Kelly Bron Johnson (00:07)
Welcome to season two of the Intersections on the Spectrum podcast. The Intersections on the Spectrum podcast is the brainchild of Doug Blecher and Kelly Bron Johnson, created to discuss intersectional issues within the autistic community and to give disability to commonly marginalized, repressed, underrepresented or erased identities and issues. We aim to introduce you to the people and stories you didn't know about, but needed to hear and hope that by seeing yourself represented in the community allows you to feel seen.
Doug Blecher (00:38)
Today's guest is Nick Walker, who is a queer transgender flamingly autistic writer and educator best known for her foundational work on the neurodiversity paradigm and neuroqueer theory. She is a professor of psychology at California's Institute of Integral Studies and author of the book NeuroQueer heresies. She also teaches akido and co writes the urban fantasy web comic Weird Luck. Dr. Walker, thanks so much for joining us today.
Dr. Nick Walker (01:18)
Thanks for having me here.
Doug Blecher (01:20)
I wanted to start off and I mentioned it a little bit in the introduction, but what would you say are the identities that you most are connected to?
Dr. Nick Walker (01:33)
Well, let's see. Yeah. As noted in the intro, I'm queer. And that I think is kind of first and foremost for me if I think about identity is just that sort of general queerness. I'm a trans woman who has not yet medically transitioned. I still don't know how far I'm going to go with that. That's, in fact, sort of part of my relationship with queerness is just being willing to mess around with gender stereotypes, and as long as I feel fem not really care too much about what the outside looks like. And I'm autistic probably flamingly autistic. Those are sort of central ones. And then in different contexts, different aspects of my sense of identity come out. I regard identity as very fluid and context dependent. For instance, I'm ethically Jewish, and that's something I can go long periods of time without really thinking about. But sometimes it really comes to the forefront if I encounter antisemitism or just sometimes I'll have an encounter with white Anglo Saxon Protestant culture and be really struck by the contrast culturally. And it really sort of reminds me of that aspect of my identity. Well, that's a whole different cultural experience from the white experience, a lot of different aspects.
Dr. Nick Walker (03:32)
My identity in academia as a professor, my identity in Aikido as a Sensei as an Aikido teacher, all of these sort of come up contextually the queerness and my willingness to queer identity and treated as fluid are grounds creativity is what remains pretty universal.
Kelly Bron Johnson (03:58)
I relate to that a lot and to the point where I think there's something about perhaps with autistic people not really giving a crap what other people think of what the gender should be, because I think maybe I missed some messages growing up where things were not very stereotypical for me, despite the fact that my mom did not want to buy me Transformers, even though I wanted Transformers and I wanted the Big Tonka trucks and things like that. And Meanwhile, my best friend, who's gay, was coming to my house to play with my Barbies because his mom wouldn't let him have barbies. So it's a whole big thing. Anyway, that's probably a whole other interesting discussion, but yeah, let's go to your book. So you came up with a book recently called Neuroqeer Heresies, which is a collection of a decade's worth of your writings on neurodiversity, autism and neuroqueering. Where do you see the neurodiversity paradigm being a decade later?
Dr. Nick Walker (05:01)
Interesting question. Well, I'll give some background here for readers who are unfamiliar, but this term neurodiversity has been around since the 90s referring to the diversity among human minds. And there was also this neurodiversity movement that arose originally from out of the autistic rights activist community and has sort of spread among neurodivergent people. There's neurodiversity movement that's essentially civil rights or social justice movement largely. But there was some confusion. I saw I was involved in the conversations sort of in which the neurodiversity movement took shape. I've been involved in autistic community and culture since 2003. And so I got to be involved in some of those early conversations on the concept of neurodiversity and its implications. And I saw that there were two different things that neurodiversity was being used to refer to the diversity of minds. But I was also being used to refer to a particular attitude towards neurodiversity. And I decided for the sake of clarity, I would start calling that the neurodiversity paradigm. So my thesis, my fundamental idea there was that neurodiversity is a basic biological fact. Our minds are different, our brains and nervous systems are different, we all different from each other.
