My name’s Nic Carper. I’m 33 years old and I live in Nanaimo. I’m a trans man; I started my transition about 5 years ago in 2017. I use he/him pronouns. My husband and I have been happily married for 13 1/2 years and we have two cats together. I call myself autistic rather than a person with autism. By day, I work from home at the only good job I’ve ever had, which is lovely but not the focus of this story. My real passion is silversmithing.
Discovering My Autism
The signs were always there, but because I was a “smart” “girl,” they weren’t put together as autism. I was just an absurdly advanced reader (nowadays we know that 84% of kids with hyperlexia are autistic), had arbitrary routines that only made sense to me, didn’t get along with other kids, had anxiety around new foods, banged my head on the wall sometimes when I was frustrated, couldn’t stand water on my face (and failed swimming lessons because of it), and was obsessed with video games way before they were cool (remember, this was the early 90s). Because I didn’t have a label, the positive was that none of these behaviours were pathologized, but the negative was they also weren’t recognized as a whole condition I could get support for.
Autism didn’t occur to me until I was an adult. In elementary school, there was an autistic boy with high support needs and developmental delays who struggled with participating in school. I associated autism with boys like him because I was completely unaware of any autistic girls or adults and how they might present differently.
In my mid-20s, I met a friend who confided in me that he had what was then labelled Asperger’s Syndrome or “high-functioning” autism. I was surprised at first because he was nothing like the boy I remembered from school. Then, I was surprised a second time because I realized that I could relate to him in many ways. I started looking into the DSM, others’ lived experiences, books written by experts like Tony Attwood, and online screening tests such as the RAADS-R. I finally had an explanation for the way my life was.
I asked my family doctor how to get an autism assessment. She referred me to the local mental health unit, which was not appropriate. The staff member who met with me was very condescending and dismissed my concerns as just being ‘all in my head.’ This experience really shook my trust in my own judgment and set back my self-discovery. I went back to thinking I was broken and just needed to work harder at being normal, which has been incredibly harmful.
Being Queer and Neurodivergent
Being trans, plus autistic, minus any awareness or knowledge of either identity, was really rough for me. I was bullied relentlessly almost every day at school. I wasn’t feminine enough to fit in with the girls, I wasn’t socially adept enough to fit in with anyone, period, so kids latched onto that. Even the adults in my life blamed me for being too sensitive or being a tattle-tale, implying I deserved it somehow for not being normal enough. I learned that my needs, feelings, and interests didn’t matter to anyone. I withdrew from others so severely that even my parents no longer felt like safe people to be around because I would be shamed for comforting myself with my interests instead of being social with them.
Being deprived of an emotionally safe environment for so many years gave me complex PTSD, which still affects me to this day.
University was much better, but when I started working, I struggled to fit into office culture despite excelling at the actual work. I lucked into my jobs via connections because I would fail every interview where I didn’t know someone already. It’s the double empathy problem in action; I would try my hardest to be friendly to clients and coworkers and perform a professional feminine appearance as much as I could tolerate it, but there were still so many misunderstandings because nobody would meet me halfway.
On a brighter note, I’ve learned to put a positive spin on my disconnect from caring about others’ opinions. I feel empowered by taking responsibility for my own healing. If I believe making a change will improve my life, I just go for it. Living authentically is essential as both a queer and neurodivergent person. I also feel like being openly queer and neurodivergent gives me more licence to do unusual things in the pursuit of authenticity, since I’m already written off as an outsider anyway.
I also love my chosen family. In my experience, I find that queer people click with each other easily, and neurodivergent people even more so. My chosen family includes my husband and two other couples with their own flavours of queerness and neurodiversity.
We just get each other. We bond with info-dumping, parallel activities, and sharing the most obscure memes in the group chat. We always understand if one of us needs to retreat and recharge. I’m thankful every day that I have them in my life.
Accessing Resources Through AutismBC
Last summer, I was starting to enter craft markets and I wasn’t yet used to the amount of energy they require. I had spent the previous several months dealing with some losses in my family of origin, on top of a busy season at my day job, so I was feeling severely burnt out and depressed from all of that. I started seeing a counsellor to get some help with processing grief and regaining executive function.
One day, my counsellor suggested adapting a PECS chart to arrange my schedule and get back into a routine. She said something like “This is often used by autistic children, but I know you’re not an autistic child”, and I was like “Well actually…” So we went through the DSM in detail and related my life experiences to the criteria in neutral terms rather than the old deficit-focused model. She’s not qualified to officially diagnose autism, but using the verbal magic counsellors are known for, she suggested that it would be very useful to look into getting an assessment with someone who is.
