(uplifting music) Hello, everyone.
00:23 - My name is Dave Osmundsen, he/him/his. I am a resident playwright with Spectrum Theater Ensemble, and I am really excited to be hosting this panel on the intersectionality between LGBTQ+ issues and disability.
00:42 - I am joined here by two amazing, amazing people/artists/humans.
00:50 - So before we dive into our conversation I want to give them the chance to introduce themselves and tell y’all a little bit about themselves.
01:01 - So, so Daman would you like to go first? Sure thing, the name you see there is my Facebook handle, but my name is Daman Neighbors and I am from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I was diagnosed late.
01:21 - But since then, I have been increasing my advocacy.
01:25 - I have planned to autistic-led symposiums here in the South.
01:31 - I’ve formed the Chattanooga Neuro-Diversity Alliance to educate about neuro-diversity and the deep South.
01:40 - And I also do speaking engagements. And the focus of my advocacy is the intersection of queerness, transness, and discussing gender and dating on the spectrum, as well as our vulnerabilities.
01:59 - I also do a lot of talking about the difficulties we face in institutions, like jails and rehabs.
02:10 - So thank you for having me. Thank you for joining us.
02:14 - Hayley? Hi, my name is Hayley St. James.
02:18 - My pronouns are they/them/theirs. I am a Boston-born, currently based in Boston, but normally, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, I would be in New York city.
02:26 - I am also like Dave. I am a playwright.
02:29 - I mostly write about myself and my communities to make sure that they’re represented truthfully.
02:37 - So I mostly write neuro-divergent, queer, I write characters that live truthful lives.
02:46 - I write characters that I hope other people who are like me can see themselves in.
02:52 - I had a reading with Pride Place last summer through New York, in New York.
02:59 - It was virtual, it was an industry reading of my play, “For Leonora, or, Companions”, which is a queer, autistic love story, magical realism.
03:10 - I mostly just, like most of the pandemic, just writing and honing my craft and I’m really thrilled to be here (chuckling).
03:21 - Great, well, we are really thrilled to have both of you here.
03:24 - So the first kind of jumping off point or question that I want to pose is, in terms of media representation of either neuro-divergent or disabled people, a lot of the narratives tend to focus almost exclusively on straight white men.
03:50 - I can only think of a few where queerness plays a part into it, like Netflix’s special, for example, which is very good, if you haven’t watched it.
04:00 - But then you have shows like, “The Good Doctor” and “Atypical”, where it’s centered on straight white men.
04:06 - Mm-hmm. And I’m curious why, as queer folk, why do you both think this has been the dominant central narrative in the media for so long, despite statistics reporting that neuro-divergent people especially, are likelier to identify as LGBTQ+.
04:27 - And it’s kind of a big question we’re diving right in here. I feel like it’s pretty simple that we live in a incredibly patriarchal cis-het white society.
04:36 - And unfortunately, they dictate a lot of the media and what we see in the media and what’s presented to the population.
04:44 - And unfortunately, since so much of the science for so long had always just focused on the cis-het white male people with the diagnoses, that’s what we ended up seeing in the media, unfortunately, since so much of it is based on that very small percentage of the population as opposed to the entire queer autistic population or just autistic population in general, they mostly just get stereotyped and whatever representation we get in the media, so much of it, unfortunately, is the same stereotype.
05:19 - So, the man-child or the savant. Mm-hmm.
05:22 - Those are the big two that we always get, which is very annoying.
05:25 - I don’t watch “The Good Doctor” or “Atypical”, because I know that their representation of people with autism will set me off.
05:32 - I did grow up watching a lot of “The Big Bang Theory”, even though Sheldon and Amy are not, like, canonically autistic, they were the closest thing to representation presentation (chuckling) that I had on TV growing up as a teenager, really.
05:45 - So I’m so grateful for that show, even though I don’t really love the writing on the show, those two characters were the most consistently well-written, I thought, and still pretty much like, I mean, they’re not perfect.
05:57 - I will not defend them outright, but I still appreciate them as a comfort watch.
06:02 - But yeah, unfortunately it’s just the patriarchy, really.
06:05 - (Daman chucking) I absolutely agree.
06:08 - My first impressions of seeing people like me on screen were a little earlier and far more insultingly stereotypical.
06:20 - It was things like Steve Urkel. Oh.
06:25 - And I knew that I had things in common with him and that I was a stereotype.
06:30 - And that happens when you’re queer, too. Before there was Ellen and everything, you would just see Paul Lynde and “The Hollywood Squares” and you’d go, “Hmm,” you know? Yeah.
06:45 - Other damaging images in the media that I’ve seen were on “Saturday Night Live”.
06:51 - Mm-hmm. They did, “Larry, the Effeminate Heterosexual”, was a running skit on “SNL”, as was “It’s Pat. ” “It’s Pat” (disgusted sighing).
07:03 - Yeah, yeah. Which was not only a cruel stereotype of nonbinary people, it was also a cruel stereotype of autistic people.
07:17 - Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And that whole nerdy, kind of androgynous thing.
07:23 - Yes, mm-hmm. So, that’s what I was basing things on (chuckling) growing up.
07:27 - And it wasn’t until I was completely full-grown and already a blackout drunk that I first heard the term, “nonbinary”, Mm-hmm.
07:37 - And it was such a relief, because I finally had a word.
07:41 - I was always like, “I don’t fit either. “I don’t know what’s going on. ” But it was such a relief to finally see younger generations Mm-hmm.
