Eddie, Tom and Charlie, three autistic gender diverse people stand in a park and smile. Above them is pink writing that reads 'genderbility zine'
18 Jun

Community Spotlight: Genderbility Zine

In 2023, LGBTQIA+ youth charity Wear it Purple awarded sixteen grants to individuals and groups striving to continue their mission of creating supportive, safe and inclusive environments for rainbow young people. One of these groups was Genderbility, who are creating a 'zine' (type of magazine) to inform, empower and connect individuals who are autistic and gender diverse. This month, we spoke to Eddie, Tom and Charlie, the creators of Genderbility, about the zine's upcoming first issue, how the project came to be and why resources of this kind are so important.

For those people reading who might not be familiar with zines, can you explain what they are and why your team loves them so much?

Charlie: Zines (pron. as in magazine) are typically small, DIY, mass-producible and uncontrollable art pieces, historically produced by marginalised people and communities, as well as those with financial or other limitations when it comes to accessing ‘fine art’ materials and spaces. The topical content could be absolutely anything, from fan culture to sociopolitical commentary to autobiography to poetry and beyond, which leads to both more niche and more challenging art being produced without the social and cultural constraints of the (often white-supremacy-based) formal arts institutions. Zines have long been a medium for radical community building and connection within the Disabled and Queer communities specifically (with strong ties to the Queer Revolution of the 70s and 80s, the punk scene, and Disability rights movements from the 70s to present).

Choosing the zine format for the Genderbility project felt like the perfect fit for us; we are a grassroots project made for community, by community, centring Autistic and Gender Diverse voices without compromising our stance for any external institution. In producing this zine we have felt a strong connection to the revolutionaries in the Queer and Disabled communities that came before us, and we hope readers of our zine will too. Zinemaking is a rich and precious art practice that deserves to be respected and appreciated as such. 

Your feature with ABC Queer explains how Genderbility was inspired in part by the findings of a 2022 research project exploring how best to support young autistic people who are also gender diverse. What did this research reveal and how did it inspire the project?

Charlie: In 2022, I had the opportunity to work as co-investigator on a research paper titled ‘Supporting the mental health of young people with co-occurring autism and gender diversity: A constructivist grounded theory study’, in which interviews were conducted with a number of young gender diverse and Autistic people, mostly from around the Sydney / Inner West area. Whilst the findings of the study were not a surprise to me as a Trans, Autistic person myself, I still found myself being deeply disappointed by just how severely our community is being let down by all the people and institutions meant to be supporting us; from mental health care, educational systems, physical health care, parents and caregivers, the NDIS, gender affirming care and more. One of the outstanding and consistently repeated points brought up by the young people being interviewed was that having connection to community either has, or would have been (if they had access to it) the single biggest contributing factor to positive mental health outcomes, with affirming and informed care, and access to resources that are inclusive, intersectional and lived-experience-led also being mentioned repeatedly across interviews.

From the findings of this study and my own interactions within my community, myself, Tom, and Eddie began to work on the creation of a resource that seeks to fill in the gaps where formal supports are consistently failing. We know that there is an ‘over representation’ (note: an academic term, not meaning that there are ‘too many’) of Gender Diverse individuals within the Autistic population, and so the continued failures of healthcare, disability and educational institutions to properly understand and accommodate us are a gross oversight and inherently discriminatory. Whilst we are only three people, so far in our journey we have had the support of our family, friends and immediate community; the broader community outreach from our own Instagram platform that has led to filling our focus groups and fundraising; larger organisations like headspace Camperdown; all the way to the national platform of ABC Queer, which to me only re-emphasises both the power of community and influence of DIY artmaking through zines and the necessity of a project such as this to influence the lives of young Autistic and Gender Diverse people, and those who love and care for them. If the Genderbility project has the ability to positively impact the mental health of even one young Autistic and Gender Diverse person, I would consider that a success. 

Illustrations in Genderbility

It looks like Genderbility will cover some fantastic topics, with everything from coming out to navigating supports and social groups. how and why did you decide on these topics?

Tom: I remember us having a lot of conversations about how our Autism and Gender Diversity intersect and have impacted our lives in our early meetings. Charlie's experience with the previously mentioned research paper revealed certain topics that would come up consistently - things like feelings of social isolation, or sensory issues being triggered during gender transition. Analysis of the findings found that certain themes were so saturated throughout the responses that one could reasonably conclude that these themes were important and common among the general population of Autistic and Gender Diverse people. A long list of possible topics came from those academic findings as well as our own research. We then tried to make the list more manageable by figuring out which ones were the most important for our aims with the resource.

The aim of the resource is mainly to help introduce young Autistic and Gender Diverse people to their wider community, to offer them information about what they might be experiencing but don't yet have any language for. Some of our topics are about navigating daily life as an Autistic and Gender Diverse person and trying to manage and honour your unique and intersectional needs, some are more about educating or giving context about current theories of gender identity or providing an academic backing to the validity of these identities, and some are focused on trying to help young people seek out other resources, like a social community, or formal institutional supports (e.g. NDIS).

One of the major challenges for autistic gender diverse people that your team has highlighted is social isolation. how do you hope Genderbility will improve this issue?

