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Untethered: The Gelatinous Descent

Welcome to Untethered, a new column by me, a person who has basically never been single in their whole adult life. Herein, I’m publicly committing to, above all else, dating myself and building community around me not based on the relationship escalator — for the indefinite future. I’m curious about what that looks like, genuinely, and hope you’ll explore that with me!

This is a non-exhaustive list of things I’ve lived through recently:

  • Falling through a log I was trying to use to get myself down a small cliff, but the log was actually so rotten it crumbled like chocolate cake underneath my boots and absorbed me into its sticky sickly sweet cakey maw. Reader, I yelled.
  • Getting the cops called to my house by a truly very annoying straight woman.
  • Having to explain to my ex-girlfriend why the cops are at the door.
  • Seeing landscaping goats and their protector donkey at the park! We love Goats With Jobs!
  • Sleeping on a camping mat on the floor of my office…like I have been for the past two months. Then, subsequently, realizing my back has not felt this good in a while.
  • Being forced to consider whether “Western” (a problematic term) style beds are…a conspiracy? Are they (beds with a mattress, a frame, etc.) bad for us (humans)? I’m not being unserious. I feel like this is a legitimate point of inquiry.
  • Getting so stressed that I stayed up until 4 a.m. making chocolate chip cookie dough. Then having to reckon with the fact that I was trying to comfort myself by making cookies for everyone I cared about because sometimes showing affection is hard.
  • Being touched when everyone received said cookies with grace. Well, except for my one friend who screamed “I NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GONNA SAY TO ME” when I told them I made four batches of cookie dough while stressed and then just handed them cookies as I got in their car.
  • Sleeping with an Epi pen next to me because the house was filled with yellowjackets, displaced because city raccoons or city coyotes ate the nest near my front door I’d called exterminators about and now the yellowjackets were unhoused and in my house and throwing themselves with a very loud buzz — and yeah “stingers up” — at the windows but also at anyone (me) who got too close.
  • Watching a PowerPoint presentation under a bridge with cigarette smoke wafting around me and a happy new haul of zines crinkling in my backpack.
  • Listening to a certain audiobook, describing it to a trusted friend, and having that friend yell in the cutest frustration possible about how right the audiobook is.
  • Finally, finally perfecting my vegan sparkling wine aspic recipe, but only under the utmost pressure.

So, yes, let’s dive in there. Will you descend with me into what someone described as disturbing air quotes around the word “gelatin”? (Because it’s agar agar.) I do think this is a much more comfortable descent than the submersion into a rotting log, for what it’s worth. Take my hand?

Welcome back to Redwall Summer, where no Redwall Raspberry Cordial has happened, and yet, raspberries have been involved. I have attempted a vegan sparkling wine aspic before — four times in fact — but this time I knew I didn’t have room for error. I’d been invited to a rooftop potluck, hosted by my queer chef friend, and I had just enough of the ingredients to make one aspic. In the past, these had either been too rubbery or fallen apart, and listen, while a dessert aspic that is slowly unmaking itself is perhaps a pleasant cousin to some kind of cosmic horror that shifts between gelatinous solid and liquid states at will, it is not the presentation I was going for. This time, I carefully measured the agar agar based on my trial and error before. I took my time layering, then chilling, layering, then chilling as I added berries to the dessert by color. A couple hours later, it was midnight and I was running this thing in and out of the freezer so it set in layers, so the fruit would do the pretty thing I wanted it to do. I felt like I was playing at competing on The Great British Bake-Off.

I arrived with the aspic still stuck in the bundt pan, confident that a party full of cooks and restaurant workers could probably extract it more artfully than I ever could. Together, we worked to get it out with a hot water bath, lots of communal whacking, and a knife. The aspic emerged like Venus out of the sea, glorious and bouncy as one of those really low-quality dildos — all in one piece, too! The group retired to the rooftop, carrying all the dishes and drinks we’d assembled. We gathered around on blankets and ate. Someone reacted with a “perfect!” when the aspic held its shape during slicing. It tasted really good, too, a cold dessert on a hot day. We opened cans of tinned fish, ate mystery dip, and discussed Barbie and being talked over by cis men. I listened to restaurant gossip and connected with a couple really cool people.

One of these cool people served as a stark reminder of my face blindness. Several days after the rooftop potluck, as you might have guessed, I attended Spaghetti Disco and ran into a woman I’d met at said potluck.


This person is delighted to see me and I canNOT place her because — again — context is number one here, and she has appeared so wildly out of context. I mimic her excitement, because obviously I know her, I just temporarily have no idea where the fuck I know her from. She’s wearing a hat that is also, somehow, a disco ball, so I compliment it and do small talk while desperately staring at her face until it clicks — hard — like I’m in a cartoon and someone just dropped a piano on me.