07:50 - Leading the way on defining. Yeah. Other than just L’s and G’s, you know (chuckling)? (everyone laughing) Yeah, it’s funny because I never, I watched a lot of clips from Urkel as a kid, because I enjoyed Jaleel White, because I had a “Sonic the Hedgehog” phase Mm-hmm.
08:05 - When I was in middle school. So I was like, “Oh, Jaleel White versus Sonic the Hedgehog, “I’m gonna watch a bunch of Urkel stuff. ” I never really caught on that Urkel was an autistic stereotype.
08:17 - I just thought he’s like the classy nerd character.
08:19 - Mm-hmm. But the more I do think about it, so much of the media that depicts nerd characters, does have an overlap with autistic characters, as I said, “The Big Bang Theory”.
08:29 - It’s funny, because, for me, I don’t think, I didn’t fully realized I was nonbinary until only about four years a ago, really, maybe a little bit before then.
08:41 - But recently I’ve been thinking about things or actors that I really hyper-fixated on growing up.
08:48 - And recently, because it’s been 20 years since “Spy Kids” came out.
08:52 - And when I was in high school I was obsessed with Alan Cumming.
08:57 - Mm-hmm! Because I was like, “Oh, he’s so delightful “and flamboyant (Daman giggling) “and androgynous, and he’s this fabulous Scottish, “imp man, I love him, he’s amazing. ” I saw him on Broadway in a bunch of things and I thought he was super cool, but I didn’t really think anything about it, in terms like gender.
09:12 - It was like, “Oh, I just think he’s neat. ” And then when I graduated high school, during my first gap year, I saw the off-Broadway production of “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” and that was the first time I ever saw Lucas Steele, who played Anatole.
09:29 - And I had never seen this person before. And he walks in and he’s this beautiful, androgynous, alien-looking, blonde boy and I’m like, “Who are you?” (Daman giggling) “I will follow you anywhere. ” And that was the first time I really ever felt gender envy.
09:44 - Mm-hmm. So as the years went on and “Great Comet” moved to Broadway and I saw it a bunch and I was like, “I’m gonna cosplay Anatole, I wanna cosplay Anatole.
09:52 - “Anatole just is super cool, I love Lucas Steele, “he’s so cool. ” And when I started really doing that I was like, “Wait a second, this feels right. ” I don’t know there’s just something about him that just feels correct for me, I don’t know.
10:06 - He became a bit of a muse. But then he said an interview that he was trying to channel David Bowie’s sort of androgyny and transcending gender.
10:15 - I’m like, “Oh, transcending gender? “I really like that.
10:18 - “I feel that, that’s how I feel, I think. “That’s how I feel. ” And I had to juggle with that for a while.
10:23 - Because it was like, “Am I nonbinary? “I don’t know, am I deminonbinary?” (everyone giggling) So most of 2017 I was like, “I’m deminonbinary “You can use they/them pronouns for me sometimes.
10:32 - “I’ll tell you when I feel like it. ” But then by 2018 I was like, “No, this is me.
10:36 - “I’m nonbinary, I transcend gender. ” Thanks, Lucas Steele.
10:41 - And I got to tell Lucas last January. He was in show off-Broadway that I saw a lot, right before the shutdown.
10:49 - And I was just really grateful I could tell him that he was sort of, I saw him and I was like, “Yeah, I realized,” and I’m just really grateful for that.
11:00 - But I can’t really think of queer, nonbinary.
11:07 - I didn’t really get to see it a lot as a child.
11:09 - I just sort of imprinted on actors who they gave me those vibes, even though they may not even be nonbinary.
11:14 - I just like, “Wow, I feel that, that’s myself. ” I don’t know.
11:19 - Yeah, I often, sorry, Daman. Mm-hmm.
11:22 - Oh yeah, I just thought of a few things. I have always kind of known I was nonbinary, but didn’t really understand the fully extent of what that meant.
11:35 - (Hayley and Dave murmuring in agreement) Until later on, after I had gotten my autism diagnosis.
11:40 - And I had begun the process of unmasking 40 years.
11:45 - Mm-hmm, yeah. Of personas. I bought pink everything and was hyper-fem except when I couldn’t stand it anymore and I cut all my hair off.
11:58 - And a lot of the that is because of, particularly disabled queer people are dependent on family.
12:08 - And (scoffing) you have to be a certain way.
12:12 - Mm-hmm. Especially, I come from a part of the country that, especially in my early teen and teen years, was having a toxic discourse Mm-hmm. About LGBTQ people.
12:28 - And it’s never really let up, but the gender roles were very demarcated.
12:34 - And that is so much a part of my mask, being feminine and being neuro-typical, that it was only when I processed my autism I was able to go, “Okay, well that doesn’t really explain “everything I’ve been going through.
12:54 - “I’ve been going through a lot of things. ” Self-harm and eating disorders and substance abuse and just never being able to work, and it was always hard to know whether people were being nasty to me because I’m odd or because I’m gender nonconforming.
13:15 - And it was just (laughing), Mm-hmm.
13:18 - It didn’t matter how femme I dressed, it came through.
13:20 - Mm-hmm. Other queer people would just look at me and go, you know? Because I was dating men and I still do.
13:30 - And that’s very confusing (laughing). Mm-hmm, I- “Something’s going on with you” (chuckling).
13:36 - I was diagnosed when I was very young, but I wasn’t aware, I wasn’t made fully aware of my diagnosis until I was about 16 or so.