Seeing a psychologist truly support and validate autistic adults made everything snap into place. I finally felt whole again. I still don’t have words to describe exactly how profound this feeling was. The AM-HeLP group literally saved my life.
After that, it was suddenly much easier to be kind to myself because I understood that my needs were real needs, not me being lazy or difficult. Since I’ve made it this far and I’m still alive, I don’t think it’s useful to spend time and money to get someone else to tell me what I already know. The professionals can use their time helping people with higher support needs, and I can use my money to prioritize self-care and build the world I need for myself.
So yes, AutismBC was definitely able to help!
Things to Understand About Queer Neurodivergent People
To employers: I don’t believe our value as human beings is tied to our productivity, but I do believe we deserve to have as few barriers to productivity as possible. Many of us want to be as independent as we can, but workplace culture can make it really difficult. Go through your employee handbook or your informal policies and figure out what is a legitimate job requirement vs. what is an artificial construct that could be changed to make your employees’ lives easier. We can do amazing things if we’re given the proper environment to flourish.
To parents, caregivers, and teachers, from my inner child: please, please, please believe children when we tell you we’re struggling. Of course, the real world is going to be harsh and unforgiving, that’s not an excuse for you to be as well. That’s exactly why you need to be a safe space for your children. Children shouldn’t be expected to know how to do adult-level conflict resolution, we need someone to advocate for us. Queer and neurodivergent children need that even more because we naturally have an even harder time reading others and fitting in.
I started my transition during the 2017 Pride festival, where I was volunteering at the beer garden. I made myself a wooden pin to wear there with he/him pronouns painted on it. It felt like a little protective amulet to help me stay confident on my new journey. I had to buy more materials than I needed just for myself, so I made more pins and opened up an Etsy shop. I thought “Wouldn’t it be neat if I sold these at Pride one year?” but I didn’t take it seriously, so the shop sat dormant for a few years.
Then March 2020 came around. Like many office workers, I got sent to work from home and my hours were reduced. Between having more time, less money, and needing a diversion to stay mentally healthy, I thought it was a good time to dust off the old Etsy shop. I started selling the pronoun pins and expanding into other pride symbols. To this day, I find it very fulfilling to help give others that confidence boost I once needed.
However, I wanted to branch out into another craft with more long-term growth potential.
The idea of silversmithing actually came from my husband. He owns reproductions of a couple of rings from the Dark Souls video games, and he’s half-jokingly suggested that I could make them for him instead. At first, I was intimidated, but once I started learning more I became more comfortable with it, and now it’s definitely a focused interest! Still haven’t made him any rings though. Hopefully soon.
I don’t remember exactly how I came up with the name Crow & Sparkle. I’ve liked crows for a long time, I like how they’re intelligent and resourceful. Crows are also good at scavenging and finding good things in a mess, which is something I strive for. Now that I’ve landed on silversmithing as my craft of choice, I think the name fits my work really well.
This is the first year I’m vending at Pride markets. By the time this is published Nanaimo Pride will have come and gone (June 12); I’ll have come full circle, finally selling my pronoun pins there. If you’re able to come to Victoria Pride on June 26, 2022, feel free to come say hi! As for actually celebrating, I’m content to support happy customers and take in the atmosphere. It’s amazing that there are so many ways to celebrate Pride nowadays for those who want to, but a lot of events are for extroverts and sensory seekers, which isn’t really me. I’m happy doing my own thing like I’ve always wanted.
Nic is the owner of Crow & Sparkle, a small business selling handmade jewelry and ‘artifacts of empowerment.’ During April 2023, Autism Acceptance Month, 20% of sales will be donated to AutismBC! Follow Nic on Instagram to see what he does next!
Autism doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Identity, culture, and circumstance all affect how autistic individuals experience the world. As we celebrate and honour Autism Acceptance Month, we must amplify diverse voices if we want to be truly inclusive.
The Mental Health Literacy Guide for Autism is meant for Autistic adults, family members, professionals, policy-makers & leaders. The goal of the guide is to provide knowledge about the factors that can impact Autistic mental health. It highlights how context & individual experiences play roles one’s mental health, and how societal acceptance and appreciation of autism is critical for the better support and well-being of Autistic adults.