Neuroqueer: Neuro-anarchy and the Chaotic Self
This article was co-authored by David Gray-Hammond and Katie Munday
Throughout this blog series, we have been discussing Neuroqueer Theory and the ways that it can be applied to people’s lives. We have considered gender identity, depathologising psychiatric conditions, and how one might embody their psychological wellbeing, to name but a few. In wider work, David has discussed neurofuturism and moving away from normative thinking. In this article, we would like to introduce the concepts of neuro-anarchy and the Chaotic Self to the discussion of Neuroqueer Theory, and consider how the two synergise with each other.
What is Neuro-anarchy?
Neuro-anarchy is the removal of oneself, either consciously or unconsciously, from the neuronormative standards that exist within one’s own neuroculture. Using the Autistic community as an example, our culture has its own set of rules and normative values, as does any cultural group; neuro-anarchy is a radical decentering of normativity. If we consider that our sense of Self is built upon the values and opinions or our prevailing culture, neuro-anarchy invites us to step outside of those values and carve our own space within which to form an identity. Munday (2022) discusses neuro-anarchy in the context of Autistic shielding.
What is the Chaotic Self?
In A Treatise on Chaos Gray-Hammond (2023) discusses the idea of our sense of Self being a fluid and moving entity, constantly changing and reshaping as we receive new information and interact with the environment. He discusses how to queer one’s neurology, we must first consider that changes we make are unable to be reversed. In this sense, the Self tends towards being a chaotic system that is in a constant state of change. You can’t unqueer a queer mind.
What is the relevance of these to each other?
Neuro-anarchy is an act of protest, it is how one neuroqueers in spaces that should belong to us but instead remain external in our relationship to who we are. Neuro-anarchy arises from a level of cognitive dissonance that presents when a person finds themselves an outsider in a group that they should fit into.
In response to this cognitive dissonance, we create our own individual values and concept of the Self that allow us to reconcile the dysphoria of rejection, and bring peace to a bodymind that recognises the fractures and contradictions in it’s own cultures and communities.
Neuro-anarchy invites us to step back from the minutia of community advocacy and consider how one’s community and culture fits into the world’s wider picture. This is where the Chaotic Self comes in. The concept of the Chaotic Self tells us that wider power dynamics and systems within our world inform the discourse around our identities, which in turn become a part of the Self.
A neuro-anarchistic approach to one’s identity teaches us to decentralise all systems of power and instead look to how the individual can build a community from the shared subjective experiences that constitute our culture.
As the individual Self grows and changes, so too must our community.
By stepping away from the power structures that exist in our society, we are able to pick and chose the concepts that form the Self. This in turn allows us to effectively neuroqueer through the subversion of all expectation, and not just those that our community desires us to subvert. Neuro-anarchy allows us to move fluidly throughout cultural identities, and internalise the concepts from within them that we feel are most relevant to us.
By understanding the nature of neuro-anarchy and the Chaotic Self, we are able to see ourselves not as a collection of identities but instead a single Self that belongs (to some extent) to multiple cultural groups. We are able to subvert identity politics while holding an awareness of where we do or do not have privilege.
If neuroqueering is a liberatory act, then neuro-anarchy is the tool we use for that act. The Chaotic Self, then, is the overarching way of understanding one’s sense of Self throughout the process of neuroqueering. It allows us to embrace the fact that once queered, the bodymind cannot return to it’s previous state. By embracing this we transcend normative values and enter a world of infinite possibility (Gray-Hammond, 2022).
Gray-Hammond, D (2022) The infinite and I: Embracing my Neuroqueer Self. Emergent Divergence. https://emergentdivergence.com
Gray-Hammond, D (2023) A Treatise on Chaos: Embracing the Chaotic Self and the art of neuroqueering. Independently Published.
Munday, K. (2022) Counterculture: Autistic shielding and neuro-anarchy. Autistic and Living the Dream. https://autisticltd.co.uk