Charlie: Part of the Genderbility project that we’ve had in mind from its conception extends beyond the physical making and distribution of the zine. As has been consistent since the origins of the art form, zine making is a central tenet of community development and connection - whether it be connecting people in a local community at events like zine fairs, protests, or music gigs, or across borders and even continents as a mailable, tangible passing of art between hands and physically separate communities. Zines have always functioned as a social, accessible central point for building movements on all scales. Even though we are yet to launch the Genderbility zine (Friday August 30th!!), we have seen this sense of community building, especially when it comes to the engagement and enthusiasm of our focus group participants. That was a clear indication to us as to the impact Genderbility is already having on social isolation; the conversations that were had between the participants, the support they offered each other, and the feedback we got as to how they feel about the project even in its infancy, proves that the visibility and intentionality of the creation of a zine centring the lived experiences of Autistic and Gender Diverse young people is making a tangible effect on the issue of social isolation at the intersection of these identities. 

Beyond the work we’ve done this far, we have big dreams for the grassroots community building side of the project. Ahead of our launch event, we are aiming to reach out to institutions such as schools, allied health providers and other organisations that exist for and work with young people that are Autistic and Gender Diverse. For the launch event itself we are striving to bring together Autistic and Gender Diverse people alongside representatives from the broader community who want to be involved to curate an event that reduces barriers identified in research for socialising. As such, the event will be as accessible and inclusive as possible. One of the topics in our zine also covers socialising and finding groups in the community, which we hope will have a positive impact on the Autistic and Gender Diverse people outside of our immediate physical community, or who may not be able to access community in-person. Overall, we strive to both generate and facilitate access to community with the Genderbility project, whether that be in an immediate or inspirational sense, and recognise the importance and significance of physical and virtual community building for the wellbeing and positive mental health of Autistic and Gender Diverse people. 

Illustrations that will be featured in Genderbility.

What do you hope that autistic gender diverse people will gain from Genderbility?

Charlie: There is almost an endless constellation of hopes and dreams that I have for my community, visions of follow-on effects from this tiny little 3-person zine project, and I think that is a testament to the incredibly strong history and power that comes from zine making as community-building and an art form. Already, we have heard from Autistic and Gender Diverse people following the project that it has come up in things like university lectures; that it has made them feel less alone; that they wish they’d had access to a resource like this when they were younger; and all of these snippets of feedback reinforce to us that we’re on the right path with the project. 

In the immediate future, however, I hope that Autistic and Gender Diverse people will gain a sense of community, connection, and confidence from the Genderbility project. I hope they can see that there have always been people like them out there, that there always will be, and that they are not the only one experiencing what they’re going though; I hope they learn ways to better understand themselves and their needs and step forward into the world with a toolkit of self-advocacy strategies; I hope they feel empowered to stand up for themselves and their needs, even whilst they’re still learning what their needs are and what works for them; I hope they are able to find their community, whether in person or online, and form strong relationships with people who see and love them exactly as they are; and I hope they see the inherent value in themselves, see that they are loved and cherished and they are wonderfully complex human beings for whom there is absolutely space for in this world. I hope that Autistic and Gender Diverse people who have interacted with Genderbility on any level are able to take whatever they need from it. I hope they get from it what I needed when I was younger, scared and confused and alone, when it didn’t exist.

It's vital for autistic gender people to have strong and supportive allies who can empower them to navigate the world with confidence. how can allies of autistic gender diverse people provide the best support?

Tom: In my own life, a lot of the most vital support I get is from other members of the community, whether Autistic, or Gender Diverse, or both. There's something really comforting and lovely about feeling immediately understood, or at least knowing there's some common ground in a place that you thought would be too confusing for anyone else to ever understand.

But that can be almost more impactful when someone from outside the community has gone to the effort of educating themselves and listening to members of the community. I'm a little scared of being too personal, but when I found out my mum had done a bunch of her own research after I came out as non-binary, and she even started schooling me on things, I suddenly felt really closely held. I think a lot of what I personally need is to have my unique needs and quirks understood and respected, and then after that, to be treated the same way everyone else might be.

I think in an interpersonal sense, an ally should be open to learning about the person in front of them, and should try to disentangle as much ableism and transphobia from their brain as they can. That's a process which takes time and usually requires embarrassing yourself, so I think being prepared to get something wrong and apologise is important, and also being humble enough to know that you probably don't know better than the Autistic and Gender Diverse person in front of you about what they experience.

And in a more institutional sense, I think the same general ideas apply, but institutions are basically impossible to argue or reason with, unless you yourself are a large group of angry and passionate people with some kind of power. Some of the institutions we've presented Genderbility to were quite eager to take ownership over the project and essentially take it away from the community it is supposed to be made by and for (whilst taking full credit for the concept). But we have also experienced allyship from institutions, often through the medium of an understanding individual who is willing to leverage their power and connections to help us. That's something I think all of us are really thankful for, because we aren't powerful in that way and projects like this do need help and resources and distribution if they're going to have a wide impact.

I guess I'm coming from a pretty biased place with this, but I think if you are in a position where you wield institutional power, you should be as generous with that power as you can, and seek ways to empower the marginalised people around you, even if it means you losing the 'upper hand'. 

To learn more about Genderbility and the release of their first zine, you can follow them on Instagram!

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