My name is Dana.
I am a queer and trans non-binary (they/them) human.
I am also neurodivergent (Autistic/ADHD/2e), fat, and disabled.
Let’s Start at the Beginning…
I grew up in a conservative, evangelical Christian family in rural Appalachia.
For as long as I can remember, I have felt different.
And I didn’t know why.
I was bullied throughout childhood, until I was adopted by the goths and punks at my high school.
When I began to explore my sexuality in college, I thought I had finally figured it out!
But I still struggled to make or maintain friendships, or feel a sense of true belonging.
I kept seeking out different marginalized communities, hoping that each one would finally hold the key.
And I kept being disappointed.
My Neurodivergent Awakening
I am highly creative and deeply emotionally sensitive.
That is one of the things that made it take so long for me to finally accept myself as autistic.
I believed the myth that autistic people don’t experience empathy.
When in reality, many of us are hyper-empathetic. We pick up on the emotional state of others to the extent that it is overwhelming and debilitating.
I was also identified as “Gifted and Talented” in the 1990s, at a time when it was assumed that all autistic people also experience intellectual disability.
As a highly verbal “girl” and voracious reader, I became one of many in a lost generation of neurodivergent children who were not identified until adulthood.
For so many years, I blamed myself for not “reaching my potential.”
I didn’t know why I couldn’t keep a job for more than 18 months without burning out.
Or why I seemed to be perpetually misunderstood, no matter how hard I tried to express myself.
I knew social events were exhausting and overwhelming, and I always needed a lot of time to recover. I thought I was just severely introverted.
I believed mental health professionals who chalked my symptoms up to “anxiety” and “depression,” but I just never seemed to get better, no matter how hard I tried.
At first I started following autistic adult self-advocates in an attempt to be an ally.
But the more I listened, the more I saw of myself in their experiences.
I wasn’t lazy. I wasn’t broken. And there wasn’t actually anything “wrong” with me.
The autistic community is the first place that has ever felt like “home.”
Maybe it is for you, too.
From Reform to Abolition
I am a theatre artist, activist, lifelong learner, writer, and community organizer.
Acting in plays in college helped me learn to regulate and express my emotions in a healthier way. I use writing and performance therapeutically to help myself heal from childhood trauma and cope with systemic oppression.
I’ve been in and out of therapy for over a decade. There are times when it has helped. But more often, I have experienced harm at the hands of systems that weren’t created for me, or others like me. And watched the people I love experience the same.
At first I thought that fixing the system would solve the problem. So I trained to become a helping professional in the healthcare field.
But the more I became entrenched in the system, the more I realized just how much harm is happening.
COVID-19 has shifted my priorities. A deep dive into racial justice has helped me understand how white supremacy culture and ableism work together to create a system that labels, segregates, discriminates against, and oppresses people who live in bodies that are deemed inferior or unworthy.
I am moving away from reform and towards abolition. Away from a pathologizing medical model, and towards a liberatory model of disability justice.
These systems aren’t broken. They’re operating just as they were designed to, consolidating power in the hands of a privileged elite.
I no longer believe that therapy is the answer.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As I reflect on my life, I recognize that I’ve felt the deepest healing in community and solidarity with others on the margins of society.
I believe we can offer one another a level of care, mutual aid, and support rooted in lived experience that can transform ourselves, our communities, and the world as a whole.
We all have something to offer. And we all have needs.
I don’t want to position myself as an “expert” and align myself with hierarchical systems of power.
I want reciprocity. I crave emotional intimacy. And I need community.
I believe we can build the world we need together.
I still have to live in a capitalist system. So it might not be possible to leave finances out of the equation.
But I am interested in thinking about creative ways to support one another’s growth and well-being that aren’t merely transactional in nature.
Maybe you are, too.
If you want someone to walk alongside you on your journey for awhile. If you think that some aspect of my lived experience can support you in getting to where you want to be. If you are craving connection and community with like-minded individuals invested in your liberation. Let’s talk.