6. The cost of being neuroqueer

June 27, 2024

June 27, 2024

Episode Description

Did you know that there is a link between neurodivergence and queerness? In this episode we will cover what it means to be neuroqueer, why this link exists, some of the common challenges, and the changes that need to be made to create a more supportive and inclusive future for everyone. I’ll also share my own stories of coming out as both neurodivergent and queer. Whether you’re a part of either community or an ally, you’ll learn how to honor neuroqueer identities and build stronger communities.

Thanks for listening to Dopamine Dollars! If you enjoyed the episode, I’d love it if you could leave a review 💚

What You’ll Learn

  • history of the word queer
  • stats behind being neuroqueer
  • costs of being neuroqueer
  • how rejection sensitivity dysphoria effect social interactions
  • barriers to medical care for neuroqueer folks
  • how to find safe neuroqueer spaces
  • how to be a good ally

Important Links

Grab a copy of my book  HERE.

Check out the Lesbian Masterdoc HERE.

General Research:

Neuroqueer stats


We are taught to suppress who we are in order to be more palatable.

Hi friends, and welcome back to dopamine dollars, the podcast where we dive into the emotions, science, and real life impact of managing your money and your life when you’re neurodivergent. I’m your queer AuDHD host, Ellyce Fulmore, and today we are talking about the cost of being neuroqueer.

The process of coming to terms with your neurodivergence is shockingly similar to the experience of coming to terms with your sexuality and gender identity. If you identify with anything that falls outside of the societal norms, then you are subject to challenges, stigma, and misunderstanding, and it turns out that these identities are actually strongly linked. In recent years, the term neuroqueer has gained popularity online as a way to describe the link between neurodivergence and queerness.

Given that it’s currently pride month, I think this is the perfect time to talk about how this intersection of identities affects neuroqueer individuals. We are going to cover what it means to be Neuroqueer, why this link exists my own coming out story some of the common challenges for neuroqueer individuals and the changes that need to be made to create a more supportive and inclusive future for everyone.

I think this episode is so, so important. Regardless of the identities you personally hold, whether you’re neuroqueer yourself or you just hold one of those identities, or you hold neither, I encourage you to listen to this episode. If you’re an ally, you can hear a real life queer experience and walk away with some ideas on how to support neuroqueer individuals. If you’re a part of either or both communities, you will hopefully feel less alone and get inspired with how to build a stronger community.

Neuroqueer is a term representing the intersection of the neurodivergent and 2SLGBTQIA+ identities. If you’re not familiar, neurodivergent is an umbrella term describing anyone whose brain differs from what society considers quote unquote typical.

Queer is often also used as an umbrella term within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community that can encompass both gender and sexuality. Some people will use it because they don’t have another label they feel comfortable with, where others feel most comfortable with that label because of the fluidity it allows.

The word queer was originally used as a slur against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community because it used to be used to describe things that were strange, odd, or out of the ordinary. It later became a way for folks within the community to reclaim their power and their identity by using the word queer to describe themselves.

This is actually one of the reasons why I named my company Queerd Co, not only because queer is an identifier for folks in the queer community, but also because the origin of the word queer is that, like, strange, odd, out of the ordinary. And I feel like that perfectly encompasses who I want in my community, like anyone who feels like they fit into the traditional financial education box and who are just different in various ways. And that’s really what I wanted to encompass with Queerd Co.

I personally feel most comfortable with the identity queer, and I think for me it’s because I feel a bit restricted by many of the other labels. I also believe that sexuality is fluid and I feel differently about it at different times in my life, and using the term queer allows for more freedom with how I identify. To me, it does feel like I’m reclaiming my identity and refusing to put myself into a box just to make others feel comfortable.

I want to be clear that if you personally do have a specific label that you feel comfortable with, that’s amazing. I think labels can be really helpful for a lot of people and can even provide an aspect of feeling more included. If you’re an ally to the 2SLGBTQ+ community, it’s important that you ask folks how they prefer to label themselves rather than making assumptions.

