Intersections Can Be Confusing

Because I’m a woman and I write spec fic, I’m often put on panels at conventions dealing with “women’s issues” vis à vis writing. I enjoy those panels and enjoy meeting my fellow panelists and the conversations we have about what it’s like striding into what has been traditionally men’s spaces.

But the conversations don’t really go far enough for me and it feels like I’ve been participating in the “101” level discussions for some time now.

In some ways, I also feel awkward in those conversations. My female identity is only a part of who I am, and it’s limited me far less than some of my other identities.

While I’ve never deliberately hid my neuro-atypicality, I’ve also not been extremely public about it. Until recently, I really didn’t believe that my “aspie” nature was a hindrance to my current life. After all, I wasn’t identified as having Asperger’s until my 30s and by then I was a successful physical therapist, wife, and mother.

So what does it mean to be a woman who is also neuro-atypical?

For me, it meant that very little in the literature described me or pertained to me. Not in the women’s literature. Not in the autism literature.

When you live at an intersection, instead of doubling (or tripling, etc) your identity, it fractionates it. Try to find writing advice for women on the autism spectrum. Until very recently, it wasn’t even believed by the scientific establishment that many women were on the spectrum and nearly all the data, all the research, all the narratives focused on the male presentation.

The advice for women writers often didn’t speak to me. I’m not sure whether that’s because of my aspie nature or because of other experiences and identities I hold. I’ve never had a hard time finding my voice or feeling like what I had to say wasn’t “worthy”. What held me back was near-crippling anxiety and until I started to embrace my non neuro-typical identity, I had no tools to address it.

And still, 20 years after the psychiatrist I was meeting with reviewed my history and my educational records and told me I was on the spectrum, I have kept that part of my identity cloaked.

Not fully hidden, but certainly not a label I publicly claimed.

So why am I talking about it now?

I recently saw the call for the “Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction” anthology and thinking about submitting to it make me extremely uncomfortable. So I spent some time getting to why.

Part of it was I feel relatively privileged: I am in a situation in which I am supported to be a full time writer. My books are finding their readers. What “right” did I have to submit and potentially take a spot away from a writer who might deserve/need that break more than I did.

That was the surface reason.

Digging deeper, there were others.

Was I “disabled?” If so, was I disabled enough? Did I want my carefully crafted identity as a women writing SF&F to be conflated with the word disability?

These are heavy questions and I don’t have final answers to them.

In the end, I didn’t submit to the anthology.

And yet, I’m “outing” myself here.

(I never said I wasn’t a hot mess of contradictions.)

So who am I and how to my identities inform my work?

I would describe my novels as extremely character-centric. Most of what I write is in deep third-person point of view and I feature fully-realized female characters in everything I write.

I do the same for all my characters, regardless of gender.

In looking though my body of work, there are definite themes that emerge, many of which come from my various identities. Characters have different patterns of strengths and struggles. They have disabilities – some overt, some hidden. Those struggles inform each characters’ growth and arc, rather than simply function as surface traits.

Ultimately, that’s what I have come to understand about my own intersections: being female and being neuro-atypical (two of my myriad identities) shape the lens with which I view the world.

And they are foundational to how I chose to write new ones.

LJ Cohen’s fifth and final book of her Halcyone Space series – A STAR IN THE VOID – will be available Summer of 2018.