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AutismBC Connects

Being 2-Spirit & Autistic with Cole Lawrence

September 26th, 2023

Cole Lawrence

For Autistic adults

This article has been edited for length, style, and clarity. 

Cole Lawrence holding a mug that says "The only choice I made was to be myself." (Courtesy of Cole Lawrence)
Cole Lawrence holding a mug that says “The only choice I made was to be myself.” (Courtesy of Cole Lawrence)
 

I’m Cole. My pronouns are he/his/they/theirs. 

I would like to acknowledge that I am on the unceded and traditional territory of the Dane-zaa (ᑕᓀᖚ also known as Tsattine peoples). 

Today we will talk about my experience being 2-Spirit and having level 2 AuDHD, autism and ADHD with a mild intellectual disability and cognitive impairment. I also have received other professional diagnoses in the past.  

To further explain my experiences of being Level 2 AuDHD and being 2-Spirit, I need to explain my history.  

Cole’s Backstory 

I am a non-status Indian. In Canada, the term non-status Indian refers to any First Nations person who, for whatever reason — Blood Quantum, 60s Scoop, women losing status, and so on — is not registered with the federal government or a band which signed a treaty with the Crown. 

From the Nlaka’pamux nation, my Papa is status to Lower Nicola region, -Nʔeʔiyk of the Scwʼexmx branch, meaning “people of the creeks.” This branch of the Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) people is in the Nicola Country, BC. Scw’ex, meaning “creek”, is the name of the Nicola River in the Thompson language. 

And my biological father’s side is part Greenlanders (Kalaallit, Tunumiit or Inughuit), people identified with Greenland or the Indigenous people, the Greenlandic Inuit. He is also part Sámi. The Sámi are a group of Arctic Finno-Uralic Indigenous peoples of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. 

However, the Sámi are an Indigenous group that can’t use the term 2 Spirit. The term is and can only be used by the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. 

My Non-Indigenous ancestry is French Creole, Irish, Greek Sephardic-Mizrahi Jewish descent, African American of Nigerian and Ethiopian descent, and other ethnicities. 

I do not know my biological father or his family. I only became aware of his ancestry through multiple DNA ancestry kits to find his genealogical history. 

I can only speak from experience with my Papa’s family and his culture. My Papa’s mother went to the St. George’s Indian Residential School in Lytton, BC, and he was raised with his siblings at their aunt and uncle’s house. 

My Papa and I got to know his culture in my later teenage years. I finally got to know his mother’s family, where many adults are elders, knowledge keepers, and speakers of the Nlaka’pamuctsin language. In 2014, the census said there were less than 130 speakers, but my Papa’s family speaks a dialect distinctive to the Nicola Valley. Scw’exmx is the name of the subgroup of the Nlaka’pamux who live there. 

I was born intersex, an umbrella term for 40-70 unique variations in reproductive or sex anatomy that don’t fit in the boxes of “male” or “female.” Characteristics include differences in chromosomes, gonads, hormones, and/or genitals. Intersex is a biological sex-gender, not in any way related to transgenderism or non-binary identities. Terms used to describe intersex people are contested and change depending on time and place.  

I found out I was intersex later in life and was shocked. Learning that I’m both intersex and Level 2 AuDHD was an overwhelming experience. On top of the normal stress that comes with finding out something so personal about myself, I was also dealing with the overstimulation of having both a neurodevelopmental disability and discovering I’m not a biological male. 

It was like my brain was bombarded with all this new information, and I couldn’t process it in a normal way.  

My OCD and panic attacks skyrocketed, and I was constantly trying to make sense of my feelings, unable to relax. It became difficult to focus on anything, sleep, or eat. All of these symptoms made it difficult to cope and move forward in a healthy way, but I learned to accept myself.  

Finding out I’m intersex was life-changing for me. On one hand, it was a huge relief to have a medical term to explain why I felt so different from other people. On the other, it was confusing to discover my body didn’t fit neatly into the binary of male or female. 

As I researched more about gender, I stumbled across the term “Two-Spirit,” used by many Indigenous cultures to describe people who have both masculine and feminine spirits. Through learning about Two-Spirit identities, I began to understand that my biological sex and gender identity is not a binary but instead a spectrum of both masculine and feminine traits.  

This realization has been incredibly liberating and has allowed me to embrace my gender identity in a way I never thought possible. I’ve found a sense of belonging and community with other Two-Spirit people, and I’m proud to be able to share this part of my identity with the world. 

The Upsides 

Being Level 2 AuDHD and identifying as Two-Spirit has shaped my experiences in unique ways. My AuDHD has presented challenges in attention and focus, but it has also helped me see the world from a different perspective and notice details others overlook. Autism has given me a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, which can be overwhelming and enriching. 

Additionally, being Two-Spirit has given me a deeper understanding of gender and identity, allowing me to embrace and celebrate my authentic self. Overall, these aspects of my identity have made my experiences richer and more multifaceted. Connecting to my Indigenous heritage has provided me with a deep sense of cultural belonging and a strong connection to the land.  

These two aspects of my identity intersect, shaping my understanding of myself and the world around me. They have taught me the importance of embracing diversity and celebrating the uniqueness of each individual. Overall, being 2-Spirit and AuDHD has given me a deeper appreciation for the beauty and complexity of human existence. 

The Challenges 

Being Level 2 AuDHD and 2-Spirit comes with its own set of unique struggles. Unfortunately, they’re often compounded by ableism from both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. The lack of understanding and acceptance can make it difficult to navigate daily life and find a sense of belonging.  

In the Indigenous community, ableism can manifest in various ways. Some may view neurodivergent individuals as “broken” or “abnormal,” leading to exclusion and marginalization. 

The emphasis on conformity and traditional gender roles can also create challenges for those who identify as 2-Spirit, as they may face discrimination and rejection due to their inability to conform. 

Outside the Indigenous community, ableism can be equally pervasive. Society often expects individuals to fit into narrow definitions of “normal” behaviour and communication, which can be especially challenging for those with autism. The lack of understanding and accommodations can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration, further exacerbating the struggles faced by neurodivergent people. 

In or outside the Indigenous community, 2-Spirit people struggle with being misunderstood and stereotyped as confused or attention-seeking. These ideas can be harmful and perpetuate misconceptions about people with diverse identities.  

It’s disheartening to be at the intersection of ableism and racism as it creates barriers to accessing support, resources, and equal opportunities. The constant battle against stereotypes, prejudice, and ignorance can be emotionally and mentally exhausting. Other members of society have to foster inclusion, empathy, and education to effectively address these issues.  

It is crucial for society to foster inclusivity, understanding, and acceptance for individuals who navigate these unique identities, allowing them to thrive and contribute their valuable perspectives to the world. 

Conclusion

Being Level 2 AuDHD and 2-Spirit comes with both pros and cons. From my own experience, it has made my perspective broader. I can think outside the box, which can be advantageous in problem-solving and creative endeavors. Being 2-Spirit has allowed me to embrace myself, connect with my cultural heritage, and find a sense of belonging within the 2SLGBTQ+ community.  

While managing sensory sensitivities and executive functioning difficulties can be tiring, my experiences have shaped me into a resilient and empathetic person capable of contributing valuable insight to the world around me.

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