Going back to the term neuroqueer, this is describing someone who identifies as both neurodivergent and queer. We are going to largely use the word queer in this episode as an umbrella term for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community also, because that can be a mouthful to say over and over again. To clarify, being a part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community includes anyone who identifies as two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, trans queer, intersex, asexual, aromantic, gender fluid, non binary, as well as any other identity that falls in between. There’s a lot I know. Not everyone in this community identifies as queer, but for the sake of the term neuroqueer, we are going to keep things more simple.

Here’s what the research on the link between neurodivergence and queerness says. A University of Cambridge study found that autistic folks are eight times more likely to identify as not straight and three times more likely to identify as trans than their non autistic peers. A study done in 2018 found that almost 70% of people with autism identify as non heterosexual, and a 2020 study done on autistic women found only 50% identified as cisgender, and only 8% identified as heterosexual. A 2014 study on gender variance found that folks with ADHD are approximately 7% more likely to express gender variance, and research has also found higher rates of OCD and ADHD diagnoses among queer folks.

So why does this link exist?

Nobody knows for sure, but the prominent theory is that folks who question their neurotype are also more likely to question other aspects of their identity, like their sexuality or gender identity.

Many neurodivergent folks, especially those who were late diagnosed, can relate to the experience of constantly trying to fit in and appear normal, which can lead to masking. Masking is when you hide your true behavior and personality and instead put on a front or mask that is more acceptable in society. No matter when you got diagnosed, you’ve likely moved through life knowing that the world we live in doesn’t support our brains. We are taught to suppress who we are in order to be more palatable. So we learn the frameworks, we follow the rules, and we put on a mask just to get by. But once you go through the process of accepting your neurodivergent identity, the mask starts to slip a bit, and we begin to deconstruct the entire framework we’ve been taught. Because this is such a revolutionary act in the world we live in, doing so often leads to the questioning of other rules and norms.

In an article by David Gray-Hammond, they describe neuroqueer theory as deconstructivism and says quote, humanity exists to evolve beyond the constraints of cultural normativity. End quote.

Whether the first thing you question is your sexuality, gender identity, or your neurotype, they all involve going against how you’ve been conditioned to act. Essentially, you’ve already broken the rules once, and that means you’re more likely to do it again. But being neuroqueer means you hold at least two marginalized identities, which can compound the challenges you face in your life.

First, I want to start off by telling you my own personal coming out experiences, both the experience of coming out as neurodivergent and coming out as queer. Both of these coming outs happened in 2020. At least publicly they did. The catalyst for both was getting on TikTok. And yes, I’m serious.

When I was laid off from my job in March of 2020, I got on TikTok, as many people did, and started scrolling. Within a matter of hours probably, I was on gay TikTok, and I’ll expose myself. Here I was mostly getting thirst traps from gay women on my for you page. Probably a year before that, I had actually started labeling myself as bisexual, and I had told my boyfriend at the time that I was bisexual on like our third date. The realization that I was attracted to both women and men had come a few years earlier, but I was very much still in denial over my identity and still in the grips of comp het.

If you’re not familiar with that term, comp het is short for compulsory heterosexuality, which refers to the way in which quote, heterosexuality is assumed and enforced upon people by a patriarchal and heteronormative society. End quote. Basically, it’s the idea that being straight is the expected norm, and that is what is pushed upon all of us, literally from before we are born. Just think of gender reveal parties, the pink and blue colors, the toys we are given to play with as children, etcetera.

Similar to the experience of masking as a neurodivergent person, many folks mask their sexuality too, without even realizing it. Because being straight is a default, then if you want to fit in and not be made fun of or called slurs, you’re likely going to force yourself to be straight. Interestingly, I don’t feel like I really ever had a period of being in the closet, except for maybe the period of time between telling my friends I was queer and telling my parents. But it wasn’t like I was holding on to this big secret. I had just suppressed and denied this part of my identity so much. And once I accepted that part of myself, I pretty much immediately came out.

I used to say back then that I was attracted to women, but I would never date a woman, which is just the internalized homophobia talking. But after a few weeks of being on gay TikTok and reading the lesbian master doc, if you know, you know, I changed that opinion.