13:44 - So most of my life I had the same psychologist, or psychiatrist really, from elementary school into my first two years of college, which, looking back, was not really ideal considering I should have had one every, between, you know, elementary school, then middle school, then high school.
14:02 - Should have had one when that grew and changed with me and not had the same one throughout, because I was just under the assumption until I was 16 that I just had very, very high functioning ADHD.
14:10 - And so yeah, when I was in school, for the most time, I was kind of oblivious to, I wasn’t even really sure if I really had bullies or people who made fun of me.
14:19 - I mean, maybe one or two I was definitely aware of, but mostly I was just kind of obvious to everything because I was so bad at reading social cues that I just sort of assumed everybody thought I was fine, at least.
14:32 - And now looking back, I’m like, “Did people just tolerate me?” I not even fully aware.
14:35 - Mm-hmm. And I didn’t really fully start to unmask until I left for college for the first time.
14:39 - And I started to like, not have to live with my parents and went to live on my own, and I was like, because my senior year of high school, I took AP Psychology.
14:47 - And that was when I was like, “Wait a second, yeah, no. ” I was like, “Autism, yeah. ” I read up on it in my textbooks, took out books.
14:54 - I was like, “Yeah, yeah, this completely tracks.
14:57 - “How did I not fully realize this sooner?” (chuckling) And then by that time, I finally live on my own.
15:03 - I’m in college. I mean, the first two years of college were awful and theater saved my life.
15:07 - And I realized I was going to be a playwright, not an actor.
15:10 - And I became more comfortable in being open about my labels and open about my autism.
15:17 - And from there I just have been a lot more, just I’m grateful that I don’t really have to mask anymore, but at the same time, since the pandemic has happened, I finished college, literally a month before the pandemic started, I graduated.
15:34 - Because it took me a few years, had to transfer schools.
15:37 - So by the time I graduated, and like I’m living in New York.
15:40 - I’m finally doing what I love, I’m independent.
15:42 - And then boom, pandemic. I have to move back home in the middle of the summer.
15:47 - I immediately start regressing and it’s been really hard, but I’m just grateful that like, I mean, today we’re literally recording on World Autism Day and it’s been really, really cathartic to be able to just talk about the experience of being autistic.
16:09 - Yeah. And not being afraid of having to mask.
16:12 - And I mean, granted, Yeah. I mean, I wish World Autism Day was every day, because it should be.
16:17 - Yeah, I think you’re getting at something really interesting, Hayley, about how your relationship with both your queerness and your autism has kind of evolved over time.
16:28 - Yeah. And that just gets me thinking a lot about my relationship to my own autism.
16:34 - Mm-hmm. And my own queerness, because, like you, I was diagnosed very young and I knew about my diagnosis when I was very young, and it was kind of portrayed to me as a defect of mine, almost, or something to be overcome.
16:53 - So I kind of framed my own story the way that everyone around me framed it, as like that great story of triumph, but then when I got to college, like you, I also had a very, my undergrad experience was rough.
17:07 - Mm-hmm. My grad school experience was a lot better.
17:09 - But especially the first year of undergrad.
17:12 - Mm-hmm. It was rough. Yup, yup. And I was just like, “I don’t feel like I have overcome “anything, even at this point in my life. ” Mm-hmm.
17:25 - And in terms of representation, a lot of the narratives, a lot of the autism narratives that I had kind of, I guess consumed or, either that was presented to me, were stories of parents who had to take care of autistic children. Mm-hmm, autism.
17:44 - And not really stories about- The autistic characters themselves.
17:49 - Exactly. Yeah. And on one hand, like, Sarah Kurchak wrote about this beautifully in her memoir where she and her mother are in Vegas and she’s experiencing sensory overload.
18:04 - And her mother reaches out to touch her and she kind of jerks away and she has to go to a bathroom to calm down.
18:14 - Mm-hmm. And she writes the story of the mother questioning if her child loves her, can’t bear her touch.
18:21 - That’s the moving story that wins awards, but there’s this whole other story going on.
18:28 - Mm-hmm. And it never really occurred to me, I had to think about, “Was this my parents’ struggle “or was this my struggle?” Because I was the one going through all this.
18:37 - Mm-hmm. That actually leads me to my next question.
18:43 - I know we like to talk a lot about problematic portrayals Mm-hmm. Of autism and queerness in the media.
18:51 - But I kind of wanna shift to what are some of the least problematic or best examples of neuro-divergent, and/or disabled LGBTQ representations you have seen in the media? I will start off with that it’s slowly getting better.
19:11 - There’s more of a, I don’t know, a zeitgeist a consciousness Mm-hmm.
19:19 - Of what neuro-diversity is. And one of the portrayals I like the best are Rue and Jules in “Euphoria”. Oh, “Euphoria”.
19:29 - Yeah. Oh yeah, great show. Yeah. Still need to watch it.
19:33 - Yeah. But I love Zendaya and Hunter Schafter.
19:35 - When they’re introducing Jules character, it is about kind of her trans journey, but it also, she is described as having very specific autism symptoms.
19:47 - Recurring thoughts that you can’t, having trouble forming words.
19:53 - And with Rue, so many of her things might be attributable to something like bipolar disorder or something, but she is very heavily coded for neuro-divergency.
20:04 - And they are both queer. Mm-hmm. And it’s a very touching relationship.
20:10 - Mm-hmm. And I just really enjoyed that representation.