I had talked with this person for like A FUCKING HOUR on the roof. We looked at the moon together and shared tinned clams! I really wish people in real life came with the kinds of labels they do on the internet, or in Slack. Whenever a coworker’s name pops up in our office, I’m never like “oh who is that” because it SAYS WHO IT IS.

Once I recognize her, my shoulders sink down and I can ask her how her week’s been. She goes to dance, and I slink out to the patio with the smokers for a while to contemplate why my brain is the way it is.

a sweet aspic on a plate with red trim

While recounting everything going on in my life, my therapist asked me to please read Unmasking Autism and referred me to someone who does ADHD and autism screening.

This is the book my friend said hit too hard, too close, with too much realness. They’re right. This is a difficult read. Are you prepared to face patterns in your childhood, your family life, your friendships and romantic relationships, your relationships to school and work, your everything in a way that is maybe just as, if not more, cutting than your relationship to your sexual orientation and gender? How many mind fucks is one person supposed to take?

So, I’m at the autism assessment, at the ADHD assessment, at the combination autism and ADHD assessment, and these questions are scathing. I’m super comfortable with the assessor, though, despite the questions. He appears to be a queer man who tells me he’s autistic and has ADHD himself. When he asks about things that might be special interests, I rattle a few things off and then make myself admit to the one that makes him laugh.

“The history of ceramic heating devices,” I mutter, and he is like, “We can move onto the next question.”

He asks something about how I do the dishes, and I am like “of course I do the dishes. You have to do the dishes.” And he asks me how easy it is. Then I have to tell him that I wash one to two dishes, walk away, look at something else, and then make myself go back to the sink where I repeat the process. More scribbling on his end. He pulls up my pre-assessment paperwork, nods his head, and says “nonbinary.” To which I am like, yes, that’s what I put down.

Mr. Assessor then cheerfully informs me that research he’s aware of estimates that 25% of trans and nonbinary people are autistic / have ADHD and that he feels the percentage is likely larger than that due to the manner in which autism and ADHD are undiagnosed in many (non-cis/het/AMAB/white) demographics. I knew there was a correlation. After all, I work here. I work with y’all. I’m also on Tumblr. (LOL) But, listen, this diagnostician read me for filth. It was comment after comment like this.

This man even told me that apparently going dancing all the time is, in part, a common way for people to access a societally appropriate form of stimming, and I’m mad at him forever for saying that. Don’t call me out like that, bro!

On top of it all, one of the most difficult things about the diagnosis has been the reflection. Mostly, I’ve been looking back at the times — many of them very recent — where I’ve been treated like a cold-hearted bitch for not interacting with people in a way they expected. Frankly, in a way they expected that I suspect is rooted in an expectation that I adhere to some kind of traditionally feminine, emotionally giving (and sacrificing) role.

I think this is as much tied up in my sometimes femme-ness as it is in my all-the-time autistic-ness. If I put on lipstick, if my face is shaped the way it is, if my voice is high-ish pitched and I really lack the skill (your dude also can’t sing) or the time to alter it, there’s a certain amount of tenderness or enthusiasm or bubbliness expected — but I’m not necessarily going to deliver on that in the ways people might expect. Throughout my work and school life, this has always meant being docked for my inability to provide the kind of emotional labor that cis men, especially, expect of me. It’s not even necessarily a deliberate protest (though, sometimes it is). It’s more often an oversight. Like, “Oh, I didn’t see that heterosexual expectation there. Sorry I tripped over it. Y’all should really clean that up or put one of those orange cones out or something because this is both unnecessary and slippery.”

I will never forget seeing my ex-boss from a past non-Autostraddle job break into tears when I pushed back on feedback her cishet white male colleague gave me in a performance review insisting I was too brash and harsh and cold. (He’s also an asshole, and so I’m not sure why he was surprised about this treatment.) I said I’d gotten that feedback since I was five years old and that I honestly didn’t know what to do about it but that also I didn’t think it’d be as much of an issue if I was a man. She started crying, and I could see her processing the information. He looked admonished. I followed it up with my performance stats, which were impeccable. Like, I’d gotten them — a small to midsize theater — a literal million dollars in grant money in the year I’d worked for them — couldn’t we lead with that? My ex-boss is still my friend — she’s the one who you might in fact remember being the one who hooked me up with the D&D group — so you know she’s ride or die.

