Notes after Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette

I’ve not yet watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette on Netflix because I watched it live in London earlier this year, after trying desperately and failing to see it in Edinburgh last summer. I’m bad at watching things twice, though this would repay it I know. This is a good interview with her in the Guardian. So much that’s rich in it. I’m glad she’s still speaking and adding context to the show for many selfish reasons including;

1. Whenever I talked about my research on resistance and comedy, people would often launch into monologues about Stewart Lee’s innovation with form and I would sometimes say “There are also other comics innovating with form, in a way which plays with the comic-audience relationship differently” and they would look at me blankly, unsure how to cope with the idea that “Held up as an example of innovation due to having lots of cultural capital” and “Innovating” might be separate things.

2. In this interview she says that comedy is a form which is more accessible to people with less socio-economic capital because there are fewer gatekeepers. A strand of class criticism runs through her work and she makes the tension of social mobility visible in her movement between comedy and art criticism. See, look what can be done with comedy as an art form and give it Arts Council funding. (Actually, lots of practitioners from poorer backgrounds I know who straddle stand up comedy and other potentially subsidised forms are savvy enough to source both public and commercial funding and audiences for their work. The boundaries between forms like stand up and poetry and theatre are increasingly porous).

3. That’s why at a crucial point in Nanette I wanted to say “But, stand-up is able to do way more than you say it can, as your show itself proves, so you don’t have to give it up”- but she seems to have concluded that now. This applies times a hundred after the success of her show on Netflix. Stand-up is a brilliant form for people from marginalised backgrounds to challenge stereotypes without necessarily ONLY self-deprecating or minimising their experiences.

4. She’s talking openly here about being diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Condition (or Autism Spectrum Disorder, as the Guardian possibly insists). In the show, HG talks about the importance of stories as a tether and of shame being overcome-able culturally. (Her ASC is not part of her show, which focuses on her experiences of terrible homophobia). It’s still part of ASC diagnostic criteria that you might struggle with humour. Autistic people are still too often punchlines to jokes, rather than authors or subjects of stories which address the complexities of their lives. The fact that an autistic comedian is being so hugely successful with a deeply sensitive, emotional and hilarious show is part of a story which can act as a tether for autistic children and adults (and their families) who are often only hearing about deficits and “can’t”s via the reductive medical model.

5. Her show itself performs anger and tension and refuses to defuse it for the audience so that everybody can go away feeling better. Whilst that’s part of her performance that feels particularly revolutionary to audiences used to everything being wrapped up in a tidy bow of laughter, the interviews and commentary on Nanette demonstrate that she’s also mobilising another affect/emotion that can be revolutionary in stand-up- love. Or if that sounds too soppy – deep acceptance. Her trust of the audience in making herself vulnerable and expressing her previously hidden feelings, including anger, shows an acceptance of herself, but also of them. That can, in turn, help them to self-acceptance around their own traumas. Conjuring love in the room is not seen as particularly revolutionary- but in these times it certainly is. Experts at it include Sarah Millican and Barbara Nice- though love often hovers, unfashionably and unnamed in stand-up settings everywhere.

