top of page

A Neuroqueer Otis Milburn.

Queerspeak 1.0

I was the real-life Otis from the Sex Education series. Everybody wanted to talk to me about their love lives while I had none of my own. Bathrooms were the counselling room, and I would help so many girls realize that their vulvas and vaginas are not weird and that it’s okay to touch themselves.

I was always a ‘brainy’ kid but not exactly academically smart since I couldn’t do maths. So, people used to call me “street smart”. I also heard often about how my figure didn’t look much like a girl and was ‘undisciplined’, even though it didn’t matter to me, and was bullied & excluded due to it from annual cultural events like dance programs. Consequently, thanks to the former, I grew quite popular and appreciated but not the romantically or sexually attractive kid. Everybody knew me but nobody wanted to date me. 

People talked to me to have me set them up with my best friend. My own boyfriend at the time who broke up with me after two months of dating, got together with my best friend in 4-5 months. Though she was really concerned about it, I was cool with it since none of this was going to matter to us down the lane as most of us wouldn’t be marrying our high-school sweethearts. And now, we’re still pretty good friends. This line of thought of mine and my need healthy communication and emotional support was some of the reasons why people didn’t see me as a potential romantic interest or saw me as a bit too heavy/hard for them to deal with. Even if I could painfully manage to ignore them refusing to learn about my neurodivergence as my partners, they still wanted light-hearted stuff, which I was too realistic and “grown up” for. But when they wanted the serious life advice, they would come to me asking questions like “why is my penis not getting erect?”

Around the time I was 13, I had an introverted gal pal who later came out as nonbinary. She always had at least two books on her, sat at the back of the class and scored well on academics. Even though they were not much of a talker, we used to have long conversations which were never sexual but weirdly romantic but not in a normative way. I was always in their vicinity, and we often held hands, hugged and cuddled during school trips but nothing sexual about any of it. We never really dated, though it was very Sapphic in how I really admired them, and we never objectified each other. Establishing that kind of a connection with people assigned female at birth (AFAB) and/or talking about women’s experiences are some of the few rare times I feel connected to my womanhood. Still, having that thought at the back of my head makes me think that my trans masculinity is still fluid. Over time, I have become more at peace with that fact as I have come to understand that a bit of femininity isn’t bad for or detrimental to my masculinity.

Through my 7th to 11th grade, I had a male senior I liked but simultaneously, I also liked other people. Seeing how expressive I was of these affinities of mine, my cis-male peers would shame me, calling me a ‘slut’ with a loose character and finicky with my choices. They even sat me down to counsel me to maintain a decent ‘image’ and act ‘tamed enough for a girl’. That was really traumatizing! Even when my gal pal started dating my male best friend, I used to hang out with them both together in somewhat of an unsaid polyamorous dynamic. It was one of the more prominent indicators of my sexuality which I had been ruminating over since I was 10. Over the years, my polyamorous inclinations have taught me how to navigate jealousy in a healthy manner and the beautiful concept of how it’s about a need or a want that is not satisfied.

Progressing to 9th grade, I saw a Brazilian film, ‘The Way He Looks’, where I saw two boys kiss which made me feel like I wanted to do the same. Though my friends who heard this said that I could kiss a guy like it’s a given, what I really wanted to do was to be a guy and kiss a guy. But this didn’t mean that I wanted to replace my physical womanhood by manhood. This made me contemplate the possibility of me being genderfluid, but I shrugged it off since I didn’t have the full understanding of what it meant to be genderfluid or the awareness that being a man or a woman aren’t two extreme ends of the spectrum but rather just two identities on the spectrum. But it was clear that I felt more attracted to masculinity. Even then, I couldn’t call myself androsexual or gay because I felt like that put me in a position where I need to feel hundred percent attraction for sure. This didn’t encapsulate the whole of me, who also feels attracted to women, be it not completely platonically or sexually. 

Gradually, I came out as bisexual first, in 10th grade. My mother was completely cool with it, and said, “Maybe it’s a phase or maybe it’s not. Either way, it doesn’t matter. You go on with your life as you like it & we’ll see about it later.” On the contrary, my dad was very homophobic at the time, and it took me a sequential journey of 4 years to educate him, after which my parents joined ‘Sweekar: The Rainbow Parents’ collective.

