It’s Trans Day of Visibility. Soon, April will begin, and we will inaugurate Autism Acceptance Month. Around us, annihilatory actors and institutions pop up and strangle us like weeds. What, then, is our project, as we indeed project our selves and spaces into the future? If we have decided we are not going anywhere, out of neither sight nor mind, then where are we going? How do we reckon with where we’ve been?
There’s something so absurd about having these special days and special weeks to think about how many of us are dead, to see them used as jumping-off points for blog posts (this one included), pride merch, and meet-ups, as if the bodies of those lost constitute sustenance for those of us still here. Last April, I wrote a tribute to the then-recently deceased Mel Baggs (z”l), and today, in a cruel irony, I acknowledge hir passing in advance: on the anniversary of hir death, April 11th, I will receive my second dose of Moderna’s COVID vaccine. In this case, the side effect –– or affect, or, if I wanted to be That Guy, æffect –– is untreatable and irreversible. It’s easy to say that Mel endured all manner of abuse in hir pursuit of disabled recognition and liberation. It’s true. It’s easy in these moments to visiblize moments and ongoing conditions of crisis; still easier, perhaps, to coat them in “although”s and “despite”s, and turn a narrative of suffering into one of overcoming. These are, of course, narratives seized upon by ableists, cissexists, and all nexes therein, after all, in order to name bodies like ours –– rather than normitivising institutions –– as problematic. Under the auspices of positivity, they do a grave injustice to our lived realities. They twist memory into a kind of forgetting.
We have watched these narratives trail trans youth to sites of clinical violence, treatment refusal, and medico-legal abuse and erasure, entwining and multiplying by factors of autism, ADHD, neurodiversity, and and more markers of difference, long tying unspeakable threads between the gender-transgressor and the trans(ed) subject, not in pursuit of unity or possibility, but final and complete destruction. While receiving much-needed media attention at this current moment, denials of trans autonomy, more often than not grounded in ableist, anti-child ideology, are as old as medicine’s attempts to name us.
After all, the reason anyone bothers using these labels in the first place is continuity. We need to be able to pass information from one person or one lifetime to the next: my collection of traits now summable as “autism” need to trans(late) me into someone else’s language. They need to connect me to autistics past and future, near and far, so that the way I exist becomes relevant to social life more broadly. Shared labels, shared language, generate ties between us that are indeed “generational,” whether they serve to (re)generate the power of hegemonic actors or deliver us epistemic justice. More than that, our language often walks in advance of our selves, setting scenes still yet to come: speaking to my cohort-mate, Willy, today about the perennially-relevant topic of language and trans identity, we recalled the massive shift that took place over the last decade, wherein nonbinary went from a linguistic placeholder for ways of life often materially unrealized, to a concrete, painfully-marketable and somewhat unavoidable phenomenon. It still baffles me to compare my early nonbinary experiences in 2013 to my life at present. I used to trawl social media sites for ways to explain myself; now, everyone’s already read about me in the New York Times. A world in which I not only exist, but, in the future, will continue to exist alongside similar others, is assumed.
And that’s what I’m really thinking about today, and will continue to think about next month. The future. It tends to be a gated event. Otherwise, why would everyone try so hard to ensure we don’t see ourselves in it? If we correctly acknowledge recent and ongoing anti-trans, and particularly anti-trans youth, legislation, as well as longstanding c/overt efforts to genetically detect, isolate, and destroy this nebulous monster called “autism” in ever-younger children as well as fetuses in utero, as eugenics, we see that efforts at “curing” autism and denials of trans childrens’ bodily autonomy are not merely efforts to stymy individual behavior, but efforts to shape a future in which we never existed in the first place. To make, that is, a sterile locale in which hegemonic ideas of life and sustenance can proceed without disruption. Again, crucially, this is not merely a matter of securing the eventual destruction of other modes of existence, but in erasing what has been and continues to be. It is disremembrance.
