Have you ever heard nounself pronouns? It’s a subset of neo-pronouns based on nouns (e.g. king/king/kings/kings/kingself). What about xenogenders? It’s an umbrella term for gender identities that relate to beings, concepts, or things. Both are valid ways one might express or explain their identity that have two main things in common: they are rarely discussed outside of queer circles, and they are commonly used and created by neuro-divergent people.

Many countries and communities have become more accepting of both neuro-divergent and queer people. However, acceptance of queer identities and experiences unique or more common amongst neuro-divergent people also need to be addressed and accepted. Every queer person’s experience and identity are unique and beautiful, but this article will focus on the experiences of queer neuro-divergent people.

Due to the fact that neuro-divergencies can alter how someone’s brain functions, some concepts are difficult to grasp for people with neuro-divergencies. This is most common in people on the autism spectrum; however, other neuro-divergencies can have this effect as well. This means that a lot of the time neuro-divergent people have an easier time attributing and understanding their gender through concepts, beings, and things, which is what xenogenders are. In the article “Nonbinary, gender-queer, gender-fluid: Gender identity explained” Lifestyle.inq provided a great explanation:

“Xenogender” specifically refers to characteristics that do not relate to “male” or “female” whatsoever. They instead use a special set of pronouns that are called, which are typically gender-neutral and in the third person. Many individuals that fall under this identity may have mental illnesses, neurological conditions or neuro-divergence that make most gender identities a difficult concept to grasp and come up with neo-pronouns that can help them better understand their gender.”

But what are neo-pronouns?Pronouns are a part of one’s gender expression; anyone can use any pronouns they want, whether made by them personally or by others. What matters is that you identify with those pronouns, and they have meaning for you. For an article published in The New York Times, group of teens were asked to describe how and why they use neo-pronouns. Elijah, 17, wrote, “being neuro-divergent, you are more likely to have a complicated relationship with your gender identity and expression, and pronouns are just one part of gender expression.” This is where neo-pronouns, or more specifically, nounself pronouns tend to be useful for a lot of neuro-divergent people.

Just like with gender, a neuro-divergent person tends to have an easier time applying beings, places, and/or things to themself for pronouns rather than he, she, or they. Many neuro-divergent people feel frustrated that neo-pronouns, but especially nounself pronouns, are mocked and not respected by most people, as they can really help anyone – not just neuro-divergent people – feel more comfortable in their skin.

As pointed out by linguist and queer scholar Jason D’Angelo in the article “A Guide to Neo-pronouns”, it’s been around 8-9 years since the original conception/usage of nounself pronouns. “The noun-self pronouns emerged on Tumblr, starting around 2012, 2013. They’re a unique way of exploring people’s understanding of their own gender.” So why are nounself pronouns suddenly seeming to be more common? The most likely explanation for this is the early days of the COVID-19 lock-downs. Everyone being stuck inside their houses for months with nothing better to do inevitably lead some people to discover these terms and realize they can apply them to themselves. As use of these pronouns increases, it’s seen as a valid option/identity for more people. The sudden growth in community and general acceptance also gives others who have known and identified with them for a long time a safe space to come out.

What a lot of people who are neuro-divergent, queer, or both, want is respect, acceptance, and understanding. “It isn’t as hard as you might think to be supportive and respectful of non-binary people, even if you have just started to learn about them.” Here are some great ways to be supportive:

  • Believe us. If we say this is what we are experiencing, feeling, etc., please believe us. We definitely know ourselves better than you do, even if we don’t have the words to describe it yet or the diagnosis to prove it.
  • Ask for people’s pronouns and respect them. A huge way you can help us is by normalizing asking for, sharing your, and respecting other’s pronouns.
  • Educate yourself. A lot of non-binary identities, but especially a lot of neuro-divergencies have negative stigma, misconceptions, and prejudice surrounding them. Be open-minded and willing to listen to our first-hand experiences.

The world is slowly becoming more tolerant of both neuro-divergent and queer people. However, a lot of stigmas still stand, especially with neuro-divergencies and gender identities. It is important to support those around you who want to express their queer identity, so one day we can feel we are truly accepted instead of simply tolerated