Understanding What Neurogenders Are
Welcome back to Queering the Narrative!
This week, I wanted to talk about something that a lot of people outside the queer community — and, honestly, even those inside the queer community — aren’t all that familiar with.
That topic is neurogenders. This specific facet of gender identity is an important aspect of the gender expansive umbrella, but doesn’t get a whole lot of attention in the community (and has very, very little representation in the media.) So today, I wanted to talk about just what neurogenders are, in order to put them into some context.
Note: I would like to preface this discussion by pointing out that I am neurotypical, and do not have personal experience with neurogenders. If you want to include a character with a neurogender in your work and don’t have personal experience with it, please seek out advice and testimonials from folx who actually identify this way!
The term “neurogender” refers to a gender identity or experience which is linked to one’s neurodivergence, mental illness, and/or neurological condition. In this context, “neurodivergence” refers to different ways peoples’ brains are wired, and most commonly refers to autism, ADHD, and OCD. However, “neurodivergence” and “neurodiversity” are sometimes used as umbrella terms that include mental illness and neurological conditions. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be using the broader definition for this blog post.
Someone who identifies with a neurogender experiences their gender identity in a way that is fundamentally distinct from a neurotypical person, due to their neurodivergence. For example, someone who identifies as autigender might feel that their autism gives them a different perspective on the man/woman dichotomy, and that due to their autism they cannot comfortably fit within that binary. Note that neurogenders are exclusive to those who have a particular nuerodivergence.
Importantly, neurogenders are entirely opt-in. Not everyone who has a particular neurodivergence, mental illness, or neurological condition inherently has a neurogender. An individual only has a neurogender if they intrinsically feel that their gender is affected by their neurodivergence.
Neurogenders are also not neurodiversity as gender identity. The existence of ADHDgender as a neurogender does not imply that the person’s gender is ADHD. Rather, these terms are to describe how neurodiversity affects gender identity.
This is an extremely important distinction, and can be a bit difficult for neurotypcial people to grasp. If you’re having trouble with it, just remember that not everyone’s brain works the same way as yours. Gender norms that might seem simple or obvious for you might seem arcane or trivial to an autistic person, or impossible to focus on for someone with ADHD.
Even if you don’t agree with those gender norms, you have come to that conclusion due to an internal truth about your gender identity. When it comes to neurogenders, the individual’s internal experience of their gender identity is so fundamentally tied to their neurodiversity that the two cannot be unlinked.
Again, though: neurogenders are not themselves neurodivergences. They are simply potential facets of neurodivergence.
Characters with Neurogenders
Now that we’ve discussed what exactly neurogenders are, we can go ahead and talk about how neurogenders come up in media! And unfortunately… they don’t, really.
Neurodiversity itself is a relatively fraught media topic. Ableism is rampant in media, meaning that a lot of characters who are shown as neurodivergent or mentally ill already face a lot of hurdles to be seen as fully realized characters in their own rights. Many people already have trouble understanding or sympathizing with genuine portrayals of neurodiverse characters — adding in the complicating factor of a neurogender is something of a tall order for a lot of media.
It can also be difficult to differentiate a neurogender from other gender identities, unless the individual in question is given the microphone in the narrative. Not every trans, non-binary, or gender nonconforming neurodivergent person identifies with a neurogender, which means that in order to portray a neurogender, the character in question has to themself express how their neurodivergence impacts their understanding of their own gender. This requires that a character talk about both their gender identity and their neurodivergence.
Some characters who are coded as autistic or otherwise neurodivergent — especially aliens, celestial beings, and robots — also express confusion over gender and the importance it plays in human social interaction, sometimes relating that confusion to their inherent natures. In some cases, this is a somewhat authentic experience for people with neurogenders — folx who have trouble understanding social norms due to their neurodivergence might find that that affects how they perceive their own gender. However, this is often used in media to other the character — especially when the character is explicitly nonhuman!
If that’s the only portrayals available, then some might find the characters relatable — but folx with neurogenders deserve more nuanced, kind, and explicit representation in media, just like all queer identites!
When considering writing a character with a neurogender, remember that the experience of a neurogender is very intrinsic and individual. Therefore, your character is going to have to explain their neurogender. This can come through dialogue, narration, or internal reflection
No matter what, though, you’re going to really have to understand your character’s identity to make it work — and to do that, you really need to do your research! I would recommend researching your character’s specific neurogender, and trying to find online testimonials (like this one) from actual people who identify as neurogender.
If you yourself don’t experience a neurogender, you’re going to have to do a lot of work to make sure you understand and can properly convey the experience — and should definitely invest in a sensitivity reader!
Though neurogenders don’t get a lot of attention as members of the LGBTQIA+ community, they still have a unique and beautiful experience of gender that deserves far more attention in media. However, it’s important for that media to at least understand what neurogenders are, and to portray neurogender folx in authentic, nuanced, and ultimately kind ways
That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next week for a more in-depth look at a specific neurogender, but until then stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!