20:14 - For me, it’s kind of interesting, because it kind of ties into my play that I wrote, “For Leonora, or, Companions. ” But there’s a wonderful show on Freeform called, “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay”, which is the first time that I, one, have seen an actually autistic actor play an autistic character, let alone multiple actually autistic actors playing actually autistic characters.
20:41 - And so the show, if you don’t know, is about an Australian guy played by Josh Thomas.
20:46 - He’s gay and he finds out his stepdad has passed away and he has to move to America and take care of his stepsisters who are teenagers in high school.
20:57 - And one of them, her name is Genevieve and she’s definitely coded as having some sort of anxiety or depression.
21:05 - And she’s wonderful, but her older sister is named Matilda.
21:11 - And she’s played by Kayla Cromer, who is actually autistic, and Matilda is autistic.
21:15 - And she’s a teenager and she’s figuring out things about her sexuality for the first time.
21:20 - And throughout the course of the first season, she realizes that she likes girls.
21:24 - And there’s another autistic girl in her class at school named Drea, and they fall in love and it’s really, really wholesome and feels very authentic.
21:37 - And as someone who is an autistic lesbian and who has been longing to see, because, yeah, there are some autistic gay characters in things.
21:49 - I can’t really name them off the top of my head, but in definitely plays, for example, Dave, your wonderful play, “Light Switch”, which I love so much.
21:56 - But seeing Matilda and Drea’s relationship was the first time that I had felt completely seen by a television show.
22:04 - Not only just because the characters, but the actors were also autistic.
22:08 - So it was extra authentic. Mm-hmm. And it was really beautiful.
22:12 - And actually, they’re doing a panel right now with Autism Society on Facebook about season two, that, obviously, I can’t be at right now.
22:18 - But hopefully it’s good and they talk more about Matilda and Drea’s relationship in season two, because I’m concerned, because, I don’t know, TV loves to do dram and be like, “Oh wait, maybe that was just season one.
22:28 - “Maybe they’ll break up. ” I don’t want them to break up, I love them.
22:31 - But that show, at that point, the only other autistic lesbians that I’d seen in any media was a play I’d written myself, which was, “For Leonora, or, Companions”.
22:41 - And so, when it got chosen by Pride Plays to have an equity reading, they were like, “Okay, so you’re gonna be part of the casting process.
22:49 - “Give us names, who do you want in these roles?” And I was immediately like, “I want Kayla.
22:53 - “I want Kayla or Lillian,” who plays Drea. “I want either of them as Nora,” who is our autistic main character in “For Leonora, or, Companions”, and I got to work with Lillian, which was incredible.
23:06 - And she was such a gift to work with. She was so wonderful and she felt seen by my work.
23:12 - Mmm. Which was all that really matter to me more than anything.
23:15 - Like, “Oh hey, I’m getting industry reading.
23:16 - “That’s super cool. ” No, I was getting an actual autistic actor to work on a piece about an actually autistic character, that I’d put a year and a half of my life into writing.
23:25 - I wrote this play, most of it, in college. It wasn’t my senior thesis piece, but it was a piece I spent most of my last year and a half of school working on and writing.
23:33 - I submitted it to the festival on a whim, so when I found out I got in, I was very overwhelmed.
23:39 - But the fact that I got to work with someone who is actually autistic, who is also play an actual autistic character on a nation-wide television show, just, it felt really, really, really good.
23:51 - And “Everything’s Gonna be Okay” is such a wonderful show and I’m really grateful that it’s on TV and got a second season, because so many things I love rarely get renewed for things.
24:01 - Or now their cult things. But this show is popular enough to get a second season.
24:04 - And I’m really happy that it’s normalizing not only autistic rep, but queer autistic rep, which is so, so important to me.
24:12 - And as I said, your play is an incredible play.
24:14 - No, I think you’re really tapping into something Hayley, about how you’re able to create your own representation, which then allows other performers, who are at those intersections that representation as well.
24:34 - So it’s like you give them that gift and then they have that and you’re able to provide the representation that you want to see.
24:41 - I think that’s really, really incredible. That kind of leads me to my next question.
24:45 - So, when you are going about representing the perspective of someone who is disabled, neuro-divergent, and LGBTQ, what goes into representing them from your own, either autistic or advocacy practices? Mm-hmm.
25:09 - Well, I’m not a playwright (chuckling) and I don’t create characters, but there’s a lot of things I would like to see.
25:19 - I would like, gosh, in “The Queen’s Gambit” there is a trans character who is just the piano music teacher at the academy.
25:31 - Mm-hmm. And it was so good to see representation like that, because it wasn’t about her being trans, it was about her being the music teacher.
25:40 - And I would just like more intersectional characters to be represented because it seems like when you’re doing characterization in a show or a movie, everybody is just kind of like, there’s just one difference for each person, you know? And they’re parceled out and it doesn’t ever express the complexity that is within an individual.
26:08 - And I would just like to see more complex characters.
26:13 - And I think that’s going to help a lot of us deal with our multiple things.
26:21 - I agree. For me, when writing autistic characters, because so far I’ve written three autistic characters between my two full-length plays, because in my other full-length play, “A Godawful Small Affair”, it’s not outright stated in the text, but it’s definitely, it’s in the character description and it can be pretty much inferred that, oh, Luca, who is a nonbinary stoner, who is visited by the ghost of David Bowie is autistic.
26:51 - Their big hyper-focus is David Bowie. For me, like any of my characters who tend to have hyper-fixation/special interests.
26:58 - I do my own dramaturgy on my work, so far anyway, because I haven’t gotten to work with professional dramaturgies yet.
