I am a Chameleon. By nature and necessity.
Right now, I live among You. In Your community.
We are white, cisgender, middle class families. We live a privileged, suburban existence.
But I am not You, despite Your protests and assurances, attempts at assimilation.
I am a lesbian, Autistic woman.
We are a two mummy family.
We are neurodivergent.
Three children, gayby babies, conceived with donor sperm. Fatherless by our choice. Twins, born prematurely. We have anxiety, a rare chromosome difference, speech and motor delays.
We have no place in Your community.
We have no place in Your heterosexual mothers groups, and suburban playgrounds, where we are at best, Your new age friends or a tool for Your education. At worst, we are blamed for our children’s actions, for their disabilities.
We have no place, in Your Queer community with Your shiny Rainbow Families, where we are misunderstood. We are too different. Hard to accommodate. A minority within.
We have no place in Your ‘Special Needs’ community, with Your Autism mums and dads whose identity is caught up in grief and sacrifice. We are too Autistic for you. Too happy for you. Too Queer for you.
Before parenthood, I always somehow found a small place of belonging within the community I was living in. But now, as a mother raising my children in Your suburban community, there is no place for us.
So I have created my own place. I call it Querencia.
Defined in the Oxford Dictionary, “Spanish, literally ‘lair, home ground’, from querer ‘desire, love’, from Latin quaerere ‘seek’.”
Querencia. The place that I seek, that I desire. Love. My home ground, my lair.
Querencia. A gift passed to me from my parents, who determinedly shaped a safe and loving home for their family; where four children grew to be adults, were free to leave and always welcome to return.
When I did not return, it was because I found my Querencia in the arms of a woman who grounded me like no other. My Querencia is built on our love. It has grown stronger over the years. The birth of our children, sickness, death, and betrayals, have left our Querencia weathered but beautiful, now stretching up to the sky, allowing only the loveliest, most unique creatures to come and join us within.
Our Querencia is the place I yearn to be as soon as I leave; it is the only place that I can truly be myself. That sweet place where I can take refuge and regain my strength. It is my lair, where my children are protected and nurtured. We thrive here, amongst You, but away from You.
The word querencia is frequently applied to bullfighting, as the place of safety that the bull will return to in the Arena, to reclaim its strength and power.
And indeed, in Your world, I am in the bullring.
I feel vulnerable. Exposed. Before I was released in to the Arena, I was free, proud and strong. Now I feel hunted.
Your suburban world is my Arena. Smells and sounds encroach on my brain. Your perfume, Your music, Your lights. Words, everywhere, asking to be read. So many details. I am always overwhelmed. I feel exposed and vulnerable.
I venture out to Your shops. My brain is screaming, my children squealing. And while we are there, my family, trying to buy bread, I meet You. Matador.
You’ve got your hands full!
Does he always make those noises?
I’m so sorry to hear he’s on the spectrum.
Special kids go to special people.
Is your husband a bit Aspie?.
But then, who is the real mother?
How did you decide who would have the babies?
Yes, but where is their father? Children need fathers.
Did you pick sperm out of a catalogue?
Is the donor Autistic?
Does he know about your children’s problems?
I used to work with a little Autistic boy, he was really cute, like Rain Man.
You can’t be Autistic. You don’t look Autistic. Not even Aspie.
We’re all on the spectrum somewhere.
What do you think about gay marriage?
Are you sure she’s autistic? She just made a lot of eye contact with me.
We are too quick to label and categorise children these days.
It was lovely to chat.
It is said that a bull trying to reach its querencia is more dangerous than a bull that is attacking the cape directly.
In these moments with You, all I can think of is returning myself and my babies to our Querencia. I will do anything to get there as fast as possible. Sometimes that means engaging in conversation with You. I do not engage for Your sake, for Your education. I do not want to share intimate details of my family life with a stranger. I comply only to escape. My eyes are set on Querencia.
Sometimes in these moments with You, I am dangerous like the bull. I don’t want any of Your ignorance, thinly-veiled in pleasantries. I only want to reach my Querencia, and You are in my way. I practice my responses at night, so that they slip off the tongue perfectly. I wield my words as weapons. I speak loudly so others hear.
So that my children hear.
They are in the bullring already. You talk about them in their presence. Some days You talk directly to them. They are exposed to Your thoughts about them in the media and online, where gay marriage debates and autism epidemics and cures are hot topics. Their lives are Your hot topics.
They will be adults one day. They might choose, as I have, to live among You.
I hope they can be free, proud and strong like the bull.
I hope they can wield their words and actions to defend and attack.
I hope they can find their Querencia, as my parents did, and as I have.
The place that they seek, desire and love. Their lair. An environment that soothes. A place where they can be nurtured, regain their strength, and experience unconditional love and acceptance.
This is my wish too, for all my fellow Chameleons, for all those who are too different, whose identities intersect to push them out further on the margins, who feel like freakshows or educational tools for the uninformed privileged masses, who get asked too many questions, who feel like they are constantly in the Bullring; may they find their Querencia too.
And while we walk among You, I beg of You, leave us to be free, proud and strong.
Finding Querencia was written in March 2015, when I was first coming to terms with coming out as queer and autistic, with neurodiverent children in the conformist suburbs of Australia, something I still struggle with!
I wrote Finding Querencia for Michelle Sutton, for inclusion in her anthology The Real Experts. The book, published by Autonomous Press includes some of my favourite pieces of writing by autistic people. Please buy it and read it. You won’t regret it!