If we acknowledge that eugenics is centrally a project of future-invention, we see both the cruciality not simply of remembering, but of of weaponizing –– making militant –– the project of public, collective memory. This project is, I argue, in part accomplished through the practice of visibility, though not fulfilled through individual media presence alone. Rather, processes of remembrance can manifest through our shared participation in them, through actions as simple as public stimming, refusing to “pass,” in mourning those whose names would otherwise be erased. There is a practice of trans and neuroqueer remembrance in the simple act of refusal: refusal to resuscitate “man” and “woman,” making the decision instead to map a space in which a world free [of/for/against] gender is possible. Autistic people, myself included, find ourselves drawn to what is pathologized as “stereotypy,” as well as the repetitive vocal process known as “echolalia.” With our bodies, we make and thus become echoes of what motions have satisfied us in the past, what words of others’ we can remix as our own. We take ourselves by the memory and make what comes after.
Here lies the exciting, dangerous power of trans, neurodivergent youth, the crux of public panics around puberty blockers and Lil Nas X and everything in between. It’s the reason that annihilatory, anti-autistic “Autism Parents” attack autistic activists for revealing what it really means to live –– to thrive –– with autism, surrounded with autism, crammed chock-full of it in a quantity unmeasurable in Scoville Units (huh?). Our very existence, our continuation and our recall of those who came before us, is cause for panic, because it promises that we will continue to be. Youth are the bearers of this continuity, these promises we make to ourselves that we deserve to survive. Thus, for eugenicists, “think of the children” means “think of the future,” and more specifically, to think toward a san(e)itized future in which defecting children will not exist. In which they/we will never exist again. In which, really, have we ever “been” at all?
Mel Baggs (z”l) referred to this process as Xing, a term significantly more generative than the tired “cancelling” and more flexible than “social death.” Xing is the rendering of a person as an unperson. Not a nonperson, an unperson, whose existence (so defined) is antithetical to personhood. An unperson (to use Mel’s example, quite literally) shits the bed of personhood, recalls itself as the “person”‘s dirty underside, and terrorizes personhood, polite society, sanity, and sociality so as to invite the aforementioned eugenic efforts. Mel based hir theory of Xing off of hir lived (nearly-died) experiences in and out of hospitals that enthusiastically pushed to kill hir, and on hir observations of institutions designed to incarcerate Xed people –– children included –– and thus to build a future in which it is not possible for us to have ever existed.
The Judge Rotenberg Center exists on a continuum with ridiculous claims to have rendered a child’s autism undetectable –– both seek to erase all evidence of its existence, so that no one may replicate it tomorrow. Both efforts to block children from engaging with biomedical transition, and hysterical attempts to eliminate or vilify representations of trans people in public life, exist on a continuum with the industrialized killing we traditionally think of when we use the word “eugenics.” To make explicit an implicit connection, I turn this Passover to a Jewish politic of remembrance, wherein the general injunction never to forget is a universal cornerstone in a tradition lively with disagreement. Saying that, after all this time, they still haven’t figured out how to get rid of me, is part of how we ensure that statement remains true. We manifest it.
All this is to say that, today, and for this upcoming month, we should think not only about visibility, awareness, or even acceptance of neuroqueer modes of being. We should not only advocate for the autonomy of trans, ND youth for the sake of what they or we need today. Rather, we need to make every single day of our shared transMadness, our shared neuroqueerness, a part of the architecture of a future in which someone will remember our names. Not only that, but the architecture of a future in which someone will carve an existence not out of the carceral confines of gender nor of the fascist contours of sane neurotypicality, but instead out of the echoes and gestures and, indeed, movements that came before them. This does not happen through a process of overcoming, nor through one of remaining in place. It happens when we live every day as if it is a lullaby to a trans autistic youth, sung so that we might have the energy to be together tomorrow.
Much of the analysis here is indebted to M. Remi Yergeau and their phenomenal monograph Authoring Autism. So too is my work in continuous debt to and honor of Mel Baggs hirself, whose articulations of trans disabled survival made possible this future from which I type.