Dr. Nick Walker (06:52)
But the dominant societal attitude toward neurodiversity is governed by what I took to calling a pathology paradigm. And the pathology paradigm is this paradigm. It's basically a set of assumptions for which theory and practice are built. It's a set of basic assumptions about reality. And so the basic assumptions of a pathology paradigm is that there's one right or normal way for a human mind to function. There's one right way to be and sort of this standard of neuronormativity. And if you diverge from neuronormativity, if you diverge from whatever the dominant cultural standards are in any really significant, noticeable way, are frequently pathologized. There is this idea that there's something wrong with you. And thus autistic people, for instance, gets stigmatized and labeled as having a disorder. That's the pathology paradigm. And so the neurodiversity paradigm I proposed. The basic fundamental idea behind the neurodiversity paradigm is that no, there is in fact, no right or healthy way, no one right way for a human body mind to be, no one right way for a mind to function. And so called normal is not the same as healthy or natural. It's just whatever the dominant culture has decided as normal at the time.
Dr. Nick Walker (08:37)
And if we recognize that as a construction, we can say, oh, this is a diversity issue. Humanity is a neurodiverse species just like it's an ethnically diverse species and a gender diverse species. And the pathologizing of certain styles of mind, styles of cognitive functioning is really just the same as saying certain ethnic groups are inferior or certain genders or inferior or Invalid. The Neurodiversity paradigm is essentially what you get when you throw out the pathology paradigm. So I started publishing writing about that or publicly again about a decade ago, after talking about it in online autistic spaces for several years before that and, yeah, a decade later, I think the idea is catching on. I see people really building on that in a good way. I mean, Neurodiversity has become a major buzzword. It's become a much more widely known word, but to a large extent, it's become.
Speaker 1 (10:00)
Another corporate and academic buzzword where people don't get a meaning. And so what I see a lot of is a shift to the language where people start using the word neurodiversity, but they haven't really made the shift to the neurodiversity paradigm. I see very frequently people are still thinking in a way that's based in the pathology paradigm. So, for instance, I'll see people talk about neurodiversity, but then they'll talk about autism and ADHD and dyslexia and other forms of neurodivergence as conditions, for instance, which is a medical term. It's a pathology paradigm term. And it's once again, that's the same pathology paradigm model of your normal or you have a condition that's still a pathology paradigm even if you use the word neurodiversity in there. So I think that there's a lot of that. But there's also a lot of people who are really being changed by the neurodiversity paradigm and changing their shaping more and more academic work and professional practice. I'm seeing more people in therapy related professions, for instance, really try to apply the neurodiversity paradigm to their practice. And it's a small start, but it's a good one. So I'm very happy with that and the way that the paradigm is being built on.
Kelly Bron Johnson (11:49)
Yeah, I've seen that. But I've also seen people just using it wrong in general.
Dr. Nick Walker (11:53)
Kelly Bron Johnson (11:54)
There was a newspaper headline just yesterday that I read that had it was a store that's been opened by they said neurodiverse people. And I'm like, okay, neurodivergent anyway. But yeah, it's a work in progress. I am concerned, like you said, especially with businesses as using it as a buzzword to attract people and then not actually having any substance behind it, not having necessarily accommodations behind it, just being like, oh, yes, we're interested in these neurodiverse people and not quite getting it right.
Dr. Nick Walker (12:35)
And that's where I hope the book makes a difference there, because it does spell out a vocabulary and definitions very clearly in the early sections of the book, because I think that's important for the sake of clarity. I think it's important to have that sense of if we shift, making the shift in the language and really internalizing it and understanding the language does require a certain shift in consciousness and a certain mindfulness which is necessary for an internal paradigm shift. So I think the language makes a difference in that sense. And I'm not into so often on social media these days, you'd see people just get like dog pile for using a term wrong, being clueless and being new to an idea. And I don't like that. I like to see people in public discourse on social media and such be kinder to each other and more forgiving so what I propose when I come forward and say these are the definitions. This is a set of definitions that works in these cases, either definitions of terms that I came up with like neurodiversity paradigm or neuro minority or when it's terms that other people came up with, like neurodiversity or neurodivergent.