6. I was doing gigs at The Stand in Newcastle throughout 2012 and 2013. Open mike spots, unpaid tens and fifteens, some paid tens and fifteens. I’d been doing quite well as a stand up poet for a few years and had stepped back from the stand up circuit with relief. I’d never done very well there. Some paid support slots and usually a feeling of deep discomfort with how stand up put me in a box and led to me to be a much less interesting, thoughtful version of me as a performer. I could see that performers who were able to talk about men and women as different species and be relatable did well. I wasn’t relatable- but I wasn’t weird enough, or knowing enough then about my weirdness, to play up to it. This was somehow resolved when I did stand up poetry because I could be all of me at once and declaring you’re a poet already says you are coming at some sort of left angle to the world. Anyway, I decided not to do any self deprecating material at all in these Stand gigs. Meanwhile I saw Bridget Christie, Hannah Gadsby and Rachel Mars do shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012 in which they all at some point took clothes off (onesies for Bridget and Rachel, standing in a swimming cossie for Hannah). They were telling me that stand up comedy could be self-controlled exposure but I couldn’t quite hear it. Just heard lots of angry young men doing material about rape and how awful women were and didn’t have the craft or binary thinking to deal with it. That’s when I decided to do a show nobody would care about because nobody was listening to me anyway- and my show about not wanting children became my first Radio 4 show and featured on an impending film documentary about women who don’t have kids. So in a very mini-way, I have also struggled to break out of the limitations of stand up as a form- and found a way to do that within stand up. It can expand to fit because it’s not only a commercial form that happens with big shiny lights around it and blokes with jokes, but is part of the folkloric, human need to have one person channel thoughts and jokes and stories in a way which makes them and an audience thrum with something which isn’t just thoughts or feelings, or being told, or listening, but the thrilling, transformational chaos that happens in the third space between.


Interview with Hannah Gadsby


The Quirking Class Manifesto

It’s okay not to want what most other people want, in the way that they want it.

Applying the word “Failure” is a means for some people to stop other people doing certain things in a certain way.

Applying the word “Success” is a means for some people to keep other people doing certain things in a certain way.

Beware of any communication treating the concepts of “Independent” or “Dependent” as absolutely good or absolutely bad.

You probably do, and did, things earlier or later than other people. Time is relative. We’re all sometimes tortoise or hare.

Your work may look like play and your play may look like work to other people. That’s okay. The boundaries between the two aren’t as rigid as society makes out. Working at play and playing at work is often the key to happiness.

You’re right to be wary of the phrases; “It’s always been done this way”, “Just because” and “That’s just the way things are”.

You may never feel that you belong- but there are lots of places where you can belong by not belonging.

You exist in a place and a time- but there are lots of other places and times, past and future you could live by.

Learning doesn’t only happen when other people tell you they’re teaching you, often especially not then.

A community to value is one that values you.

Sometimes you might need to be helped to have help and supported to have support. (The rare) people and organisations which understand that, may well be your best help. It may take a lot of trial and error to find them.

This manifesto could also be drawn, sung, danced or sculpted or signed;

a translation of any communication or piece of art is always an act of kindness.

Labels can be useful, until they’re not useful;

it’s okay to point out that some of these manifesto points sound like fridge magnet slogans or Instagram poems.

Comedy lets you say two contradictory things at once- and also doesn’t.

Talk about the things that others don’t want you to talk about; money, sex, politics, grief, cucumbers;

it is just as important to learn how to be listened to as to learn how to not be listened to.

It is just as important to learn when and how not to listen as to learn when and how to listen.

If all you that you ever said, demonstrated, practiced, believed, lived, Tweeted, skated, swam, ate, painted, excreted was that there are multiple truths, then you would have been kinder to the world than most people in it.

The thing we call “you” and “not you” are only ever intersections of times and places, but this is one of the insights that is hardest to work into conversations about shopping, football and Love Island. Find the people who will have those conversations.

Autistic on Love Island.

Why did Niall Aslam leave Love Island? Two weeks ago we were only told it was because of “Personal reasons”, now he’s braving the stigma connected with an Autism/Aspergers diagnosis and spoken out to say this was behind his decision to leave. Here “Aah, because of Aspergers” the journalists and commentators are saying, “Yeah, er social difficulties and that” they add. The chances of getting some meaningful insight from them into what this means are about as high as for Adam Collard (the gas lighting one) deciding to train as a Relate counsellor after he leaves the show.

Now, I don’t know Niall and I’ve only watched one episode of Love Island (I didn’t inhale, but I could see a slippery slope of addiction beckoning if I carried on), so I really can’t speak for him, but I can give some insight into why being in an environment like Love Island might be hard for an autistic person. This point of view is important, because while we’re getting some of the cliched medical criteria in the stories about his diagnosis, we’re not getting the insights built up by the many actually autistic people who are finally getting their voices heard about the daily realities of life on the spectrum (I would recommend the #actuallyautistic hashtag on Twitter as a good starting point here). These insights would tend more to point to sensory sensitivities and things like autistic burnouts and social hangovers, which aren’t even mentioned in the descriptions of this way of processing and experiencing the world which have been written by psychologists and psychiatrists.