We came to know about it through a podcast where Aruna Desai was featured. My mom, a teacher who saved a gay student from being bullied at a time when being gay was illegal and many others like and unlike him before leaving the school system which she felt was too rigid in 2015, was really happy about this. It gave her a space to interact with and have meaningful conversations with even 78-years-old parents. It has bloomed into a space where she can talk about more than just her children and expand her personhood to more than just a mother. As a tuition teacher now with most of her students neurodivergent, a constant shadow even through her time in the school system, she works from home which has reduced her socialization opportunities. Getting into Sweekar gave her an opportunity to go out and have fun in intellectually stimulating ways.

As I turned 15, one day, my sibling said, "Dude, you just cannot sit down and listen to what I'm saying. Are you ADHD or something? Why do you need to keep multitasking?” I just took a moment to let that sink in and thought, “Hmm maybe I am”. Soon I was reading up everything I could about it which transformed my thoughts into, “Oh, for sure I am!” I approached my parents about this saying, “See, I know I am but at the same time I don’t want some sort of medical validation.” 

I still got a formal diagnosis because I was yet to give my final board exams and I couldn’t stick through three hours non-stop writing. I NEEDED A BREAK! At the same time, there’s so much you have to write but only so much time that you can’t afford to take a break. This made me desperate to be diagnosed, so that I could get some sort of ‘just’ concession. My parents were cool with it since they are people who have always empowered us and enabled us to do things on our own.

My sibling, a self-diagnosed autistic since the age of 11, was really empowered by how they are wired differently. Whenever any neurotypical person approached them for something irritating to most autistics like going to a party, they would just return the favour by doing/saying something irritating for neurotypical (NT) people like announcing that they’re going to pick their nose and that the NTs are welcome to watch. In ways like that, they use their autism to their own advantage. That was very fun and inspiring to see because ‘knowing that you’re different’ is one thing and ‘wishing that you weren’t so different from others’ is a completely different but coexistent reality. Watching my sibling go through that process made me desire the same sort of validation for myself, even with its ups and downs. 

As my sibling turned 21, they approached a psychiatrist for a diagnosis, who said, “Yeah, you’re autistic but I won’t give you a diagnosis because you can get by. You function well. You’re smart. What else do you need?” Despite that nonsensical reality playing out in front of me, all I could was grab on to the possibility of having the same chance for myself. So, I started looking for a psychiatrist in Mulund, the town I stay at in Mumbai. The experience wasn’t really good. The doctor there said in her report that the symptoms are present but it’s ‘not detrimental’ to the person. It made me feel like they were getting a say in what is ‘disabling enough’ for me, which wasn’t pleasant. Fortunately, my parents encouraging me to not give up persevered me through the process. 

I was studying psychology at the time and consulted my teacher, who introduced me to a psychiatric collective. This particular clinic was a bit far from my town. Still, a month after my first try, I went there for 3-4 days back-to-back for a series of interviews. At this point, I was also suspecting dyscalculia. So, they were diagnosing me for two things. After filling out a bunch of questionnaires, I found out that, apparently, my mathematical ability is that of a sixth grader. Contrary to what it may seem like, this was actually really affirming for me to know. Finally, by the time I was 17 years old, the diagnosis came out to be moderate inattentive ADHD, which felt weird to me. This is because even as I was filling the questionnaires, every 15-20 minutes, I had to do jumping jacks and other stimming methods to spend my pent-up energy and get myself to concentrate again.

Nevertheless, this got me some accommodations since the school counsellor was also part of this psychiatric collective. The pandemic had happened in between all this, which is when I realized my gender identity. Simple realizations like me not being comfortable in a skirt for a uniform was the spark. Looking into my archive of video diaries from my early teens added fuel to this spark. It also brought back memories from my gymnastic classes when I was 8, where there was a girl I really liked to hang out with. Reminiscing the thought I had back then lighted the flame, “If I were a boy, I could ask her to be my girlfriend.” It felt like I was denied the right to like her because I was “not allowed” to be a boy.

I had turned 16 by this time and was signing up on an app where they had the options of ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘nonbinary’ and ‘skip’ under the gender question. Skipping was not an option for me since I’D RATHER SHOUT ABOUT IT. I didn’t want to answer ‘woman', which made my finger linger around the ‘man’ option, but I didn’t feel like a man either. So, I put the signing up aside and researched what non-binary means. It brought me to the conclusion that might be agender. 