Dr. Nick Walker (14:03)
I actually checked with the people who claimed the terms and asked them, does this accurately represent what you were thinking? So trying to come up with something definitive to encourage people to really think deeply about the language and change their thinking, rather than just sort of be a stickler about language so we can feel superior to other people on social media. But yeah, I do note that in the book, in fact, I see that people saying neurodiverse when they mean neurodivergent is like a huge red flag that these people haven't really understood in the neurodiversity paradigm and kind of annoys me. Of course, I've been friends for years with Kassiane Asasumasu, who coined the term neurodevergent, and it's such a useful word, and she really invent the word to be so broadly inclusive, and I love that about it. So I talk a lot about that in there. I really just want to see people do justice to that word and learn it and also give credit to the person who coined it.
Doug Blecher (15:24)
We could take this conversation so many ways based on all those great things that you've said. But I wanted to go back to something you were talking about earlier because I hadn't heard anyone describe their autistic identity in the way that you have where you talked about being flamingly autistic. Can you maybe talk a little bit about why you decide to use that language when talking about your autistic identity?
Dr. Nick Walker (15:54)
Yeah. So that ties in with this whole idea of neuroquering. And the idea that this term neuroqueer, which I coined back in 2008 and has been growing in recent years, has really sort of gained some traction. This term neuroqueer, stems from a couple of ideas here, and one is this basic idea of queer theory, and I'm a big fan of queer theory and a queer theory scholar. And in a sense, the concept of neuroqueering is an extension of queer theory to encompass neurodiversity. How do we extend this discourse of queer theory so that neurodiversity is included within that discourse? And so an essential idea in queer theory is this idea that gender is socially constructed and a socially learned performance. We learn to perform our gender and people throughout their lives from the earliest childhood are shaped on personal and systemic levels. Society really tries to ingrain heteronormativity, these particular normative performance of binary heterosexual gender roles. You get assigned male or assigned female, and it just pervasively on every level. Society and culture groomed people to perform these normative gender roles. And so queering and queer theory is essentially one queers heteronormativity, one messes of heteronormativity defies it, challenges it, subverts, it violates its norms.
Dr. Nick Walker (18:17)
So to deviate from heteronormativity is to query it, and to be queer is really to be engaged in the action of queering, the action of queering heteronormative, gender and sexual performance. This term Neuroqueer, started with the idea that the same applies to neuronormativity. That neurotypicality sense of, like, what it means to be normal is also culturally constructed. There's no actual normal brain. So that's also a social construct that people learn to perform. People learn to perform certain ways of being neuro, cognitively normal, and that performance can also be queered. A person can be born gay or leaning towards gay, born with natural proclivities in that direction. But some people are, and they still get indoctrinated into heteronormativity and never really come out of the closet and spend their lives living a heteronormative life that isn't really a good fit for them, as opposed to the people who were like, oh, no way, I'm going to embrace this gay side and really stop trying to be heteronormative. And then they're, okay, I'm queer here. Or again, people get assigned a particular gender role, and there's people who stick with that, and sometimes it's a good fit and sometimes it's a miserable fit.
Dr. Nick Walker (20:08)
Then there's people who are like, that doesn't fit me. I'm something else. I'm a different gender from the one assigned to me or can't really be nailed down to a particular gender role or something. And so there's this querying of it, and I think the same thing. We all get trained all as neurodivegent. People get trained to act normal. And there's whole multibillion dollar industries like the Aba so called behavioral therapy industry that's about normalize autistic children and get them to do this normative performance, even at the expense of their own well being. Neuronormativity can also be queered. And then the other piece of neuro queering is that heteronormativity and neuronormativity are actually entwined with each other. So if you queering one enough, you're also queering the other. If you are in fact, really openly autistic and moving and embodying like an autistic person, you're also not performing a normal heteronormative gender role either. You've also started to queer your gender just by virtue of being openly autistic. When I describe myself as flamingly autistic, saying, I'm Neuroqueer, I queer neuronormativity. I don't do neuronormative performance at all. I really just let myself follow the flow of how my body mind actually works, and my embodied performance itself is very openly autistic and doesn't really make much in the way of concessions to neuronormativity these days.