Many of the doctors still believe that an autistic way of being is not as normal or valid as a non-autistic one. They’re not that interested in the inside view or feeling of being autistic. Along with the stigma associated with the diagnosis, which Niall is bravely confronting by being open about it, an autistic person who only hears the medical view of the condition (Perhaps when they’re diagnosed as a child as Niall was), is less likely to reach the self-understanding necessary to live well as an autist. It’s partly why the suicide rate for autistic people is NINE TIMES that of the general population.  Anyhoo, that’s a rant for another time. I’m just going to suggest some reasons why the Love Island environment would be hard for an autistic person and hope that this also adds to some people’s understanding of the condition (I struggle with the word condition, autism is more about how someone’s brain and body is wired, it’s not separable from them and it’s not one single thing. Language around this stuff is hard).

  • The noise! Loud voices echoing across the pool, twenty people all talking at once and  shouting about the “Do bits society”, the bleep of the phone. It would basically do your brain in. Lots of  autistic people wear noise-cancelling headphones when they go out into public spaces.


  • Smells. I imagine there were sometimes choking clouds of Lynx and Elnett to walk through before a re-coupling. Partly, I jest, but basically it would have been a very intense sensory environment and that all contributes to overloading an autistic brain. Also tastes- I imagine the housemates don’t get that much say over what they eat and when. Many autistic people have food preferences and sensitivities.


  • Social overload. This is the biggie. This is not about social competence- Niall, for example, clearly made good friends in the villa who were devastated that he left- it’s about the energy cost of actually talking to people, reading their body language signals, working out what to say etc. For non-autistic people this stuff is their native tongue- for autistic people it can be like speaking a foreign language, even if they’ve learned it pretty well.  Autistic people talk about “Social hangovers”; a sort of brain fogged, exhausted feeling after doing lots of socialising. It’s one of the reasons that working environments can be difficult for autistic people. They’re fine getting on with tasks in their own way and time, but then socialising, whilst often enjoyable and desired, uses up lots of extra energy. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of downtime or alone time in the villa and this would be necessary to recharge batteries. It’s also a setting which is ALL about talking about relationships, feelings, emotions and trying to read the signals of others. Do-able, but flipping heck, hard work for anybody.


  • Lack of control. Autistic people experience the world as very intense. They don’t all have rigid routines and can enjoy spontaneity BUT you’d need to have some sense of control over your environment, down to things like where you slept and who with. It would be good to know what was going to happen on a daily basis and when to some extent. The world of Love Island is at the whims of producers who can suddenly introduce twelve new housemates or a jaunt out to that car park or  get you to go into the hut and spill your guts. I’ve noticed that some reality shows do have very structured environments and routines which can be great for neurodiverse people (I suspect ones like Fame Academy/Strictly/Splash etc where you’re learning a skill and then have to perform at a certain time can be quite good) but there would be a constant high stress load around the not-knowing.


That is not to mention any additional mental health or low self-esteem issues which can go alongside autism when you’ve spent your life recognising that you don’t quite fit and trying to work out the rules that other people seem to know instinctively.

In future, I’d think an autistic contestant on Love Island would need at the very least, their own room where they could have as much time as they needed to relax, recover, decompress from sensory and social overload and reenter the fray in order to shine to the full as the very splendid “rainbow fish” they are. Hopefully they would also have had chance beforehand to get to know and accept their true selves and their needs, with the help of other people who understand, accept and support them. Self-Love Island, if you will…

Free Speech A Problem For a Council

A Shocking Reason For Losing A Gig This Week: Giving a quote to a local paper two years ago, when asked, saying that councils shouldn’t charge libraries business rates. Yes, really.

