I think I’ve mentioned it enough and am open enough about it that you likely already know that I’m Autistic. What you might not have known, until someone mentioned it in Peace Maker, is that Katja (the main character of the Peaceforger trilogy) is also #ActuallyAutistic. And you can’t be blamed for not knowing, because…
…Because nobody said anything about it in Peace Fire, even though she was as Autistic then as in the second book. Just like my friends, as far as I know, aren’t constantly talking about me being Autistic.
…Because women and girls on the spectrum remain under-diagnosed. I’ve even heard about one man who specialises in assessing autism who missed that his own daughter is Autistic. (The studies and figures cling to the gender binary, but I imagine this generally applies to AFAB people. Also, I am uncomfortable using the word “diagnosed” in this context, as autism isn’t an illness, but…that’s another topic.)
…Because I only got my autism assessment in 2014 and it took me a while to feel I had a right to really claim or write that reality. Since Peace Fire finally found its way to the page for the first time in 2014, I was definitely not feeling my rights then.
…Because, as we say in Autistic circles, if you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve met one Autistic person; we’re as different from each other as we are from neurotypical people. And most of what people think of as how Autistic people are is based in stereotypes of male Autistics. So, even if you’ve got an Autistic friend, your “education” in us is likely incomplete.
However, by the time I wrote Peace Maker, I was ready to own it. I felt I had a right to just flat-out state that truth of who Katja is. After all…
…If I want Autistic representation in media, I should do more than just want. And I shouldn’t keep it quiet.
…If I want Autistic people in media who are, by my experience and understanding, realistic, I should do more than just want.
…If I want people to respect the call of “nothing about us without us” that we Autistic people often make, I should take advantage of this opportunity to make it about one of us, with (by) one of us.
In fact, once I embraced this, I realised that every idea I currently had for new books involved Autistic main characters. Which led to a little examination. Was it weird that that was the case? Was it okay that that was the case?
And then I thought of all the neurotypical people who, without a qualm, only write neurotypical main characters. In fact, all those books I’d read by cis, het, neurotypical, non-disabled white men tended to have main characters who could also be described that way. And people didn’t seem to question that very much for decades (centuries?).
Just to be sure, I ran this by a number of people I respect and whom I trust to tell it to me straight and call me on my rubbish. And they agreed with me. Which means that, hurrah!, Katja was my first but certainly not my last Autistic main character.
We might need to handle things a little differently, but there is room for people like me in book-worthy situations. Just like there’s room for us in the world.