Doug Blecher (22:11)
And how can people go about purchasing your book Neuroqueeer Heresies?
Dr. Nick Walker (22:18)
Well, I think that's an interesting question because it points to how far we have come with the development of things like the neurodiversity paradigm. Because maybe 15 years ago if you asked, how can you purchase a book like this? There'd be some little sort of, like, fringe place. It'd be like some independent little self published thing, and it would be kind of just hard to come by. But that's not the case. I mean, it's published by Autonomous Press, which is a small press, but it's available anywhere where you can get books. So it's just that you can buy it on Amazon or Bookshop.org or look for it locally. There's this lovely website, Indiebounds, where you can look up a book and it'll give you a list of the local bookstores that might carry it. It's in the Ingram Distribution catalog, which is where almost every bookstore orders or stock from these days. So you can walk into any bookstore and be like, hey, can you order this book for me? And they can just look it up in their system. So yeah, it's as available as any other book, which is, I think, huge progress from an era where this stuff used to be only available as published templates or something.
Kelly Bron Johnson (23:53)
Nice. I just want to go back a little bit, too. When you're talking about being flamingly autistic, it just comes down to owning it, right? Just owning our way of being and being fully authentic, but also just proud of it, I guess. Almost like eccentrically autistic or stereotypically autistic in some ways. But I really like that idea. Have you used the term gender or Auti gender, or are you familiar with that?Because it's like saying it's like an autistic gender.
Dr. Nick Walker (24:26)
I've heard the term. I use the term neuroeer as, you know, which dates back to way before any other term I'm familiar with to refer to it. And of course, neuro querying involves many different potential practices, and there's many different ways to neuroqueer. But I like that term because it ties into queer theory and the idea the idea of gender as an embodied performance that's fluid and changeable. So I don't necessarily want to, autistic is not my gender. My gender performance is influenced and shaped and cleared by my being autistic. And my way of being autistic is shaped and queered by my gender experience of being a trans woman assigned now at birth and the long process of sort of building up this facade of masculinity and then breaking it apart and coming out as trans and the ongoing exploration of what it means to be Fem and especially to be female in a body that doesn't look it. So all of these things inform and shape each other, but they are different. It's not quite as simple as an identity label that says my gender is shaped by being autistic. It's more this term Neuroqueer that sort of references back to the verb neuroqueering and the fact that there's an ongoing interplay between gender and neurology, and the fact that gender is not fixed and neurology and neurocognitive functioning aren't fixed either.
Dr. Nick Walker (27:04)
Our brains are extremely plastic, and I started out with an autistic brain. But my neurocognitive functioning is also influenced by a lot of practices, including gender practices. My consciousness and what my brain could do and the way I thought has shifted dramatically just as I purged the masculine embodiment from my body and allowed the more feminine styles of embodiment and relationality to emerge. And so I think it's important to have a way of talking about it that encompasses all of that complexity, and that's what I aim for with Neuroqueer.
Kelly Bron Johnson (27:49)
I think that is a really great way of just basically saying the whole point of this podcast. We're talking about these intersecting identities and how these things influence each other and how they play off each other. Perfect. So going back to other literature, art, or academic writings, is there anything that you found especially impactful for those who would want to learn more about neural queer experiences other than your book?
Dr. Nick Walker (28:20)
Other than my book, people need more than just my book. Yeah. I think there's an emerging field of neuroqueer literature, though not all of it identifies itself as such Autonomous Presses, neuroqueer Books imprint does an annual anthology called The Spoon Knife Anthology, which is a multigenerate anthology of any fiction of any genre, short fiction of any genre, short literary, memoir, poetry. Five volumes out. Volume six is coming out in the spring. And then I'm actually currently accepting submissions for volume seven, which I'm the lead editor on. Within that even just that series of Spoon Knife anthologies, there's some great stuff, and it's really pointing towards fiction, fiction that gets aspects of the Neuroqueer across and memoir that captures aspects of neuroqueer experience. There's some lovely speculative fiction that I would consider neuroqueer coming out. Dora Raymakers work, Hoshi and The Red City Circuit. Dora Raymakers amazing sort of Neuroqueer cyber noir Detective thriller. That's an amazing piece of work. And Dora has got a really big epic speculative fiction novel in the same world as Hoshi and The Red City Circuit called Resonance coming out next year. I know because I had the honor of being the editor on it, and so that sort of thing.