If you don’t know about the lesbian master doc, it’s this lengthy document someone put together that describes all the ways that compulsory heterosexuality can show up, essentially all the ways we gaslight ourselves into thinking we are straight. Now, I don’t currently identify as lesbian, but the information in that document helped me realize how comp het was affecting me and the ways in which attraction to women can be different.

This led to the realization that I would actually date a woman, and I’d also date a trans woman and a trans man and someone who is non binary. I think that being isolated because of the pandemic and having so much time to reflect really helped me come to terms with who I was. I came out online on a personal TikTok before I came out to my close friends and family.

TikTok was a really safe space for me at the beginning of the pandemic, and it allowed me to connect with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, which I wasn’t able to do in real life. Well, I guess it was still real life, but in person I mean, I wasn’t able to connect in person, but I was on TikTok. Despite having come out to my boyfriend before we started dating, he was still very uncomfortable with my TikTok and didn’t understand why it was so important to me to have this connection to the community. I ended up having a conversation with him that ultimately led to the end of our relationship. I won’t go into detail, but essentially we had very different values, and he said some homophobic things that I couldn’t and didn’t want to move past.

That relationship was one that I had already mourned for months prior and actually prolonged the breakup because of the circumstances. It was the spring of 2020, so the height of COVID restrictions, and we were only seeing each other. I knew that ending things would mean that I would be very lonely, and I also was concerned for his mental health. When I finally did end the relationship, I had already mentally moved on, so don’t judge me for this. But literally, we broke up on a Sunday. I was on Tinder Monday, set to women only, started talking to someone that day, and went on a date that Thursday, and we are still together to this day. Yes, my girlfriend and I are a Tinder love story.

I started slowly coming out to my friends during the breakup process, and when I started dating women. I didn’t come out to my parents until October of that year when my girlfriend and I had started to get more serious. I have a lot I could say about coming out to my religious parents, but there’s too much that I want to cover in this episode, so I’ll have to tell that full story another time. I had initially been using the term bisexual or pansexual to describe my sexuality, but shortly after coming out to my parents, I started using the word queer, which just felt more comfortable for me. And honestly, I feel like my parents understood and accepted my queer identity more readily than they did my neurodivergent identity. Maybe a more accurate reframing of that is they accepted my neurodivergent identity more readily than my queer identity, but they understood my queer identity more readily than my neurodivergent identity. And I’ll explain that a little bit more in a bit.

In terms of coming out as neurodivergent this also began on TikTok. I started to get a lot of TikToks about ADHD on my for you page, and that led to me doing more research online and eventually seeking out a diagnosis. But telling the people in my life that I had ADHD was difficult in a different way. I didn’t feel scared to tell them like I did with my queerness, but I found it was much less understood. I had to constantly explain myself to them because people have a very preconceived notion around what ADHD looks like. Especially because I am someone who did very well in school and university, a lot of people kind of didn’t believe me at first. People feel like it’s impossible that I’m queer because I’ve only dated men in the past or I don’t look queer, and that it’s impossible that I’m neurodivergent because I own a business or because I can read physical books or a myriad of other silly things.

Also, being the first person diagnosed in my family meant that I had to explain how all of these things we did that my parents thought were normal were actually neurodivergent traits, but they didn’t recognize that because they were undiagnosed with neurodivergence themselves.

With both of these experiences of coming out, I have had to defend my identity. I have felt the need to almost prove that I was neurodivergent and queer. I have masked or concealed these identities in order to be accepted, and I have felt like an outsider. When trying to find safe spaces, I have to make sure that they are safe for me as a queer person and safe for me as a neurodivergent person. I am constantly thinking about whether or not I should come out to certain people in certain scenarios, and it’s scary and exhausting.

Some of the big things I’ve struggled with as someone who is neuroqueer are navigating societal expectations, finding safe and supportive communities, dealing with rejection, sensitivity, dysphoria, being my full self in friendships and in any social situation really. As someone who came out as queer and was diagnosed with ADHD at age 25, I also deal with grief. Grief around my childhood of how things could have been different if I knew these things earlier. I don’t have regrets because I feel that this was the way things were supposed to unfold, but I definitely did have a period of mourning the life I could have had. Lastly, while I haven’t dealt with this much myself, I know many neuroqueer individuals face barriers to accessing proper medical care.