Having been booked to host Hambleton District Council’s awards since last November, I was told with a week to go that they were going to “take a different approach” and have them hosted by a local radio dj instead (they did not have one booked) and would still pay me £250. (I pay my taxes to them-they’re effectively wasting my own money). The award hosting consisted of delivering a script. I was also to perform two poems.

I asked why, as I couldn’t see a reason for such a decision & was eventually told I could ring the council chief exec who had made the decision after seeing that I was hosting. It was suggested to me, off the record, that it was the Conservative council leader Mark Robson who I stood against in our ward as a Labour candidate six years ago who actually demurred. The chief exec (six days later) has finally told me that because I was once “highly critical” in public of the council’s policy on charging community libraries business rates, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to host the community awards.

This despite the fact that the comment consisted of one sentence a few years ago solicited by the York Press when it asked several writers about the policy. (I said it was a “slap in the face” to struggling libraries).…/14957435.Top_authors__anger_…/…).

This despite the fact that since then I have worked in partnership with HDC on several projects to promote poetry and poetry audiences, hosted their sport awards and done work on a voluntary (& sometimes council supported) basis for Thirsk Clock, Thirsk Community Care. Thirsk yarnbombers and been involved in running literary events in Thirsk in partnership with the White Rose Book shop for several years at minimal rates, in order to promote a stronger audience for literature in the community.

As a professional poet who works for all sorts of organisations with divergent values to myself (not that my own local council has divergent values given that theirs are apparently to be open, fair and respectful. I reject the reason belatedly given, (though if it really is that, then god help anyone who ever criticises a council policy. Or is a Labour Party member doing work for a Conservative-run Council).

I will continue to be a proud member of my community & will be donating my (wastefully duplicated) fee to Thirsk Clock and Thirsk Community Care.

Chief Exec Justin Ives is on If this concerns anybody else.

I am livid, hurt and concerned about the implications of this for people who do work for councils.


Justin Ive’s email:

Dear Kate

First let me apologise for my lack of availability as I am on annual leave for two weeks from Wednesday.

I can assure you the my decision to appoint another person to host the event was in no way connected to your gender, political alliances or abilities. It was brought to my attention that in the past you had been highly critical publicly on the Council’s policy concerning community libraries. Although it is of course your right to comment on any of the Council’s policies, given that this was the Council’s Community Awards ceremony I felt that it would be more appropriate for another person to host the awards. However, I realise that you will have spent time preparing for the event and therefor I paid your fee in full.

I trust this fully explains the reason for my decision.



Sent from my iPad


EDIT: Have now found the context in which I gave this quote, and exactly what I said. Highly critical? Really??


Hi Kate,

I hope you’re well. I’m writing an article about the reaction of writers to the soon-to-be volunteer-run libraries in Hambleton district being told they must pay thousands in business rates. The six other district councils in North Yorkshire have exempted the volunteer-run libraries from paying the charges. I thought you and Alfie may be interested in this, particularly as one of the affected libraries is Thirsk.

For further details:…/14930020.Council_under_…/

I’d be interested in hearing your views.

Stuart Minting | Reporter

Hi Stuart,

Thanks for sending this.

Happy to be quoted as saying that the decision to charge rates is a slap in the face for those volunteers trying so hard to keep these vital libraries going in the face of cuts. Libraries are one of the few places where everyone in a community can go for information and inspiration. They’re accessible, necessary and have benefits far beyond just being a place to go and borrow books. They’re somewhere young people learn to be part of a wider community of readers and somewhere older people can go to stay connected to the community. I appreciate that councils are struggling to balance the books but these volunteer run libraries need all the help the council can give them. If other councils exempt libraries then so should Hambleton.

Could say more.
Having to rush this a.m.

Have passed on to Alfie-he writes regularly in Thirsk library.

All v best


Forgetting Faces

Two days of conferences. Or, as they’re alternatively known, the prosopagnosiac’s nightmare. (Person bad at remembering faces).

Bad ways to greet a prosopagnosiac:

“Do you remember me?”

An answer of no usually seems to offend.