Dr. Nick Walker (30:22)
I would consider Ada Hoffman's amazing speculative fiction work to be neuroqueer. I don't know if Ada calls it that or not, but it certainly strikes me as having that vibe. And I see it in other things that really aren't that definitely are not explicitly identified as neuroqueer, but there's sort of things in the
weird fiction genre that conveyed and applied to me. Caitlin Archiernan's work, for instance. And there's stuff that goes way back. Samuel Delaney's work from way the heck back looks like Bable 17 and Dalgren really shaped me as a teenager and led directly to my conception of Neuroqueer I think. I don't think I'd have the same way of thinking about this stuff if I hadn't read Delaney in my impressionable teenage years and other stuff that people might not be so obvious. But like Robert
Ethan Wilson's book Prometheus Rising on the 8th Circuit model of consciousness, a book that seems very embarrassingly outdated now in a lot of ways, but just these early writings by people like Tim Leary and entrepreneur Ollie and Robert Wilson, people whose fans tend to be more like psychedelic drug fans and such than people who think about neurodiversity as such.
Dr. Nick Walker (32:04)
But really they're all works about neuroplasticity. They're all works about this idea of making intentional alterations to our consciousness. And so that really contributed a whole lot to my conception of neuroqueer as well.
Doug Blecher (32:21)
Now, something that I think about pretty much every day is the importance of community for all of us. But I think so often for neuro queer folks, there's not maybe social or cultural environments to be accepted, supported, and to be encouraged. Are there maybe some best practices you've seen or things that should be involved in these environments that could truly be helpful to the neuroqueer community?
Dr. Nick Walker (32:53)
Yeah, I think so. There's a lot of different approaches to it. There's just that there's no one right way for a mind to function, body to function, and there's no one right way to Neuroqueer. There's no one right sort of space. The concept of neuroqueering, I think, points to a vast horizon of untapped possibility in terms of what's possible for spaces and a diversity of spaces in that sense. I think that to some extent there's a little bit of barking up the wrong tree that goes on in some academic and social justice spaces and people thinking about how can we create a safe space for everyone, accommodating space for everyone? I think what happens is you end up with a land of space where no one can do anything interesting or creative, because for any interesting or creative thing you do, you're going to trigger somebody, you're going to violate somebody's sensory needs or cognitive needs or trauma related safety needs or something like that. So I think the important thing is actually a diversity of spaces where there is some sort of good space available for everyone, some good environment accessible to any given person or group of people.
Dr. Nick Walker (34:28)
But trying to take every space and make every space work for every single person who might come into that space, I think, is an impossible task that ends up killing creativity because people become entirely focused on nothing but policing the space to try to keep it safe for everyone. And then it stops being safe for people like me who have a creative need for spaces that are somewhat unsafe. So yeah, I would say there are many different ways to neural queer spaces and allow people doing different sorts of work to feel supported. I have a chapter in the book called Guiding Principles for a course on autism, in which I talk about creating a neuroqueer classroom space, essentially creating a classroom space that is neurodivergent and Neuroqueer friendly and what that means. And I think in general, one wants a space that allows acceptance of all sorts of different modes of embodied performance of queerness and neuro queerness. And so a space where people can freely stim and move in, where people aren't expected to all be sitting in some conventional corporate fashion, everybody for academic fashion, everybody stays in their seats and does this normative performance of what the dominant culture looks like to pay attention where people can rove and Stim and move and look, where they need to look and do what they need to do with their own bodies in a border to be engaged in the space.