27:03 - So I do a lot of my own self-dramaturgy and not only making sure that like the elements of their autism are represented truthfully.
27:11 - So like, oh, this character stim? Does this character, what if they’re hyper-fixation or special interest? Do they have specific texture things? Do they have sensory processing things? I really get put into consideration a lot of these things.
27:24 - I take lots of elements from my fellow friends who are on the autism spectrum, because I have friends of all places on the spectrum, which is wonderful.
27:33 - I mean, neuro-divergency in general. I’d say a solid 90%, if not 99% of my friends neuro-divergent in some capacity.
27:42 - So I really take into consideration like, “Oh, have any of my characters explored this before?” “No?” Okay, I’m gonna really, I like to research.
27:52 - I wanna make sure my characters are as truthful as possible and when it comes to their hyper-fixation/special interests, I deep dive myself.
27:59 - I end up gaining Mmm. Sometimes, a new special interest or hyper-fixation.
28:04 - In “For Lenora, or, Companions”, Nora’s special interest is the Oz book.
28:08 - I, myself, had a massive special interest in the Oz books when I was in elementary school/middle school.
28:13 - And then it came back to me when I was in college when I moved to New York and I could go to Books of Wonder, which is a children’s bookstore that actually specializes in antique children’s books.
28:22 - And the Oz books is kind of one of their flagship, like, “We print these on demand, so we have a lot of them. ” And I could actually finish my collection after 14 years, which was very cool.
28:32 - But and for “Godawful Small Affair”, Luca’s obsession with David Bowie, for me, I always was aware of David Bowie, and this ties into the nonbinary and gender stuff, being able to really deep dive into David Bowie and realize, “Wow”, he was like my muse, in kind of transcending gender and just doing art for art’s sake.
28:56 - And just sort just presenting as this, it’s David Bowie.
29:01 - Kind of impossible to describe, because he’s just that freaking cool.
29:05 - But really getting to deep-dive into that and channel my thoughts and feelings about becoming, having a special interest in this person for the first time, into this character who’s also autistic.
29:16 - It’s just, I love doing this. I love doing this as part of the research and the editing process of my plays.
29:23 - It’s like my favorite thing, actually. It’s harder to write the actual script than it is to sort of create my characters, because the character stuff is just so natural for me, because these characters are parts of me and I just try to, as I say, I make the characters as truthful as possible.
29:38 - They’re from my life. And as I said, I try to make my own representation.
29:41 - So I’m just, it’s really all I do with my work.
29:46 - Mm-hmm. So representation’s like your own form of advocacy, Yeah. Hayley, you would say? That’s actually, yes.
29:52 - Between that and my constant sharing fellow autistic people’s stuff on social media.
30:00 - Supporting other trans, autistic, and queer, and lots of overlap.
30:06 - I went to your production at ASU, the virtual production.
30:10 - Thank you. I mean, it was wonderful.
30:15 - I was honored to be there. I mean, I’m just trying to support as many fellow queer, autistic creators as possible.
30:21 - There’s a lot of overlap, especially in the circles of Twitter that I’m in.
30:25 - So it’s really nice to be able to support fellow queer, autistic people.
30:31 - And that’s really, yeah, my advocacy is supporting others but also creating stuff, which is my own advocacy.
30:41 - Great, so Daman kind of already answered this question, but I’m curious what you both kind of hope for disabled, neuro-divergent, LGBTQ+ representation in the future.
30:57 - Not just in the media, but also in real life in general.
31:02 - Yeah. (Hayley and Daman chuckling) Well, recently there was the big kerfuffle over Sia’s movie.
31:10 - (David grumbling in frustration) Yeah. Oh, sorry.
31:12 - Have to be neutral. No, we don’t have to be neutral about that. We don’t have to be neutral (laughing). (everyone laughing) I will say, I just did an interview somewhere, and they asked me what they thought of that movie.
31:22 - I was so glad I had seen it because I could go off about it and be like, (Hayley laughing) “Yes, I’ve seen it, so I can actually back up my opinion. ” That’s excellent. “This film really is beep. ” Anyway (chuckling).
31:35 - Yeah, yeah, this is a no good things to say about Sia’s music film (laughing).
31:42 - But about that, it’s just, I hope that the industry learns a little bit about how badly it can go when you do not consult autistic people Mm-hmm. Mmm.
31:57 - When you’re putting together an artistic endeavor, you know? Yeah.
32:01 - It’s just (scoffing), the most frustrating thing about advocacy for me, is just I was already having to go plenty of rounds with people to be heard, just being female (chuckling). Mm-hmm.
32:14 - And then I came out as autistic. And now I’m trans-masculine nonbinary.
32:21 - And it’s just like there’s all these layers of trying to be heard.
32:26 - Mmm. And I think artist who are creating, especially drama and stories, that’s just so many hurdles.
32:36 - And of course, I would love to see more actually autistic actors, and producers, Mm-hmm.
32:44 - And camera crews. Yup. I think that would be amazing.
32:49 - Yeah, God, ugh, yeah. The best, honestly, the best non-fiction representation of autism I’ve seen in the past year is, “I Am Greta”.
32:59 - Yes! Yes. I love Greta. I still need to see that. Greta’s wonderful.
33:03 - It’s so, I haven’t watched it. Yeah, it showed how we all struggle, but we also shouldn’t be praised for doing things that regular people do, like going to a dance.
33:17 - Mm-hmm. Mmm. Or something like that, but we should be recognized for the things we are doing that are extraordinary.