(Offended tone & still not giving your name) “But we met at – “ (name event where there were lots of people, after which I’ve subsequently met a thousand more people. Give no clue what we talked about).

Good ways to greet a prosopagnosiac:

“Hello! My name is – and we met at -”

By turning your name tag towards me so I don’t give into the urge to do this myself.

Neutral ways:

“Hello!” (Happy face and look of recognition). I’ll probably work it out eventually.

Accidentally good ways:

Be visually distinctive and/or don’t ever change what you look like. Particularly your hair.

Drop clues into the conversation early. Like “It was a nice day when we got married. At that lighthouse” etc.

Say mournfully “You probably don’t remember me”. This allows me to say “No, I don’t remember anybody”. Though you’ll usually be happy to find I do remember you once you say who you are/where we met/what we talked about.

Accidentally bad ways:

Look like lots of other people I know.

Say “I’m bad at remembering names too”. Names and faces are a different thing. But this does make me feel a bit better.

Assume I’ll recognise you because you just spoke on stage. This is a very fair assumption, but it turns out I often don’t recognise people who’ve just spoken on a stage because then you were small and far away, and now you’re big and nearby.

Be somewhere that I’m expecting to see people I know, but in another context. For example, I recognised both a comedian and a poet in Hull today but assumed I was just imagining I knew them because I was at an event which wasn’t for comedians and poets. Also, be anywhere I wouldn’t expect you to be. Another town, an event for people who aren’t you, my bath etc.

If I’ve met you more than four or five times or seen your photo a lot then I’ll probably recognise you anyway. Also if we’re related/married. Maybe.

Cultural Transformations- Hull as a Tiger

I’m back in Thieving Harry’s on Humber Street overlooking Hull’s marina. The sky’s grey, it’s raining. Nice coffee and things with avocados in are on the menu, served at wooden trestle tables with mismatched chairs. I came here a lot while I was doing things during the year of culture. A quiet place to breathe. Some regulars didn’t come here as much during the year- it suddenly wasn’t as quiet a place for them to breathe. I wonder whether this area will have been completely, horribly gentrified in ten years, or be run down again, or be about the same but with thriving new types of business I can’t even imagine now. I’m one of thousands of people who will want to keep coming back to Hull. Who feel an emotional investment in its story, in its people. Who want the investments of the City of Culture year to keep on paying off. That’s different to its residents who both want and NEED them to pay off, to echo the original bid slogan.

The figures from the initial evaluation report are looking good. Amazing even. The mood is celebratory at the Cultural Transformations conference at Hull University, in which academics and cultural, civic and business folk, and a smattering of artists, small businesses and students have gathered to discuss it. 95% of Hull’s population attended an event, an additional 1.3 million visitors came compared to in 2013, tourism’s contributing over £300 million to the economy, and 3 out of 4 residents feel proud to live in the city, after having been battered by years of negative press coverage and low morale previously. There are notes of caution and challenge. Arts Council chair Nicholas Serota notes with concern that the 230 redundancies announced at Hull College are the sort of thing that could impact negatively on how young people are able to capitalise on new opportunities and gain new skills. He says the Arts Council should have a “development and advocacy” role to convince other places of how the arts can positively benefit people’s well being, “place making” and the economy. But says it’s also still about “making great art”. I think of my students when I was teaching on a module about the contemporary cultural industries at the University of Leeds and the essays I marked in which they parsed and analysed the many paradoxes and ambiguities of arts sector language. Hull 2017’s outgoing (in both senses of the word) chief exec Martin Green says that these figures are important to convince politicians and the media of the benefits of investment in the arts and culture. He points out that for the entire creative and cultural sector the evaluation is “a weapon, so use it”. At the same time, he says, the next important conversations to be had are about social impact and they can’t as easily be summarised in “sexy figures”. Dr Derek Atkinson points out that for many people, the last thing about the year will be the memories. What if it’s being able to look back and say “That was a great year?” that has the ultimately decisive impact on Hull’s future.