Within hours, I had come out to my mom and sibling and on my social media. Coming out to my dad came a few days later when I sat him down and said, “Nothing's wrong with my body but I'm agender, which means I’m not a man or a woman. I'm a special perplexed ‘third’ figuring things out. But all that I'm sure of is that I'm not a woman.” Funnily enough, in that moment, he brought up his early memories of bathing me as an infant and expressed his concern of whether I still had the ‘right’ genitals. Conversely, my mother had been through a similar figuring-out journey, due to which she was all for ‘letting me be’. Empowered, I changed my pronouns to he/him and let my teachers know of the same. But it was also suffocating for me like I was put in such a small box that I have no option but to feel claustrophobic, almost as much as when I used she/her pronouns. It was only working for me in languages like Hindi and Marathi where they/them pronouns don’t exist. As I was combating this feeling, I had also changed my name.

Soon after this, I went into severe depression. Though I was still able to ideate, unlike my usual ability to be on my feet even during emergencies, I became completely unable to execute anything at all. Even simple daily tasks like bathing, brushing my teeth, going to college, building new human relationships, etc., became chores that I couldn’t lift even a finger to do. I would just hope for a button that would instantly do it all for me with a single click.

The lockdown was lifted as I turned 17, which is when I went to see a therapist, who I still see now. There, I first had to first address my ‘worth’, which then became, “What does worth even mean and who defines it?” Exploring this led us to reach the conclusion that nobody other than myself can define my own worth. But that was not the end of it and rather triggered more pondering on “How do I define my own worth?” Through the period of one whole year, I created an entire list of things that make me worthy like my values as a human being and how I use them to navigate my life. My therapist taught me that when I abide by these rules, I’m worthy and it’s as simple as that. That realization has been a guiding post in my life since then.

Even then, I needed more help, for which she suggested that I see a psychiatrist. Considering how costly it is for a consultation where very little talking happens and for the medications, I wasn’t really up for it. Still, honouring her suggestion, I went to the Psychiatry department of a public hospital in Mumbai referred by my therapist. Eighteen at the time, I filled a short questionnaire for my ADHD again to check if my symptoms have gotten worse since my diagnosis. There, I was prescribed medications for depression, anxiety and ADHD (norepinephrine to ease my lethargy). The results turned out to be good but simultaneously, I had also gotten diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2. I had thought I had borderline personality disorder (BPD) too until I came across a research paper that said that most AFAB people get diagnosed with BPD when they’re actually autistic.

This prompted me to read up on autism, which gave me a clear image of the drastic difference between how academic sources and lived experiences paint it. The former, more pitifully and the latter, rather amazingly. It astounded me how all my doctors had missed it. 

Amazing or otherwise, there is this voice in my head that constantly reminds me of how young I am and the fact that I just became an adult. It’s like I need that reminder to tell me that I don’t need to take up anything and everything that comes way, right now. That constant nudge is the only thing that keeps my expectations from overwhelming myself when I have so much more to learn and so many more days to come. But even that nudge cannot save me fully a from a lifetime of masking, especially as being queer comes with expectations of one to be flamboyant, active, loud and love to party, even from within the community. Such expectations and the stereotypical images people have of autism, none of which I abide to, is some of the reasons why I don’t always come out as autistic in many avenues.

Throughout this journey, mom has been supporting me by reading up on how she can accommodate my needs and taking action. It might be in seemingly small ways like making sure I have two bottles of water around me all the time since I constantly forget to hydrate myself. It might also be in bigger ways like how she used to take out time teach neurodivergent students differently, if needed, in school; social media activism; responding to newspapers like Times of India on major verdicts, etc. If not for her, my sensory sensitivities would have kept me from having leafy vegetables. Since coming out as autistic, she just grates those into food I genuinely enjoy eating, thereby ensuring that my nutritional needs are taken care of. Both she and dad has continuously made sure to stand up for us siblings in other ways too like opposing traditional practices which might affect infant immunity and standing up against child beating, respectively. It’s this awareness of how precious my family is and how lucky I am for being a part of it that kept me alive and ‘existing’ even through my worst times.

Sitting through this mixed journey of drastic and gradual changes together with my ‘sensory chew toy’, I realized that I ‘have’ a gender and that is nonbinary. Further, I present as masculine and resonate with transmasculine experiences, indicated by my relative lack of physical dysphoria when compared to transmen, and abundance of social dysphoria. Most importantly, my queerness is a package with my ‘spicy’ brain, as my neurodivergence unshackles me from most social stereotypes and norms that shackle NTs. To me, despite the pressure to always be different just because I’m wired differently, if being the same as others is the only alternative, I’d rather opt to be different.

Recent Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page