Neurowhatever

An open letter to the person who sent me this message on OKC:*

“Vegan. Non-monogamous. If by neuro-atypical you mean neurodivergent, then I’m your girl.”

Actually no, I mean neuroatypical. A person is typical or atypical. Diversity is a quality which applies to groups, if you want to be pedantic.

But I don’t want to be pedantic. Like, as a rule. First, this isn’t really how language works, and I am never going to be the one pointing to the dictionary to defend myself. Lexicographers record language, they don’t invent it, and they have no claim to authority of meaning. A good lexicographer is merely trying her best to accurately capture the shared meaning(s) which already exist, not only historically, but as they develop.

What’s more important to me here is that this sort of terminology is always being cultivated, reconsidered, implicit meanings and connotations noted and factored in. The way we respond to those subtleties might be different, because the way we see ourselves, the world, and our…ahem…conditions might be different. There are good arguments on both or several sides of many of these discussions, but there simply isn’t consensus, and perhaps there doesn’t even need to be — those of us concerned with recognizing the value of difference ought especially to consider such a possibility. I don’t balk at a person identifying as neurodiverse — there are arguments to be made for that, for there being internal diversity, etc., and against the inclusion of “atypical,” which can seem too much a capitulation to NTs.

But that’s part of the issue: what we’re “really” talking about with all of this is normativity, and there’s no way to talk about how we’re not normative without acknowledging that normativity is a thing, even if it’s only a statistical thing, or an “imaginary” thing given inflated value by those with privilege.

What I do balk at is the sort of casual “did you mean x?” statement, with which you seem to presume you’ve found the “right” way to talk about it, and which tells me my way is wrong. You’re a stranger, and no matter how much our brains are similarly dissimilar, you don’t get to casually call out my self-identification. So we’ve established that you mean neurodiverse. That’s great. And we probably even “mean” the same thing. But I’m going to go right on ahead and identify in the way which seems best, until or unless I find something a little closer to the mark. Maybe if you think you have good arguments you could start by sharing them, rather than assuming (I’m assuming) that I’m just wrong.

Maybe you’ve also assumed I simply haven’t considered the matter much. Here’s the thing: if you’re dead certain you’ve found the only proper term, I can be pretty confident that you haven’t considered it much. I’m not committed to my terminology. I’m committed to a process of learning and negotiating which doesn’t involve assertions that I have it all figured out. Almost all of the (sad and disappointing) vitriol I see in these discussions come from this very issue: both people have thought through things, and having done so, assume anyone who comes to a different conclusion hasn’t, or is failing to do so properly. Can we maybe attempt to call upon our collective increased neuroplasticity, instead of our tendency to black-and-white thinking, and get the fuck above this shit? There are good arguments for using or not using language of ability, of diversity, of (a)typicality, for using particulars. And sometimes, something like consensus develops, and it’s best practice to follow it — like not using person-first language, etc. But in the other cases — which is a lot of them — can we maybe try to be a little more understanding, and to treat the process — which is always both personal and collective — as the living, breathing, largely-subjective discourse it is?

*I didn’t send this response, for a variety of reasons; first, explicating my thoughts here is one thing, but doing so in direct response could sound mansplain-ey, and I don’t want to do that. But that’s sort of the point: it’s not really a message I’m replying to, it’s a whole way of thinking within this discourse.