There are several highlights videos. I see two women sat in front of me wiping their eyes and sniffing in unison after one which had also brought a lump to my throat and made me think of my home city of Bradford and adoptive city of Newcastle and all that cultural investment has and hasn’t done for them. There’s a funny video Martin Green took part in, in which some young Hullensians provide an alternative evaluation in distinctive and sweary style. Mostly there are people talking through Powerpoints of tables with varying degrees of slickness and charm. I host a Pecha Kucha event out of the main conference programme in which seven people sum up their highlights in words and pictures and bring the impacts to life in another mode entirely. I think, again, that the point of “Great art” for me is often the ability to translate between different languages and ways of being in the world. The way, for example, a novel by A.S Byatt or a comedy set by Russell Kane, can illuminate and reflect the ways that people can be saying the same thing in such different ways, they can’t hear each other. We need multiple ways, never just one. We need the figures AND we need the stories and we need to be able to recognise that neither of them will ever be the full picture. They’re snapshots not long-term views and even a long-term view would never be the full picture. The figures and the stories need to speak to each other though. Here is another conference in which “The Numbers” and “The Art” are kept separate from each other as if they inhabit different worlds rather than being able to reflect back and forth so that they open each other up. Reveal the depths and the gaps in conversation with each other. I’m not seeing the creativity and innovation that the hosting university institute says it values.

Flicking through the doorstop of the report I see that some of my poems are in there. I interviewed 36 residents, schoolchildren, creatives, random people in a shopping centre, students, about the impact of the year. Got them to do some drawings, come up with some similes, chatted to them. I grouped the responses into themes. Probably the overarching one was “Openness”. Again and again people talked about how they felt they and the city had opened up. People were remarkably consistent in the responses they gave when I asked them to describe Hull as an animal before and after. Lots of people spontaneously said it was a “Sloth” before. They didn’t have to think long, it came to them. Or an earthworm, or a hedgehog. I checked with non-animal similes. Still they said things that were slow and stuck. A single gear, rusty cycle. Again and again the similes suggested they perceived it as having become something faster, more complex and bigger; a chameleon or a tiger, a galaxy of stars, a whole fleet of ships. Something that could reach beyond itself, respond quickly. A broadcasting, beaming satellite. These are also the qualities that Hull is asking for in its leadership and it’s institutions. Responsiveness, openness, being open to multiple views. Being exciting, colourful, looking to the future whilst acknowledging the past. As distinctive as Hull itself and proud of it. For me this has to mean continuing to break down boundaries that the main City of Culture year did, whilst spreading opportunities and empowering smaller organisations and individuals to do things differently. That means being able to have new conversations in new ways and translate between different ways of doing and saying things. Not numbers people over here and artists over there and academics somewhere else. Everybody being valued as a reflector, an analyser, an evaluator, a creator, and willing and able to learn new languages. As with the inclusion of my poems as part of the evaluation, this can mean just one or two people (Thanks Elinor Unwin) being willing to champion a new way and quite a few other people not quite getting it or valuing it but going along with it anyway in hopes it will either quietly go away or culturally transform into something more recognisable. I wish Hull many more conversations as it battles to work with and against a tide of austerity and the ravaging of the structures and skills it will need to carry all the wonderful benefits of the year forward. Truly, they will have to carry on being tigers. Talkative ones.

Hull Tigers

Before, we were stuck,
an apathetic sloth
boring and grey.

A curled up hedgehog,
a grumpy badger,
an earthworm,
stubborn and hiding away.
A reliable chicken
producing the occasional double-yolker,
an ugly duckling,
knowing we were beautiful on the inside
though nobody gave a second look
as we nurtured a complicated, spiky pride.

We were a rusty anchor,
a puttering trawler.

Now we’re a whole fleet of ships,
we are tigers,
not just because of the football team,
proud and fierce, roaring,

we’re like falcons,
spreading our wings and soaring.
Woodpeckers, digging for opportunities,
flamingos and proud peacocks showing off,
parrots who never stop talking.