33:25 - But with respect to how much more difficult that is for us to pull off in the first place.
33:32 - So that’s what I would like to see. I’m absolutely here for all of that.
33:35 - I wanna plug a friend of mine. My friend Emily, who has cerebral palsy.
33:40 - She is in a movie that premiered at this year’s, was it South by Southwest? It won screenplay award at South by Southwest last year, even though it was “canceled”.
33:50 - But it’s actually coming out fairly soon on digital.
33:53 - It’s a movie called “Best Summer Ever”. It’s from a company called Zeno Mountain Farm.
33:57 - And they’re super committed to having an entirely inclusive, integrated, abled and disabled cast.
34:05 - And it’s a movie musical. And the cast is a mix of a lot of disabled actors and abled actors.
34:12 - And it looks really, really cute and wholesome and delightful.
34:17 - And there’s actually disabled voices working behind the scenes, on the scenes, co-writing it, everything.
34:24 - I read a review, it basically said, this is basically everything Sia wanted to make, but couldn’t.
34:30 - (David laughing) And I was like, “Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel. ” So I’m really looking forward to that movie, because it’s gonna be really nice to see such a big step.
34:40 - I don’t know how mainstream it’s gonna be, but I’m just really happy that this movie is being made and is coming out.
34:46 - They filmed it in 2017, so it took them years until they found a distributor.
34:50 - Mmm. It was going around festivals and stuff.
34:52 - And I’m so happy it finally got a distributor.
34:54 - I’m very looking forward to that. But on top of that, just in general, obviously, more actually autistic, neuro-divergent, disabled characters in any sort of media, everything, really.
35:06 - I mean, and also, just not even media. Like, I mean, obviously I would love to see more autistic and queer people in our government.
35:17 - I saw a thing, I can’t remember, I think she’s a senator from Delaware, and she’s one of the first trans senators or representatives in Congress, which is super cool.
35:32 - There’s just a lot of, I mean, again, Mayor Pete is now, he’s Secretary of Transportation Pete, which is awesome.
35:40 - We have a gay man in a major cabinet position.
35:43 - Just super great. But obviously, it would be just really nice to see more openly queer and autistic people and disabled people running for office, I just.
35:55 - I agree, I think it’s- I hate that this country is- We need fully representation in society, you know? Yup.
36:03 - Legal representation. Legal representation.
36:06 - Mm-hmm. We need representation in mental health services.
36:09 - Mm-hmm. We need to support autistic and neuro-divergent people who are having trouble in academia.
36:18 - Yeah. I got a full scholarship to college, full ride, and I had trouble with the transition from high school to college.
36:27 - Ended up losing that scholarship, and I have most of a special education degree, actually.
36:35 - Mm-hmm. That’s where I found out about Asberger’s Syndrome as it was called then.
36:40 - Mm-hmm. You know? (laughing) Not until I was full-grown and in grad school, you know? Mm-hmm.
36:45 - I was just like, “Oh, that’s it!” But I wholly encourage people I know, people within my network and the advocacy community, who aren’t just doing advocacy work.
36:59 - My best friend is a neuro-divergent trans woman who is just about to graduate from law school Amazing. And go do an internship in New York at the Center for Constitutional Rights.
37:11 - Yeah! And we’re just really spit-balling a lot of ideas.
37:16 - Mm-hmm. About how to make things better in general.
37:20 - And yeah. I hope we get more neuro-divergent and people in academia as well.
37:30 - Right now I’m taking online musical theater writing classes and I’m taking a music theory sort of course with an actor friend of mine.
37:37 - And they are the first, as far as I know, queer and neuro-divergent teacher that I’ve had, ever, that’s both.
37:45 - I’ve had a few- Open queer and neuro-divergent. Openly.
37:48 - Openly neuro-divergent is the big thing. I’ve had a few openly queer teachers before. Mm-hmm.
37:52 - Mostly in high school and college. But not until post-college, when I’m taking classes for maybe an associate’s degree and I get a teacher who is also a friend of mine, but is also just the first openly neuro-divergent and queer teacher I’ve had is super cool.
38:10 - Yeah, when I was, for a class that I was TA’ing a couple of years ago, at the beginning of the semester we were asked to share a little bit about ourselves.
38:21 - And I was like, “Okay, what can I say about me “that’s actually interesting?” “Oh, I’m autistic? “Okay, I’ll say that. ” So I kind of off-handedly said, “I was diagnosed with Asberger’s when I was three.
38:33 - “I’m autistic. ” And that was kind of that for me. Mm-hmm.
38:36 - But then after the class, I had like three different students come up to me and say, “Hey, I’m autistic, too.
38:43 - “So thank you for being open about it. ” Yeah. And I was like, “Oh my God, this,” Yeah. People are actually impacted by that, and it was something that I didn’t even think about, so that’s why whenever I’m teaching I try to tell my students, “If you never met a queer, neuro-divergent person, “congratulations, now you have. ” I love that, I love that so much.
39:03 - It’s really interesting, in the past year, since I’ve started having plays having readings and whatnot, and since I joined New Play Exchange and my stuff is out there and I openly have it in my bio, it’s the first thing in, like, all my bios in everything, that like, “Hi, I’m an actually autistic, nonbinary lesbian. ” Like, “Hi, this is what I do. ” But in the past, like, two months already this year, between January and April, I’ve had two separate people DM me, saying, “Oh hey, so my college acting teacher,” like, “We were reading your play ‘Leonora’ in our class, “and I got to read it and this is the first time “I’ve felt seen by theater before, “so thank you for writing.