If you’re also neuroqueer, I really want you to know that you’re not alone and that the challenges and struggles you face are so valid. I’m going to touch on some of these challenges and provide some suggestions on how we can begin to improve or change these experiences.

We’ve already talked a lot about how much we’ve been conditioned that the only way to be accepted in our society is to be heterosexual, neurotypical and adopt a binary gender expression. Not only is it extremely taxing on folks to mask their identity, it can also be potentially harmful if they don’t. For example, disclosing their sexuality at work may result in workplace discrimination or harassment. Or disclosing your neurodivergence in a job interview might cost you the job. Research found that 38% of two s LGBTQIA folks and 20% of neurodivergent folks reported experiencing harassment at work.

I struggle a lot with navigating societal expectations when trying to make new friends. Not only am I hyper aware of what I’m doing in those situations, like how much eye contact I’m making, where I’m looking, what my body language is saying, et cetera, but I’m also always thinking about how much of myself to disclose. Do I talk about my girlfriend? Do I explain how hard it is for me to make new friends? And how bad I am at texting people back?

I find that I almost start policing myself considering what might make someone uncomfortable rather than thinking about how comfortable I feel. This is also exacerbated by rejection sensitivity dysphoria, otherwise known as RSD. According to the Cleveland Clinic, RSD is when you quote, experience severe emotional pain because of a failure or feeling rejected, end quote. Folks with ADHD struggle to regulate emotions that are related to rejection, and as a result, the experience of those feelings are much more intense. Nobody wants to feel rejected, but especially not folks with RSD because it can be so painful. There are a lot of expectations around our behavior, communication, and social interactions. This makes navigating social situations extra scary because we want to be accepted, but we also don’t want to mask who we are.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a social setting and someone will randomly bring up some story to basically prove that they are queer friendly. Allies, please stop doing this. It’s so uncomfortable. I get that you’re trying to say that you’re accepting of my identity, but for me, it usually has the opposite effect. I don’t want to have to pat you on the back and give you a gold star for your allyship. I just want you to treat me like a normal human being. At the same time, don’t forget that we are marginalized and we need you to advocate for us when you can. So it’s kind of like this line between I don’t want you to treat me like an other, but I also want you to recognize that we’re not the same and that there are some experiences that I face and that I have that you might never be able to relate to.

If you hold any additional marginalized identities, this just creates more barriers and challenges. For example, think about the discrimination surrounding the Black community. In my book, I shared a story from Jalali, who spoke about how she believed there were limitations to showing up as herself naturally in many settings because of her curly hair. She said:

“I think about how I compromised myself in my younger years as a woman of color, trying to fit in: every job interview, every formal event, every graduation picture, and every girls trip because I was trying to meet the societal expectations and pressure I was facing in an attempt to assimilate and bridge my own fear of not fitting into the mold of the group or meeting the expectations of those in the space. I knew that there was hair discrimination in the workplace and I wanted to get ahead of that, often losing my authenticity in the process.”

Now imagine all the expectations and barriers you would need to navigate in the workplace if you were Black, neurodivergent, and queer. Another example could be folks who immigrated to North America and English isn’t their first language. Again, imagine the additional barriers to moving through the world if you were neuroqueer and also struggling to communicate with people around you.

Remember that identity is intersectional, meaning all the identities you hold are interacting simultaneously. When speaking about an individual’s experience, we have to consider how all aspects of their identity come into play. There is no liberation until we deconstruct society’s rules and expectations around all marginalized identities.

Next, I want to touch on the barriers to medical care that exist for neuroqueer folks in general. Both neurodivergent and queer folks have additional mental health challenges and face more discrimination from healthcare professionals. There are a lot of misconceptions about neurodivergence, sexuality and gender identity in these spaces. In the healthcare industry, it’s assumed that you are straight, and that comes up in conversations about contraceptives, family planning, and more. Many professionals do not view neurodivergence as a disability and therefore often invalidate the debilitating impact it can have on your life. Not to mention that neurodivergence in general is still under diagnosed and misunderstood, even among professionals who work directly in that field.