It’s always been with me. That could be its own essay, its own book. But I will say that looking back at a five-year relationship, an engagement that was called off, through the lens of the neurodivergence that affected it — it’s a heady experience.

It’s a lot, buds — Redwallers, Romans, friends.

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Nico Hall is Autostraddle's and For Them's Membership Editorial and Ops Dude, and has been working in membership and the arts for over a decade. They write nonfiction both creative and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 226 articles for us.


    • When I saw the gooseberries in the store, I freaked out. I hadn’t seen those since I was a kid!!! Congrats on your gooseberry bush. Well done. And thank you so much for this kind comment and for reading 💜💜💜

  1. Oh Nico. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words with us!

    I will say, as a person who does not have the autism / ADHD characteristics, that I really love folks who do! Folks in my life with autism and/or ADHD include my wife, my sibling, and several close friends. To speak in generalizations for a moment, I love the way their minds work and we always have the most interesting conversations because of all the knowledge they have from doing internet deep dives. And they actually engage with me on whatever conversational topic I bring up instead of just waiting for their turn to say something, or saying something banal in response.

    In conclusion, I love y’all’s brains! Keep up the good work!

  2. My mom once commented, after I found+grew into my autistic identity (somewhat) later in life, that it seemed even more central to my identity than being gay. I laughed because she sounded so surprised- of COURSE my entire brain layout, the way I experience the entire world, is a fundamental part of my identity! Of COURSE it impacts literally every other thing in my life. More recently, as I’ve delved more into my nonbinary-ness and aspec-ness, I’ve started to see them all as once thing, which has made a lot of sense in my brain and provided a lot of clarity about The Way I Am. Semi-tangentially, one of the most beautiful things about the whole experience has been seeing my dad and grandma learn about and eventually claim their own autism. It has profoundly improved both their lives, and especially helped my grandma- she has always had a complicated relationship to gender, societal expectations, and her inability to fit well in the boxes she was assigned, and watching her eyes light up as she’s gained the vocabulary to understand and communicate her experiences has made me so happy. I love seeing queer+autistic content here on Autostraddle!

    • Thank you so much for what you’ve shared about the intersection of your queer / nonbinary identities and your austistic identity. It’s a very real continuum! The whole experience (and reading Unmasking Autism) has also made me think deeply about my family (because autism / ADHD do run in families, right?) and how neurodivergence seems to have affected us for a long time, going back generations. I especially love hearing that your grandma’s come into a better understanding of herself. That is so, so cool!!

  3. I’ve also been going through the process of discovering I’m very likely autistic and have ADHD and yeah, it is incredibly overwhelming. I relate to a lot of what you’ve share here.

    Another interesting statistic re autism and queerness – I can’t remember which study this was, but it suggested that autistic women are 3x more likely to be gay than allistic women, and autistic men are 3x more likely to be bisexual than allistic men.

  4. “Oh, I didn’t see that heterosexual expectation there. Sorry I tripped over it. Y’all should really clean that up or put one of those orange cones out or something because this is both unnecessary and slippery.”

    I want this sign on my office door, painted across the wall, and in my email signature. I see it, but dang if it isn’t often too late.

  5. Nico, I truly loved this article, being a non binary person who got their autism diagnosis two months ago, aged 50, following a lifetime of endless confusion at why I seemed to be “failing” at pretty much everything- you know, all that “normal”, cis – het, capitalist shit.

    I guess I was able to “hide in plain sight” to a certain extent as an adult because I’m an artist – you’re kind of expected to be eccentric. But even then, I was always on the outer of that particular world, too. Not nearly social enough, though I tried my heart out & had the burn – out to prove it, LOL.
    When I came out as non binary in 2017 I gained a lot more confidence, & I think I also started a kind of unconscious unmasking then, even though I didn’t yet know I was autistic…but I had known from when I was about 5 years old that I was different…& that “different” did not get positive feedback.

    I read Unmasking Autism last year. It was the fourth book I read after my “root” autism books, which were, in this order:
    1. Late Bloomer by Clem Bastow – this was my intro & got me thinking seriously about getting an autism diagnosis…I initially picked this up at my local bookstore because 1. it was a memoir (I like memoirs), 2. it is by an Australian writer (I’m also from “Down Under”) & 3. most importantly, it has a glittery rainbow cover. If you haven’t read this then kindly put it at No. 1 on your to read list! Clem is also queer!
    2. Ten Steps to Nanette by Hannah Gadsby – I read an interview with Hannah just before their book was released & I knew I had to read this for similar reasons to the first one on my list. This book is tough, funny, smart, & heartbreaking. Relatable too, despite me having some very different life experiences.
    3. Neurotribes by Steve Silberman – a great general “history” of autism by a gay male writer.