” And helping other students, because I mostly write for younger audiences, for the most part, but like, my generation, because I am a ‘94, I’m born in ‘94.
39:54 - So I’m like, I mean, technically I’m a millennial, but I feel closer to a Zennial, just because, I mean, I’m on the autism spectrum, so I tend to, my hyper fixations and my interests tend to be often a little younger than my actual age.
40:11 - So I’m very aware of that. And even most of my internet friends are younger than me.
40:18 - Most people don’t realize I am nearly 27, because I just am so effervesce.
40:23 - And it’s one of the perks, in a way, of being autistic, is that, I don’t know, sometimes people either think you’re really mature for your age, or you’re actually really, really useful and kind of in that sort of middle zone of, I don’t know.
40:38 - And it’s kind of nice, because as a nonbinary person it’s like, “Wow, that’s kind of the ideal really.
40:42 - “Because I’m not super young, I’m not super old, “and I’m just not really a gender.
40:46 - “I’m just sort of here and I exist and it’s cool. ” And I feel really empowered by that.
40:51 - I don’t know, just- So strange how you were mentioning about about seeming or looking younger or older.
41:00 - When I was a child, I was considered extremely mature, professorial.
41:06 - Yup. I got along better with adults.
41:09 - Same! I never got along with kids my own age. Mm-hmm.
41:12 - Me too! I was that kid who was best friends with their teachers.
41:16 - Mm-hmm. Same. Me too. When I was in high school, really specifically, all my history teachers were like my best friends.
41:23 - I was an English teacher. I am a writer, I just write non-fiction and I have a blog and stuff. Mm-hmm, amazing.
41:30 - But as far as representation goes, y’all are a little younger.
41:36 - I cannot tell you how vastly different my life, my adult life would have gone.
41:43 - I have not been mentally stable until about four or five years ago after I finally got out of the criminal justice and rehab system the last time.
41:57 - But it’s because I never saw myself. And if I saw vague and often insulting representations of myself, that was negative.
42:08 - It taught me to hate myself more. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
42:11 - And if you can’t see yourself, you can’t know yourself.
42:17 - And it just contributed to my general dysphoria with the rest of the world, you know? Everybody knew I was different in these odd, sort of vague, undefinable ways, but there was no name for it.
42:37 - And because of when I was born, I was not diagnosed in childhood, because it just wasn’t considered, especially since the new science hadn’t trickled down to the deep South.
42:50 - And I am female, assigned female at birth. Mm-hmm.
42:54 - But otherwise, I was such a stereotypical little autistic boy, you know (giggling)? Wow, yup! It was just, I had boy interests.
43:04 - I was into dinosaurs Mm-hmm. Big time and science-fiction and trucks and, Mm-hmm.
43:10 - But of course just being, learning to put on the mask for neuro-divergency, you learned to put on the mask on your gender, too.
43:20 - Yeah, I mean, when I was growing up, most of my, it’s funny, still to this day, yeah, I’m a lesbian.
43:28 - I love women, I love nonbinary lesbians. I just, it’s interesting because so many of my hyper-fixations and special interests have been very male-masc oriented.
43:40 - And as someone who is, I consider myself, I’m mean, at least, masc of center, because I don’t really consider myself having a gender at all.
43:48 - I’m just very proudly androgynous. But when I was a kid, yeah, I was big into dinosaurs, big into marine biology Mm-hmm.
43:57 - And, I don’t know, fantasy books and science-fiction books.
44:00 - And I played a lot of Pokemon. I still play a lot of Pokemon.
44:03 - Video games, in general. Like I said, big, weird Sonic the Hedgehog phase in middle school.
44:08 - I mean, most of my friends were like, I mean, I had three best friends who were girls.
44:14 - And they’re still my best friends. But so many of my friends growing up were boys.
44:20 - And then, once I figured out stuff that sexuality and figured out I was not really into guys, or at least figuring out slowly that I was not into guys, because, you know, trial and error.
44:31 - But by the time I fully figured out, came into my own, figured out everything about my identity and my persona and who I am, it all really kind of really clicks and makes sense.
44:43 - Like as looking back like, “Oh wow, I had this “hyper-fixation on Alan Cumming. ” Like, “Yeah, that makes sense, because I’m “super, super queer and super androgynous. ” I just, I definitely had a lot of those.
44:56 - And I didn’t even realize I was masking until I fully came into my own. Mm-hmm.
45:01 - I just sort of, as I said, I was so oblivious to reading social clues, I didn’t know I was masking.
45:06 - I didn’t know that I was autistic. And oh, after school I’d go to this social pragmatics groups and have specific doctor, they weren’t even doctors.
45:17 - Just therapist people who I’d go and talk to.
45:20 - And they’d talk to me about social stuff and I guess I played along.
45:23 - But I thought all kids in my generation did that.
45:26 - And then when I realized, “No wait, that was just me. ” Like, I knew I was in one or two classes in school that were specifically for special needs kids, but I was like, “Yeah, “because I have really bad ADHD, okay?” But then once I fully was like, “Yeah no, it’s autism, it’s Asberger’s. ” I really hate using the term ‘Asberger’s’, but at the time I was like, “Yeah, I have Asberger’s. ” And then by that time I was like, “No.
” By the time I was in college I was like, “Yeah no, I’m autistic, it’s autism.
