TW: Photo depiction of extreme ableist language
There are a lot of reasons why I love the terms ‘cisgender’ and ‘transgender.’ Quick reminder: a transgender person is someone whose gender does not match that which they were assigned at birth, while a cisgender person is someone whose gender does match that which they were assigned at birth.
First, neither centers the others. What I mean is that just by looking at those terms, one is not “typical” or “expected” or “normal.” They represent two different realities, that is all. And while one is significantly more prevalent and expected than the other, the terms themselves do not address that prevalence or expectation. And while one identity is largely considered more “normal” than the other, they terms themselves do not perpetuate that false and dangerous notion.
Secondly, though the identities seem to function in a dichotomy, in reality, they do not. Gender is very complex, and there are so many more identities out there than the two most prevalent and well known. The terms ‘cisgender’ and ‘transgender’ allow for that diversity of gender experiences. You can be genderqueer, you can be non-gender, biqueer, triqueer, agender, genderfucking and so much more, potentially as well as cisgender or transgender, and the terms cisgender and transgender do not preclude that, in large part because they do not function as normal/not-normal dichotomy, as described above.
This brings me to my main point–my extreme discomfort with the word ‘neurotypical.’ From the moment I heard it, I hated it. It fails in the ways that cisgender/transgender exceed. ‘Neurotypical’ creates an expectation and image of normalcy of neurology, and it creates an unrealistic dichotomy, where Autistic and Neurotypical are the only neurologies that exist. I’d like to examine those ideas, and propose better than to use when describes those are not Autistic.
What is normal, anyway? I realize that’s probably the most annoying questions ever, but we so often take normal for granted we forget what it means. Normal is average. Normal is expected. Normal is not weird. Normal is known. Normal is tolerated. Normal is, well, normal. And we live in a world were being not Autistic is considered normal.
But what if we lived in a world where everyone, save a select few, was Autistic? Where those who are not Autistic were considered weird. Unexpected. Abnormal. Autistic would be normal, and neurotypical would become neuro-atypical. Or, more likely, Autism would become neurotypical, and neurotypical would become something else, something disease or disorder that most Autistics believed needed to be eradicated.
What I’m getting at is that what is normal and what is not is a social construct. We create our social norms, and we have the power to break them. Yet if you listen to prominent “autism advocates” and autism scientists, the rhetoric employed suggests that we are broken, lost, damaged, defected, deficient and just generally not how we are supposed to be. That is, we are not normal. Neurotypical reinforces those ideas. If neurotypical is typical, or normal, then Autistic is not typical, not normal.
Sure, being Autistic is less likely statistically speaking than being neurotypical, but that doesn’t mean we have to be less expected, less usual, less well known. That doesn’t have to mean that we are any less typical than those who are not Autistic.
Another big problem I have with neurotypical is how it creates a false dichotomy with Autistic. The reality is, there might be multiple different, at times overlapping, neurologies out there. Some neurodiversity advocates believe that ADD or ADHD individuals might have a different neurotype. And there might be more neurotypes out there that have yet to be formally articulated. In that way, it’s inaccurate to use neurotypical as a descriptor of neurology, when there is the potential for such a rich diversity of neurotypes.
Finally, what on Earth does neurotypical mean? Yes, it means that you’re neurology is considered socially and culturally typical, but that doesn’t actually mean anything about neurotypical specifically. The best definition for neurotypical is not Autistic. And that doesn’t offer much insight, either.
When we uses words like neurotypical that rely on dichotomies of normalcy and expectation to be meaningful and relevant, they actually lose all of their meaning. In the same way that by only discussing race in the context of people of color in mainstream dialogue, hence making whiteness seem like a undefined, unracialized, default, neurotypical, but being best defined as not Autistic, is this undefined, unneurologized, meaningless default.
From now on, to refer to folks who are not Autistics, I plan on using the word ‘Allistic.’ Autistic is derived from the Greek word for self, while Allistic is derived from the Greek word for other.
Allistic perpetuates no expectation of normalcy, typicality, or usualness. It exists, just like Autistic does. And while the identities might seem to form a dichotomy, the terms themselves do not.
Now, it is still difficult to define Allistic, but using the word Allistic as opposed to neurotypical might actually help with that. By treating Allistic the same way we treat Autistic, Allistics might be able to see themselves as sharing a neurotypical, which could potentially help advance conversation about what Allistic actually means.
Allyship Tip: If you are not Autistic, explore calling yourself and others who are not Autistic Allistics. That’s not to say you must call yourself or think about yourself that way, but think about the personal and political ramifications of using the identity neurotypical, and how Allistic creates a more positive image of those with different neurologies.
❤ Piija Suoynna Riistia