    Then I read Devon Price’s Unmasking Autism & KNEW that I was on the team. I could relate so much to his concepts & the fact he is also trans was compelling. I started talking it over with my therapist in earnest after that & kept on reading & researching while we continued our discussions. Thankfully my therapist specializes in working with queer/trans folks & also does autism assessments. He’d also already suspected I was autistic! Following a year of in – depth discussions & evidence – gathering, I had my assessment in May & received my official diagnosis in July.
    I ticked pretty much all the other autism boxes as well as being trans/ non binary…sensory sensitivities, socializing issues, disordered eating (aged 15 – 17), extreme memory & attention to detail, a “spiky skill – set” (look it up), & far too many special interests to mention …plus being bullied as a child, & enduring dysfunctional relationships because I believed I didn’t deserve better, etc…

    May I also add that many autistic folks also have chronic health issues such as anxiety & depression, sleep issues, migraines, gut problems, autoimmune disorders (yes to all from me) among others. Autism & ADHD are genetic, & tend to “travel” with a bunch of other stuff. Some things, such as anxiety & depression are typically due of the stress of masking to please neurotypical society, & all the bullying & casual cruelty we have to put up with.

    Like you, I’ve always had a strong “bullshit detector” & struggle with the entitlement & hypocrisy of the cis – het world. Social justice tends to be a big deal for many autistic people & we are often outspoken about unfairness due to our preference for logic, plain – speaking, & equity.

    Being OUT & PROUD can help a lot with the more challenging aspects of being autistic. Acceptance & understanding from other folks is what we need in particular, though self – knowledge & self – acceptance (concepts that us queer folks are already familiar with) is crucial. Knowing, loving, & caring for who you are is worth the effort & a potential lifesaver.

    I wish you all the best for your journey, Nico, & I thought your aspic looks pretty neat, too! You’re an awesome human being & your willingness to share your personal experiences means a hell of a lot to us queer autistic folks – thank you!

    PS – I’ve read so many autism books over the last year…& this is one more I can highly recommend for being straight- forward & easy to read as well as queer – friendly – The Autism FAQ – everything you wanted to know about diagnosis & autistic life, by Joe Biel & Dr. Faith G. Harper.

    • These book recs!!!!!!!! Thank you so much for putting these together. You’re too, too kind for this. Congratulations on your diagnosis. I’m so happy for the ways you’ve been able to learn about yourself and start unmasking.

      Also,the part of Unmasking Autism that discusses “enduring dysfunctional relationships because I believed I didn’t deserve better” hit so, so hard for me. Not necessarily referring to my most recent, but really, when I look at my entire dating history. Brutal.

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your journey. Sending you a ton of love and solidarity and gratitude for yours.

      • Nico, thanks so much for your lovely reply & I’m super thrilled to think my book recommendations have been of value!
        I’m a total book nerd & whatever I’m into, I’ll generally try to read any potentially interesting book on the topic (& yes, I have a LOT of books). Books & bookstores are a happy place for me…
        May I also add a couple more relevant titles:
        The Autistic Trans Guide to Life by Wenn Lawson & Yenn Purkis – more Aussie trans/autistic excellence!
        Spectrums – Autistic Transgender People in Their Own Words – edited by Maxfield Sparrow – this is an fabulous collection of essays, poetry & more by a diverse collection of autistic trans folks.
        If you enjoy comics, then Sensory: Life on the Spectrum: an autistic comics anthology, edited by Bex Ollerton is a cool collection with lots of trans representation.
        And if you’re big on special interests & what they mean to autistic people, I can also highly recommend Pete Wharmby’s book What I Want To Talk About – how autistic special interests shape a life. He is a former school teacher, late diagnosed (like me!) & although not queer, he has a lot to say that is relevant & meaningful about the autistic experience, especially regarding burn out & bullying (& how special interests can be a lifesaver). Also, he stopped being a fan of Harry Potter after “she who shall not be named” expressed her toxic views – so, bonus ally points!

  6. ty for sharing your thoughts. i’ve loved reading about your journey and can relate to so many points!

    i also just wanna mention that i’ve been sleeping quite well in a hammock for months now without any of the back pain i had sleeping on a *very nice* mattress. it’s lovely being gently rocked back to sleep after i wake up in the middle of the night. a very inexpensive alternative and tiny environmental footprint when it’s time to replace it.

  7. Thanks for this, Nico! I started to suspect I might be autistic several months ago and have been doing lots of my own research, but haven’t read Unmasking Autism. I’m excited to check it out!

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