45:49 - “Don’t be afraid to use the word,” because frankly, Asperger himself was not a very straight person, so I prefer to just use ‘autism’.
46:00 - It’s just been really interesting to chart that course of what things stayed the same and which things changed.
46:06 - Because there was a point, right before I fully came out as nonbinary, I was super, ultra, maybe the most femme I’d ever been. Mm-hmm.
46:12 - 2017 was just a mistake, actually. It was 2017.
46:16 - My hair was the longest it’d ever been. I was wearing dresses all the time to impress guy in relationship that I was in, that was really toxic and gross, but I was wearing a lot of dresses.
46:26 - I was just being very, looking back like, “Wow, “that was such a mistake. ” And that was me, basically rebelling against how I really felt about myself and what I knew about myself deep down.
46:36 - So by the time, now that ended and 2018 happened, I was like, “Yeah no, I’m gonna be my true self. ” And everything is so much more comfortable.
46:43 - I was so confused for so long. I am pansexual. Mm-hmm.
46:48 - And to me that means that, people filter potential partners, they’ll usually run through the gender filter first.
46:57 - “Is this person the gender I’m attracted to or not?” But I’ve just never felt that way.
47:02 - Even from first grade, I got crushes on little girls and little boys.
47:10 - But again, part of my masking was the path of least resistance, which meant I ended up dating a lot of bisexual men and closeted trans women, you know? (laughing) And it’s just hilarious looking back on that and going, “Oh, I was always in queer relationships. ” Yeah, relationships. Yeah (laughing).
47:31 - Relationships are always very tricky, because I was so desperate.
47:36 - And once I figured out the sexuality stuff, like, until maybe, I realized I liked women when I was 14.
47:44 - My first trip to New York to see theater I saw Laura Benanti in “Gypsy” and I didn’t know what stripping or burlesque was.
47:50 - So it was the first Broadway show I see, and it’s literally, Laura Benanti (chuckling) as a burlesque artist and I’m just like, “Who are you? “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen “in the world,” and I’d like, “Tamp these things down.
48:00 - “I’m seeing Daniel Radcliffe and ‘Equus’ tomorrow. ” (chuckling) And so, and I saw it and I was like, “Yeah, Daniel Radcliffe “is naked with a horse. ” A lot of him yet (laughing).
48:06 - Okay and I’m like, “Yeah, sure, he’s a great actor. ” And I was like, kind of very un-phased by everything.
48:11 - So it’s real interesting to chart like, yeah.
48:14 - So I figured out I wasn’t super into men. But the thing is, compulsory heterosexuality pretty much dominated my life.
48:21 - Mm-hmm. Until at least, you know, my mid-20s, I mean, right before my mid-20s, really.
48:28 - Early 20s, really. So after multiple relationships with men that just were not great, one was good, but we broke up on completely mutual terms and then other men were just mistakes, but then by the time I was like, “Yeah no, I love women. ” And I just felt really comfortable with that.
48:45 - I mean, I’m still, I consider myself pan-romantic, because I have romantic feelings for so many people and it can be between, just because I have lots of love for everything.
48:52 - I’m also polyamorous. I’m in an open relationship with my girlfriend of five-plus years.
48:58 - I mean, I’m just very open about my sexuality and stuff.
49:03 - I did better with open relationships. Mm-hmm. My most successful ones were open relationships. Yup.
49:11 - Because I felt like that took, I was the sole focus of another person. Yeah.
49:16 - And it would take up all my spoons and I couldn’t be everything to one person, Yup. Because it’s barely take care of myself, you know? My open relationship with my main partner still felt solid and secure and I mean, it’s interesting to just, all these different things are constantly changing.
49:32 - I mean, it’s still open relationship and it’s wonderful.
49:34 - Obviously pandemics make things harder to try to find more people, pursue more people, to, not to pursue, but like, I don’t know. I was just starting to get out there again (laughing).
49:44 - Exactly, it’s like me finishing- This came along and I was just like, “No!” “I’m done with college. ” Don’t ruin it.
49:50 - “I can go to the Cubbyhole whenever I want. ” (Daman laughing) Because I never got to go to the Cubbyhole, which is a famous lesbian bar in New York.
49:57 - I’m like, “Finally I can go here!” And then it’s like, “Nope, pandemic, sorry. ” This close. I met my regrettable ex, who’s a male, at the Cubbyhole.
50:05 - Talk about irony. (Hayley laughing) And for me it was like, my dating life wasn’t exactly great before the pandemic hit.
50:12 - So when it did I was like, “What’s changed, y’all?’ (laughing) Yeah, it’s been really interesting to process, because my play, “Godawful Small Affair” is so much about relationships in quarantine and polyamory, and touch starvation, and long distances relationships.
50:28 - And as I said, one of the main characters is autistic and is into polyamory, and is in, first starts out the play in a long-distance relationship that’s made long-distance because of the pandemic and then, you know, you’ll just have to read the play to find out.
50:44 - Love in the time of COVID (laughing). Uh-huh, pretty much.
50:48 - Pretty much. Pretty much. Pretty much. Well, hopefully, well, Daman, Hayley, with people like you, you give all of us a lot of hope for the future of LGBTQ+/disabled/neuro-divergent representation.
51:05 - I just wanna thank you both so much for your time and for your words and for your wisdom.
51:11 - And wanna thank Spectrum Theater Ensemble for hosting us.
51:15 - And I wanna wish you all a great day. Bye! Thanks for having us. Thank you for having me.
51:22 - Of course. (uplifting music).