[Review] Uncomfortable Labels by Laura Kate Dale

“So while the assumption when I was born was that I was or would grow up to be a neurotypical heterosexual boy, that whole idea didn’t really pan out long term.”

In this candid, first-of-its-kind memoir, Laura Kate Dale recounts what life is like growing up as a gay trans woman on the autism spectrum. From struggling with sensory processing, managing socially demanding situations and learning social cues and feminine presentation, through to coming out as trans during an autistic meltdown, Laura draws on her personal experiences from life prior to transition and diagnosis, and moving on to the years of self-discovery, to give a unique insight into the nuances of sexuality, gender and autism, and how they intersect.

Charting the ups and down of being autistic and on the LGBT spectrum with searing honesty and humour, this is an empowering, life-affirming read for anyone who’s felt they don’t fit in.

Genre(s): Nonfiction, Memoir
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Release date:
July 18, 2019
Book links*:
Goodreads | Book Depository | IndieBound

Content warnings: (click to show)

mentions of suicidal ideation & suicide attempts, mentions of assault & harassment, mentions of being misgendered & dead-named, discussions of addiction (caffeine, stimming, alcohol), discussions of societal prejudice & discrimination

*These include affiliate links, which means that if you click through and buy a book I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. [Full disclaimers here.]

I received a review copy of this book through Netgalley; all opinions are my own and honest.

4 stars

I always thought I was alone. I never had anyone to tell me my experiences made sense to them. I never had anyone else’s experiences available as evidence that what I was experiencing was real. That’s why I’m writing this book; it’s the book I wish I’d been able to read when I was younger.

The highly personal nature of memoirs, especially on such sensitive and potentially painful topics, simultaneously creates high potential for emotional impact … and makes them really freaking hard to rate and review. Because this is such a candid, unflinchingly account of some pretty dark periods in the author’s life [please see content warnings above and practice self-care as needed], multiple sections of this book were difficult to read.

It’s definitely an eye-opening read regardless of how familiar you are with autistic and/or trans experiences β€” I could go on about the importance of intersectionality, but suffice it to say every autistic person’s experience is different, as is every LGBTQIA+ person’s, and so on for each aspect of life affecting one’s level of privilege / quality of life. Of course Dale spends a lot of time on personal anecdotes, but she also examines the societal constraints that created so many of these situations and issues. 

We’re definitely not allowed to exist as LGBT and on the autism spectrum at the same time; that’s way too many forbidden things going on. It’s too out there: representation gone mad. No person is that many diversity tick boxes at once, are they?

Although there is a demonstrated overlap between being autistic and being LGBTQIA+, healthcare professionals have yet to figure out how to best address it, and society at large is hardly doing any better. And the overlap is also important, because not only do both conditions make life more difficult, they make each other more difficult. Societal and/or personal approaches for one condition might not work for the other (one example Dale gives is LGBTQIA+ spaces inherently not being autistic-friendly, contributing to sensory overload), and due to the highly individualized nature of both, it’s extremely difficult to find truly inclusive solutions. 

But, in the end, over the course of a few years, I found a method that worked even better for me. I tried just not giving a shit [what other people think].

As Dale explains in detail, it’s largely the influence of external factors β€” judgment, hostility, aggression β€” that make it difficult to be non-heterosexual and non-neurotypical. (Hell is other people.) There are some advantages to being autistic, trans, and gay; and at the end of the day, Dale makes it clear that she wouldn’t change herself despite the challenges she has faced and continues to face. For so many people, life goes on, and it gets better.

Empathy, understanding, and destigmatization can go a long way toward preventing the kind of discrimination and bullying that Dale faced and hopes to combat by sharing her story. So whether you’re LGBTQIA+, autistic, both, or neither, I would highly recommend this book. 

Quotes are taken from an Advance Review Copy and may change upon publication.


4 thoughts on “[Review] Uncomfortable Labels by Laura Kate Dale

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