Before we chugged,
plodded on,
a single gear, rusty cycle,
a Reliant Robin,
a Pacer train
a Volvo

Now we’re a solar powered,
future-proofed velocette,

a shinier, upgraded Intercity,
a Limo.

a beautiful Harley Davidson motorbike,
a shape-shifting chameleon,
a boat-plane,
something exciting that people admire
and copy and like.

Before, we were space-junk,
a peripheral planet like Pluto
where people would never think to go,
a black hole.

Now we’re a galaxy of stars,
pulsing light,
a broadcasting, beaming satellite,
people know where and what we are,

we’re a caterpillar that’s turned into a butterfly

the brightest point in the sky
a Northern Star.


Me- Autistic? As If…

IF I was autistic
I would still be that poet who made a leap of imagination that caused your brain to jump,
the comedian who made you laugh (sometimes),
the facilitator who ran that writing workshop with empathy and care and cried and laughed with several strangers over the things we dared express,
the girl who grew up being told not to be “too big for her boots”
and would cringe at boasting about any of the above things in order to challenge the stereotypes of autism embodied in all those geeky, awkward men from Rain Man, to Christopher in a Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime to Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory.

I wouldn’t be Saga in the Bridge either, though how I would want her trousers and crime-fighting skills, and empathise with her bafflement at social rules.

If I was autistic I’d be puzzled at how people told me I wasn’t like their child. Do they expect any of their adult friends to be like their children? I imagine that’s why we’re not having this conversation with their kids over a few glasses of wine and some filthy jokes about rabbits.

I’d find quiet carriages too loud, administration arduous and if I was interested in things I’d be very interested, but if not then forget it.

If I was autistic then that Facebook friend who said he told the “stupid psychologist” that his daughter couldn’t have Aspergers because she’s doing an A-level in English Literature probably wouldn’t have thought it made sense to say that to someone who works with words for a living.

I’d be bad at multi tasking, excellent at hyper-focusing and full of sensory sensitivities meaning that I’m expert at finding clothes that are both comfy AND sparkly.

If I was autistic then I’d confront the mire of language that means that for most people the word conjures boys, kicking and scratching while being held down in padded rooms, the mire that means many people are more comfortable with words like “High-functioning” or “Aspergers” or “Mild”, or as one friend put it beautifully “Autism-lite” to describe verbal adults with medium to high IQs. However, it’s a mire that covers up the fact that “functioning” is a word with a lot of loaded agendas, that Aspergers is being phased out as a clinical term and that whatever this heterogeneous thing called autism is, is hard to describe.

(It’s a neurotype I’d say- that is, really not a thing in itself at all, just a description of a type of brain and way-of-being-in-the-world and processing it which may lead people to need help, in certain situations, to deal with a world which mostly isn’t designed for them. How much help, or when, is highly variable because a “spiky profile” of doing some stuff well in certain situations and not others is particularly characteristic of autism).

If I was autistic then I would have been wounded by the gig promoter who, after I’d talked about my diagnosis at her gig, messaged me to ask whether it was okay that that bloke sexually harassed her because he told her he was autistic so maybe he didn’t understand what he was doing. I might have said “Er, hello? Would it have been okay if I sexually harassed you?”. For the record, autism isn’t an excuse for being a knob. Any more than being a man is.

But talking of which, if I was autistic, people would say “But isn’t that just a man thing?”. No, no it isn’t. But as the intensive training in How Be A Girl propagated by schools and society, is more effective than the intensive How to Be A Man training, at causing people to fit in and be socially pliant, then I’d tend to stand out a bit less, as a woman.

If I was autistic I’d find noisy pubs hurt my head, sometimes cooked fish smells too fishy and eye contact can be distracting though I can do a passable enough amount of it that people barely notice nowadays.

I’d have found non-verbal language and tacit communication a complete mystery until much of it was put into words for me by; doing drama workshops, training to be a radio journalist, doing a person-centred counselling diploma, experiencing being a stand-up performer over fifteen years and talking to like-minded people interested in the anthropology of this strange species we call human. And I would thank heaven that for all the downsides of late-diagnosis, I hadn’t had the experience of being medicalised and pathologised and having my deficits talked about so much that I didn’t believe I could do the things I do.