According to a study from 2018, 70% of gender diverse autistic teenagers reported needing gender affirming medical care, but 32% said that their gender identity had been questioned due to their autism diagnosis. Some in the medical field believe that a transgender identity is a symptom of neurodivergence. Transphobia runs rampant in the healthcare industry and adding the additional layer of neuro divergence can make it harder for these folks to not only seek out this support, but then actually receive affirming care.

In a study done on autistic adults in British Columbia, 57% reported that they have specific healthcare needs related to their autism that they felt were unmet. 50% said they hadn’t received adequate mental health support, and 90% said healthcare professionals need more training on providing care to autistic individuals.

The multiple stigma effect of holding more than one marginalized identity can be nearly impossible to live with. It may feel like who you are is under attack every day when navigating mental health challenges, finding a therapist or mental health professional who is knowledgeable about both neurodivergent and queer identities is difficult.

Not to mention there is also a financial barrier for many neuroqueer individuals because there is both a 2SLGBTQIA+ wage gap and a disability wage gap. We need more healthcare professionals that are trained on neuro affirming care and queer affirming care, as well as more creative and accessible approaches. Overall, there is a lot of work that needs to be done when it comes to providing safe medical care for neuroqueer folks.

For right now, let’s focus on some things that you can do as a neuroqueer individual. Number one, work on self acceptance.

The more confident you feel in your identity, the more that that will carry over into your day to day life. Practice unmasking whenever you can, wherever it’s safe to do so. Give yourself permission to wear the clothes you want, get the haircut you want, stim in public and get excited about things. Have the responses that you need to have to things. This can help boost your self esteem. I think overall, this confidence in who you are can inspire others to see that it’s okay to be different, and there’s not one right way to behave or act in our society.

Having this strong sense of self acceptance can also give you the courage to challenge stereotypes or misconceptions around being neuro queer and advocate for yourself when needed. One of the best ways to work on this confidence is to find supportive communities. Find the people who relate to your lived experience that can cheer you on and encourage you.

Which brings me to number two, find your community. Connecting with other neuroqueer folks is essential for helping you navigate the isolation and challenges that come along with holding these identities. Community provides a path to reorientation, a way to remove yourself from the frameworks imposed on you and instead connect with your authentic self.

Unfortunately, a lot of queer spaces aren’t always neurodivergent friendly. Many tend to be very overstimulating and ultimately, we need more neuro queer spaces that cater to both identities. The first chapter in my book, Keeping Finance Personal, is all about safe spaces, and I thought this was so important as a first chapter because finding those spaces where we feel comfortable to be ourselves and ask questions is so important.

The medium in which you find safety can come in many different forms, such as an online forum, Facebook group, blog, YouTube channel, group therapy, friends or family, or a therapist, coach, mentor, author or creator you trust. And one of the exercises I have readers do in the chapter is coming up with their list of red and green flags. I want to walk you through this exercise because I think it’ll be really helpful for neuroqueer individuals trying to find community as well.

So red flags are the aspects that signal to you that this is not a safe space. So these can be physical red flags, such as an intake form only offering male or female as gender options, or the lack of diversity in a workplace. They can also be less tangible, such as an icky feeling you get or a microaggression that you pick up on. Here are some examples of my own red flags:

No indication of being a 2SLGBTQIA+ affirming space, absence of options to select pronouns and alternative genders other than male female, heteronormative language, lack of diversity, lack of inclusive practices, non accessible information, unwilling to accommodate my ADHD, giving advice before hearing my goals, not listening to my questions or concerns, and condescending language.

There are many more, but you get the general idea. My own list of red flags makes it easy for me to identify unsafe spaces. Now that I have this clarity, I run away as fast as I can from those environments because I know firsthand the negative impact they have on me.

On the flip side, your green flags are the aspects of a space that signal to you that it’s safe. Many of these will simply be the opposite of your red flags. But treat this list like a wish list and add to it everything you would want in an ideal neuroqueer affirming space. Some examples of my green flags would be:

that it’s a 2SLGBTQIA+ affirming space, that they use inclusive language and practices, there is accessible information, that they implement diversity, equity, and inclusion practices, mental health and trauma informed, good listener, and best case scenario for me personally is that they’re also neuroqueer themselves.

