. It also follows a fractal praxis of dendritic arborization/branching - the non-linear process of neurons growing dendrites, or branches, in order to connect with other neurons, similar to the abolitionist concept of infinite different possibilities, futures, and universes with different suns (a la Octavia Butler) - outside of the State.


Disability Justice & Neuroqueer Justice: a venn diagram, not a circle

The Disability Justice movement has left a few cliffhangers in regards to neurodivergent/neuroqueer, Autistic, & Mad people as well. It seems as though disability justice activists who hold these identities make up the majority of those who are dedicated to neuroqueer justice work within DJ, isolated within their larger DJ communities. I think that part of this comes down to neurotypism in DJ communities - which makes sense, as we have not identified neurotypism as separate from ableism (or sanism). Similarly, those who hold these identities doing this work follow the narrative of DJ's origins - people doing the work in their communities as islands of neuroqueer justice, not connected to others doing the same. Things like punishing or shaming people for being late; forgetting things; not responding to emails within 24-hours; being 'awkward' or 'cringy;' engaging, relating, and communicating in socially unacceptable (non-neurotypical) ways are extremely entrenched in our society and even our justice movements.

Neurotypist micro/macroaggressions and systems of oppression are not as easily verbalized because of this entrenchment. This reality is grounded in the pervasive belief that carceral ideas of and responses to engagement, relating, and communicating are natural, warranted and necessary. Further, neuroqueer people are denied language representative of our experience throughout our lifetimes, as well as the agency to understand our true access needs and innate ways of engagement and embodiment. This partially stems from 'cure' rhetoric - for example, the accepted 'treatment' of 'autism' (ABA) was created by the same person who created conversion therapy. It follows the same premise - repressing and camouflaging ourselves until those around us no longer feel discomfort due to our existence. Like carceral logic, this logic isn't contained within treatment milieus or psychiatric institutions, it is the logic used by society to 'deal with' all neurodivergent people. Due to these barriers, an intentional effort by *both* neuroqueer and neurotypical people to explore the vastness of neuroqueer access needs in a fractal, scalable way, is necessary. Creating conditions where we don't cancel a person for things like engaging in 'cringy' behavior, but instead examine how 'cringy' can be an oppressive construct is an imperative of both neuroqueer justice and damn solidarity.


Especially in this time of COVID-19, we have the capacity to design "liberated zones" online and create community in virtual spaces. This is an invitation to build damn community, engage in radical discussions, and create the conditions for intersectional, anti-oppressive, anti-racist neuroqueer justice. We can strive towards multimodal embodiment and engagement; design futures where all types of communication, relation, movement, processing, and sociality are embraced; and achieve collective liberation - together.

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