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Neurodiversity in LGBTQIA+ Literature

By Rhys Wright, Becca Binnie and Rosie Green

Diversifying the representation of all identities in the literature we consume is important to widening our knowledge and understanding of different communities and so that everyone can see themselves in the books they read. Below are some exciting, honest and powerful books that explore and highlight the intersectional experience of belonging to neurodiverse and LGBTQIA+ communities.

The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune

A YA (young adult) novel that brilliantly captures the headspace of a Tumblr-addicted teen with ADHD, The Extraordinaries is an endlessly endearing spin on the superhero genre focused on queer adolescence, fan culture and embracing neurodiversity.

In a city protected by superheroes called the Extraordinaries, Nick Bell is the ultimate fanboy of Shadow Star, the hero to whom he’s devoted an entire fanfiction that’s longer than most novels. Dealing with a breakup, an overbearing father and trying to survive another school year with ADHD, his Shadow Star fixation is a much-needed escape from real life. But after an encounter with the real Shadow Star, Nick is determined to become extraordinary himself.

The Extraordinaries is a hilarious – and unabashedly camp – take on superheroes and fandom communities. The humour is well-executed, and Klune proves capable both of sincerely admiring the type of genres and subcultures he’s depicting and satirising them. The way Nick’s perspective and personality are written aptly capture the voice of an unfiltered teen with a million different thoughts going through his head at once. The excerpts from Nick’s self-insert Shadow Star fanfiction are also side-splitting, written by an author who’s familiar with all the tropes of slash fiction and who knows how to exaggerate them for comic effect without them ever feeling overwrought.

Klune, a winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Romance, rounds out the supporting cast with well-drawn characters brimming with humour and personality. Nick’s awkward yet heart-warming relationship with his dad is a particular standout.

Nick’s ADHD is something that’s deftly handled. Despite being comfortable with his sexuality and most other parts of himself, his neurodivergence is something he’s struggling to come to terms with at the start of the novel. Initially insecure about his diagnosis, Nick feels stigmatised and that “having a disorder made him feel…disordered.” But he eventually learns to embrace his ADHD as a part of what makes him who he is.

Uncomfortable Labels: My Life as a Gay Autistic Trans Woman by Laura Kate Dale

"So while the assumption when I was born was that I was or would grow up to be a neurotypical heterosexual boy, that whole idea didn't really pan out long term." 

Published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in 2019, Uncomfortable Labels is an honest and poignant memoir that details Laura Kate Dale’s experience growing up as a gay transgender woman on the autistic spectrum. Laura recounts struggles with sensory processing, social cues and female presentation, alongside socially demanding situations. After coming out as transgender during an autistic meltdown, Laura describes life through transition, diagnosis and the journey of self-discovery. 

Capturing the intricacies of sexuality, gender and autism, this unique memoir is sincere, funny and life-affirming for anyone who feels like they don’t fit in.

The Unbalancing by R. B. Lemberg

Part of R.B.Lemberg’s Birdverse universe, The Unbalancing takes place on Gelle-Geu, a bustling and vibrant island filled with poetry, quince wine and love. And a star sleeping under the sea whose nightmares threaten the earth itself.

Lilún, a poet and gardener, hears these nightmares and like Ranra, the new starkeeper, knows their world is running out of time. Brought together by their concern for the star and the hope that together their magic can help it, a romance blooms quickly – with both wishing they had more time to get to know each other before the impending disaster. 

Implied to be autistic, Lilún often needs to sit down or leave situations when they get overwhelmed and tells Ranra early on that if she’s flirting, they’d prefer it to be spelt out. Ranra’s response to Lilún’s autism is refreshingly realistic; a proactive woman, slowing down for Lilún during a time-sensitive crisis doesn’t come naturally to Ranra. But she fully accepts their needs and makes a conscious effort to understand and accommodate them.

Gender and sexuality are not important in Gelle-Geu, an island where an atmosphere of inclusion means queerness is normalised, but there is respect for the journeys people go on to find themselves. Amatonormativity does not exist on the island, where taking multiple partners sexually and romantically is normal and asexual characters talk openly about their identities. Lilún explores their own gender during the story, trying out the different tokens that the ichidi (transgender people) wear to symbolise their relationships to gender. 

Set in an engaging and diverse fantasy world, The Unbalancing has a fast-paced, high-stakes plot and a fascinating magic system. It provides excellent neurodivergent representation in a story about identity, consent and healing.


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