Dr. Nick Walker (36:41)
So I think that's definitely a widely valuable thing and something that I try to create in the classroom that there's no requirement to perform attention in a neurotypical way. For me, I'm an Aikido teacher, and the environment of the Aikido Dojo has played an enormous role in my own work of self liberation. And there are very strict rules about how to move and how to conduct to ones self. There's a very strict norm in terms of how one does one's embodiment. And that actually worked really well for me. I started training in Aikido when I was twelve, and that was the healthiest, safest environment I'd found. And the rules and structures were extremely valuable to me in that context. And actually, somehow the explicitness was valuable that in school classrooms, for instance, as a kid, I was always
in trouble for not performing attention and engagement in the way that the neuronormative way and the way that kids were supposed to do according to the rules of neurotypical performance. But in the Aikido dojo, there were these very clearly spelled out, you sit exactly like this and you say exactly this at this time, and this is when you bow.
Dr. Nick Walker (38:34)
And it was so explicit in a way I had hungered for and created this very disciplined structure that freed me up to focus on the actual work of practice. So I love stuff like that. On the one hand, I'm radically anti authoritarian when it comes to subverting normativity and such. On the other hand, I'm very into consensual spaces of disciplined hierarchy in academia, in the martial arts world, and such creatively. I'm very into these spaces sometimes that have very clearly defined rules and rules and authority structures, as long as people get to choose whether they come to those spaces or not.
Kelly Bron Johnson (39:33)
You said there's a few interesting things that I'm like nodding violently with in agreement. In a sense, I just want to go back in a second there to talk about safe spaces for everyone. And I have to agree. I think it's impossible. And so I'm taking the words of somebody else, another diversity inclusion practitioner that I work with. She says, I can't promise you a safe space, but we're going to have a brave space. And so as long as you're open to having this dialogue, it's when people shut down and they're not willing to then try something different. It's when it's a problem. But if you can have a brave space, you can come in and you can be who you are. If there's something bothering you, you can talk about it, and another person can respect you and listen to you, and you can come to a solution. So when you have that kind of solution in mind, I find that this idea of safe space is like, well, the walls are going to be put up around us and we're not going to do any work to ever get out of this or to ever.
Kelly Bron Johnson (40:42)
So, yeah, I resonate with that. But also, have you been to Japan? Weird question. I know.
Dr. Nick Walker (40:49)
No, I haven't. It's funny because of course, I've been very immersed throughout my life in traditional Japanese martial arts culture, but within the US. So when I've trained under teachers who come from Japan and sort of learns the traditional Japanese etiquette around martial arts, but the rest of Japanese culture I don't know anything else about Besides what the average American is. Yeah, no, I haven't been there.
Kelly Bron Johnson (41:22)
So Japan to me is an autistic person's dream because like you were saying the rules and what you're supposed to do when and how and whatever. They're so explicit but so simple that I've gone there twice now. I don't speak any Japanese. I went because my best friend is there. I didn't really even have interest in Japan necessarily, but I went because my best friend is there. And there's an immediate calm that almost comes over me because despite the fact that I don't speak Japanese, I know exactly what to expect. When I go to a store and I put my purchases on the table there for them to ring up for me, there's a process and they hand you back your card. You hand the card to them in a certain way. They hand it back to you in a certain way, and then we leave. And it's super easy to follow. They have arrows on the road and on sidewalks and in the subway system to say fast people walk on this side, slow people walk on this side. People going the other direction will walk on this side. And as long as everybody sticks to that, there is no problem.
Kelly Bron Johnson (42:32)
There is no confusion. It is fantastic. All the rules are there for everybody. And so I can go in and I don't feel like I'm out of place because I know I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. I don't know. I find it's fantastic. So I find those rules that structure and I've seen martial arts be very beneficial for many people, people that you wouldn't think would thrive under martial arts with those kind of constraints. I know for me, my mom put me in ballet. Ballet is extremely rigid. There's no flexibility allowed in ballet. It has to be perfect and it has to be like this. And I thrive into that as well, despite the fact that I hate conformity and I'm not really big on authority either. But these kind of controlled situations where things are very explicit, very clear, I feel that we can thrive under.