You can apply these green flags to anything you want, for example, when trying to make new friends or deciding on what gym to join, or even when following someone new on social media. Your green flags are also really important to keep in mind when looking for accessible and supportive employment. Whether you’re working for someone else or yourself, you want to make sure it’s in an environment that you feel safe in and that you can thrive in.

Set boundaries with yourself and decide today that you are done trying to shrink yourself to fit into uncomfortable spaces. When you surround yourself with safe spaces, you open yourself up to more happiness, support, confidence, a greater sense of security, and ultimately more power.

Sometimes there can be a sense of imposter syndrome, like am I allowed to be in these communities and spaces even if I’m self diagnosed? Can I celebrate pride if I’m in a straight passing relationship? But remind yourself that you are valid. Self diagnosis is valid, bisexuality is valid, your identity is valid, you are valid, and you belong in these spaces. And if anyone makes you feel otherwise, then it wasn’t a safe space to begin with.

Number three, redefine success. Redefining what things like success and wealth mean to you is one of my favorite topics to talk about. Earlier, we explored how challenging societal norms in one aspect of your life can provide the freedom to deconstruct additional frameworks, and one of these is society’s definition of success. You do not have to adhere to rules around what your life should look like, what kind of career you should have, the kind of family you should have, how much money you should make, etcetera. I think neuroqueer folks are more likely to step outside of the American dream and build a life that reflects their unique and authentic selves.

If you haven’t done this already, I challenge you to spend some time creating your own definitions. What is your definition of success? What does success actually mean to you, and what does success look like and feel like within the context of your life?

And what about wealth? What does wealth mean to you? What does wealth actually look like and feel like within the context of your life? How much money is enough money?

Spend some time thinking about these. Because you’ve already done such powerful and challenging work of deconstructing frameworks around your sexuality or gender identity or neurodivergence, why not take it a step further and really embrace a life that is completely and authentically yours?

Lastly, I want to touch a little bit on being an ally to the neuroqueer community. As an ally, you need to be an advocate for us. Call out the misconceptions you hear, especially in the conversations that happen behind closed doors, when you think no one is listening, when there’s no neuroqueer individuals in that space. Are you still calling out those misconceptions? Are you still standing up for us?

Be a champion and advocate for your neuroqueer coworkers, friends and family. Spend the time to educate yourself on the challenges of neuroqueer folks and listen to their experiences. Educate others around you. Try to avoid inserting yourself into queer spaces, but if you do find yourself in a queer space, be aware of your privilege. Elevate neuroqueer voices as much as you can, and defer to their expertise.

If you are a part of the queer community, think about how we can make the space more accepting for neurodivergent folks. I personally find that a lot of pride events are not sensory friendly and that could be pushing away a lot of neuroqueer folks.

If you work in the healthcare industry, it’s critical that you educate yourself on the experiences of marginalized identities. Beyond that, come into your work with an open mind and the acceptance that you will never understand the lived experiences of neuroqueer queer folks to the extent that they understand it, listen to what they say and don’t invalidate their experiences. If you identify a gap in your knowledge, do the work to go and educate yourself rather than expecting the neuroqueer individual to take on the role of an educator.

Wow. Okay. I hope this episode reminded you that you’re not alone and that your identity is valid. I hope this helped highlight some of the costs involved with being neuroqueer. And although I didn’t touch on a lot of specific financial examples, I feel as though many of those are implied. The financial costs of accessing healthcare, the financial costs of embracing your true identity and portraying that in the way that you dress or the way that you do your hair, or like things like that, the costs involved in gender affirming care, costs involved in mental health support and medication. The list goes on.

This was more of a special pride episode to really illuminate the challenges faced by neuroqueer individuals and to share a bit of my own story and also to examine how you might be able to support these communities better. Let’s all continue to work together to create safe spaces for neuro queer individuals.

Alright folks, that’s it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening to Dopamine Dollars. And remember, you’re not bad with money, you’re just neuroqueer.