I would feel responsible when parents talked about how much their children needed autistic role models, doing things in the world. Though I’d also feel like that girl in the class who everyone hated because other parents said “Why can’t you be more like them?” (I was never that girl).

I would feel responsible when I heard parents of autistic people say, as one did on my Facebook (I really should do less Facebook) that “due to the nature of their difficulties”, Aspergers people just can’t do community. That would surprise the performers doing the show “Stealth Aspies”, or the hundreds who go to the autistic-led conference “Autscape” or the many groups on Twitter and Facebook or the autistic-led support groups plugging the massive NHS gaps.

If I was autistic there would be no support available to me post-diagnosis whatsoever. None. Not even a badge, a welcome pack and a subscription to a Dr Who magazine. My GP would look a bit awkward and ask if I was getting “treatment” at the place where I was diagnosed. I would resist asking him if he’d found a cure for autism. My local autism centre would say they had support groups for families of autistic people, but not for actual autistic people at the moment and anyway, they weren’t sure about working with people who weren’t “known” to them. My husband would find it easier to access a support group for people married to autistics if he wanted to (he doesn’t) than I would to find one.

(If I was autistic my husband would say that the most important thing for him is that I’m just me- and that we’ve found a pretty good balance over our ten year marriage in matching both our “spiky profiles”).

If I was autistic, I would have rapidly cycled through shock, disbelief and worry at how my talk was going to go when I was scheduled to speak after a child psychiatrist who described autistic people as stuck at toddler stage, primarily egocentric and the possessors of brains which were quite possibly a “genetic mess”.

I’d have compared the situation to being like an ethnic minority comedian having to follow Bernard Manning doing a particularly racist set, which was why I wanted to write a note to the organiser in the middle saying “I’m going to BOMB”. Also “Aaargh”.

But, luckily, I’d have just spent three years of a PhD thinking very intensely (and DOING very intensely) about how stand-up comedy and poetry can bring audiences together, can confront stigma and prejudice without alienating the people who carry some of it, and turn being silenced and negated into joyful, laughing resistance.

Thank goodness for an audience who could help make that happen I’d think. Though professionally and personally being put in that situation, as a newly diagnosed adult is potentially damaging to a level that makes having to follow spotty teenage boys doing endless rape jokes at comedy clubs look like nothing.

It would be enough to make me continue to hesitate about coming “out” . To worry that it will distract from the other things I’m passionate about, like regional, class and gender-based inequalities, or that it will stop people asking me to do interesting things or stop them listening to me and make them put me in a pigeonhole. Not coming out, when an authority figure like that can say those things at a professional conference, will seem like sensible self-preservation- goodness knows that’s something you have to learn, growing up as an autistic woman and confronting the self-care, relationship-work, sorting out a household and career-stuff that tends to be harder and more baffling for us and statistically more often goes wrong.

If I was autistic
I’d worry about my identity and my “authenticity” and my “victimhood” being appropriated and commodified. By me, on days with an empty bank account, but mostly by any of the forces that have an interest in doing that, not always because they have bad intentions.

I would love irony and puns and saying two apparently contradictory things at once, even though there’s probably a leaflet somewhere saying I wouldn’t.

So I’d take refuge in the liminal, in the in-between, in the possible that is the space of so much art and culture and entertainment. And for now, I’d say: me- autistic?

As if.

Further Reading:

Steve Silberman- Neurotribes (Allen and Unwin)
James McGrath- Naming Adult Autism (Rowman and Littlefield)
Joanne Limburg- The Autistic Alice (Bloodaxe)
Laura James- Odd Girl Out (Bluebird)
Samantha Craft- Everyday Aspergers (Booklogix)

Katherine May-The Electricity of Every Living Thing (Trapeze)
Damian Milton -A Mismatch of Salience (Pavilion Publishing)