Dr. Nick Walker (43:29)
And that's been very much my experience with a life immersed in Aikido practice was pretty much my experience of the Aikido dojo right from the start. And I've continued to really value that traditional formal etiquette for that exact reason. I think it's very I wrote about it in my doctoral dissertation. In fact, I referred to these things as organic social accommodations because they work as social accommodations for neurodivergent people and for people disabled in various ways. They work as these wonderful autistic people, especially. I think they work as these wonderful accommodations, and yet they're organically there. They weren't created as accommodations. They were created as because it's what's necessary in order to do the practice well, in order to create the right environment for the practice. And my experience is that autistic people generally will get that when they come into an Aikido dojo like mine, where it's a traditional etiquette forms practice. And a lot of non autistic people don't get it so well. A lot of, you know, some of them love it. They're looking for that sort of thing, especially if they're coming to it early. But there's also people in the US who are used to this culture of bad manners.
Dr. Nick Walker (45:23)
I shouldn't have to bow. I shouldn't have to remember this. Essentially, they don't want to do the actual work because the work of Aikido is mindfulness, which is a mindfulness practice. And part of the formal etiquette is that that's where the mindfulness starts to remember to bow at the right time and to do the right thing. And that is a mindfulness practice. And people in the name of being, like, anti authoritarian or whatever, really just they don't want to do the mindfulness practice. That's the foundation of the art. And I'm very pro mindfulness. I think that that's part of the work that we need to do as a culture and as individuals. And again, that pervades so much of my work as an Aikido practitioner, as a Zen practitioner. But my work on neuroqueering and neurodiversity, when I'm talking about language, I'm talking about really stopping to think about how to connect with people whose consciousness may work very different from his own. All of these are essentially calls for mindfulness. We're not going through life just duplicating, unconscious, normative social programming, but actually developing a mindfulness and intentionality about how one person interacts.
Kelly Bron Johnson (47:04)
And the fact that people can do that. I think some people get scared because it's very scary to do that, to come up with their own way. And when you don't see any examples of anybody else doing it either. But, yeah, almost permission to be yourself. And I think the way that you want to.
Doug Blecher (47:20)
Nick, I wanted to talk a little bit about creativity. I feel like I am a creative person, but maybe not in a traditional sense, like I'm not going to draw a beautiful picture or anything like that. But I feel like my creativity occurs when I have structure. So I know you were talking a little bit about that, relating to Aikido. Do you see that in other aspects of your life? I know you have a web comic. You're an instructor, professor. Can you talk about maybe creativity within the concept of structure.
Dr. Nick Walker (47:59)
Yeah, absolutely. Creativity to me is about producing something new and original and authentic in response to whatever in response to a given circumstance or in response to life. And so in that sense, writing and drawing and painting and making music and all of these things are creative acts. If one is producing something that's original and authentic to the self, those are creative acts. But so it's just living creatively. And I think this is part of where the whole queering is inherently creative. I think treating our gender as a cannabis for creativity rather than just accepting the gender role that we were assigned, saying, yeah, I want to play with it this way. I think identity in general is a canvas for creativity. So I don't tend to nail myself down to over identifying with a particular identity. I treated as fluid because I'm constantly creating it. I'm constantly engaged in the process of self creation. And so I love identity as a canvas for creativity. And that can mean developing concepts like neuroqueer, or just taking existing concepts, whether it's something like neuro queerness or queerness, or whether it's something like one's ethnicity. And seeing what's my personal spin on this, how do I personally live this in a way that's authentic to me rather than doing it in exact the way my culture tells me I'm supposed to do it?
Dr. Nick Walker (50:10)
In that sense, I'm into creativity and just self embodiment as creativity, culture and life as creativity. And how do we make an authentic response for ourselves? Essentially? I mean, that's what the art of Aikido is about, too. How do we navigate interaction creatively? Aikido takes us to one of the most potentially uncreative forms of interaction, direct conflict. And we're culturally trained into these biology trains us to these fight flight freeze responses. And then we're culturally trained to just do variations of those and to buy for dominance and to have certain to have certain specific set responses to certain kinds of relational stress. And I was like, no, this is an opportunity for creativity. Even someone physically attacking you is an opportunity to respond creatively in a way that's authentic to you and doesn't follow a script that we've been culturally taught. Things have to follow. Yeah. I believe in creativity in that way. And finding that on a bodily level, there's a bodily releasing of habitual patterns that has to happen to let something new come through. And that comes up whether, again, whether you're writing a story or playing or creating a piece of music or something, or just living your life, walking down the street, interacting with someone in a relationship with someone, having sex, whatever it is, it's like, how do you allow the authentic thing only you can bring.
