NB- I received a free ARC copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, which is what you’re (hopefully, I suppose) about to read.
I love this cover—such a simple, yet eloquent concept with a calming and beautiful execution. I can practically feel the itchiness of the tag on my neck looking at it
Being LGBT and having autism is actually fairly common and yet often misinterpreted. This groundbreaking first-hand account uses personal experiences from birth to late diagnosis to explore this connection, and the nuances of both gender identity and ASD.
Looking at everyday struggles faced by the author, such as learning feminine presentation through observation of subtle cues due to her autism, issues around sensory processing and LGBT spaces, socially difficult situations exacerbated by gender identity, and even coming out as trans during an autistic meltdown, this gives a unique insight into the links between autism, sexuality and gender. Split into three sections, it begins with life prior to transition and diagnosis, moving on to the years of self-discovery and finally shows the upsides and downsides of being autistic and on the LGBT spectrum.
This book was incredible. I don’t read much non-fiction these days, but I’m glad I made an exception for this book. If you want an in-depth, unflinching look at the many ways bearing a minority labels intersect and create unique challenges, read this book.
Uncomfortable Labels is filled with statistics, data and clear explanations of the occurrence rates and results of being LGBTQ+ or autistic, usually backed up with anecdotes from the author’s own life. She covers issues like the importance of representation; stimming and the stigma surrounding it; the challenges involved in getting a diagnosis and treatment; the things society and the health system have deemed ‘unnecessary’ for transgender people or those with autism; the increased risk of suicide and addiction in marginalised communities; he need to find a community that accepts you for who you are; and so much more that I could fill the rest of this review just listing the topics covered.
She looks at the largely unmentioned, statistically significant overlap of autism and transgender identities, and the various explanations that have been put forward to explain this. She considers the need for greater variance in autism-friendly events and spaces, and autistic and transgender representation. She looks at the way society is slowly becoming more accepting, and sheds light on the many ways we are still falling short.
There are chapters about the author’s experiences of addiction, of abuse, of mental illness and suicidal ideation—situations and experiences all too common among marginalised groups. At one point, and in one line, Laura Kate Dale summarises the experience of being a misunderstood minority (or in her case, several minorities, each working to compound and complicate the challenges such differences cause), and the message society repeatedly and unconsciously sends, even when trying to be inclusive:
“Have superpowers or be invisible”
She shares honest, troubling stories about the way men are trained to view women and act towards each other, from the fascinating perspective of a woman who was able to experience the attempted conditioning and ‘locker room talk’ firsthand, as a presumed insider. She shares stories of the infantilization of people with autism, and the ways this threw doubt on her own ability to recognise her gender and sexuality. She speaks out about the challenges faced by transgender people to this day, the lack of understanding that still shrouds autism (especially in women) and the likely roots of the mental health crisis amongst the minority groups she is a member of.
That being said, the book is not an attempt to seek pity or magnify the difficulties the author has faced in her time. Laura Kate Dale acknowledges her privileges and speaks only on the issues she has the authority and personal experience to speak about1. At times experiences2 were described as being a risk due to the author’s status as a transgender and/or autistic woman that seemed to apply to women in general, though I think the increased risk posed due to the marginalisation of such groups of women is all that was being conveyed.
Despite covering some truly dark topics, Uncomfortable Labels is not a gloomy, depressing read. Laura’s life story thus far is actually an inspiring tale of the ways you can (with sufficient support, effort and motivation) achieve the life you’ve always wanted. While she’s certainly dealt with far more grief and discrimination than anyone should have to, the author doesn’t dwell on the negatives, choosing to focus instead on the ways she has overcome her low points, and how other people in similar situations can do the same.
There were some areas of the book that seemed repetitive—with each chapter ending in a summary that at times seemed very similar to the earlier explanation of the issue at hand, but this seemed more like a reiteration than a true failure in editing. The only thing I didn’t like about this book was the almost positive way in which the book covered ecstasy (MDMA) usage. The author acknowledges that it isn’t healthy or good to rely on such substances, that usage is illegal and that it can have long-term harmful effects; but she also attributes several positive effects on her life to the drug usage, which I felt was a little irresponsible. That being said, the book is an honest recounting in the author’s own words of her life story. If she believes MDMA had a positive influence on her experiences with the world, saying otherwise would dilute the honesty that makes Uncomfortable Labels so compelling, but I was uncomfortable with the message that section of the book seemed to send.
All in all, this book is a masterpiece that tells an uplifting tale of victory in the face of hardships, and the battle it often takes to be uncompromisingly true to yourself. Uncomfortable Labels is a must-read for anyone on the autism spectrum, any member of the LGBTAIQ+ community, anyone who knows someone in either group, or anyone who wants greater insight into the myriad of ways minority labels (especially working in conjunction) effect those who bear them. The book releases on the 18th of July 2019, and I’ll post a reminder on the release date.
1If only more people would follow her example, especially when discussing trans rights
2eg. Date rape, being harassed on public transport, being followed on the streets, the attempt by harassers to convince you that you should be grateful for their (negative) attention as you’re not worthy of anything more, and other such lovely examples of misogyny at work