Dr. Nick Walker (52:23)
How do you allow that to surface and not force it? Because that inevitably becomes inauthentic. But how do you trust what's moving through you on an unconscious level and let that surface into consciousness in a way that surprises you in some way? I was very influenced by an experimental theater director, writer, among other things. I was involved in his experimental physical theater group, paranthetical research for a couple of decades. And he has this wonderful saying, the only art that comes from the conscious mind is dead art. And so I'm always looking for how do we get beyond just our conscious training and let something authentic emerge? But it also has to emerge within structure, because when I write a story or a comic, there's structure. There's a form that I have to work within to make it coherent to other people. There's always this balance of the flow of creativity that alters structures, and we're creatively playing with structures and messing with structures and queering structures. But some structure and form has to be there, or it just turns into sort of this mush, this unconscious suit, and it becomes incoherent to anyone else.
Speaker 1 (53:57)
There's this continual creative engagement with culture where the culture has particular forms and we have to work within them just enough to make our work accessible and coherent and yet also clear those forms by bringing something authentic to them. And I love, you know, as a writer of fiction and comics, I know I'm doing it when I have a well structured story, but my character surprised me when the characters when it's like, okay, the character is telling me what they're doing here, and it's not necessarily what I could have come up with consciously. And so I'm looking for those moments of like, something authentic coming up from my unconscious and coming up from my unconscious relationship with the character. That's not something that's not just contrived for effect, but that actually has the most powerful emotional effect often is when there's something that emerges that's completely unplanned.
Doug Blecher (55:25)
And just one last question before you go here on intersection on this spectrum, we want to tell different stories. What stories for you would be important, do you feel like that you would want to hear?
Dr. Nick Walker (55:42)
I'm really interested in the stories of anyone who is queering their identities and playing creatively with it. And we have so much of the discourse on identity and on intersectionality and such, I think gets overly essentialist these days. Like everyone has these fixed identity categories. You are this race, and this means this about you and you are this gender, and that means this about you. And there's these broad generalizations and people locked into categories, and I think that becomes oppressive and a tool by which we oppress others and ourselves. The discourse on race in the US, for instance, essentializes it in a way where I think that we forget that the whole concept of race was developed by
racists for oppressive purposes. And so I'm very into that wonderful saying by Audre Lord. The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house where we might to some extent identity politics are really valuable to get a sense of solidarity among within groups and such and recognize okay, this is how I'm a member of this particular group of people and we face this particular sort of systemic oppression or we have this particular sort of privilege we need to take into account in some way these are useful ideas, but if we get trapped in them, we just duplicate these oppressive structures and categorizations that were originally developed for oppressive purposes.
Dr. Nick Walker (57:46)
And to some extent there's a limit to how liberatory they can be. And so I'm very interested in people who've decided to clear their identities really actively and to not allow themselves to be stuck in essentialist categories or to be stuck seeing the world through an essentialist lens of identity politics. How do we get beyond that and start recognizing and encouraging fluidity of identity and fluidity of self and culture in everyone.
Kelly Bron Johnson (58:27)
Dr. Nick Walker (58:29)
Yes, it is. And controversial work because obviously it's like at this point we have this very polarized discourse, very polarized right left discourse within the dominant culture and people in both sides of that are very attached to identity politics and to essentializing identity. And I would say becoming extremely identified with identity. And the question for me that is always how can we bring more fluidity to the process that it seems that people are gravitating towards more and more deeper and deeper entrenching in rigid categories for themselves and for others and how they see the world. And I want to see things get more fluid and more clear and just people have more awareness of identity and culture and such as processes that we can work with creatively instead of as territories that we need to defend.
Doug Blecher (59:56)
Well, Dr. Walker, I know we went on a lot longer than we said we would, but it was a great conversation and really, really appreciate you being so giving of your time. Thanks for joining us.
Dr. Nick Walker (01:00:09)
Thank you, and it's been a great pleasure talking with you both today.
Kelly Bron Johnson (01:00:12)