AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Cait Gordon

"The two characters aren’t copies of each other because that’s not how autism works. There’s not one way to be autistic."

Cait Gordon is a Canadian, autistic, disabled and queer author of speculative fiction that celebrates the reality of diversity. Her short story, The Hilltop Gathering (We Shall Be Monsters, ed. Derek Newman-Stille), features a disabled protagonist and was discussed at a symposium about Frankenstein at Carleton University. Cait also joined Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the Nothing Without Us anthology, which was part of the syllabus in a disability studies course at Trent University and was a 2020 Prix Aurora Award finalist for Best Related Work. When not arranging words, Cait advocates for disability representation and is the founder of the Spoonie Authors Network. 

Tell me about a recent work you released - a short story, a poem, a book, a game. What one work of yours do you hope readers will go out and read today? What's it about?

Deducting 12 months for the pandemic… my little joke because Nothing Without Us was launched in October 2019, I will go with this choice. The anthology is a multi-genre collection of 22 short works of fiction whose authors and protagonists are disabled, d/Deaf, neurodivergent, and/or they manage mental illness. The stories explore many themes, from how lovely it would be to have a support Golem, to what would it be like for a doctor to be haunted by the ghost of a patient whose chronic illness he dismissed, to how someone with dissociative identity disorder (DID) receives comfort during grief from their other identities. There is a swerving between realistic and fantastical fiction throughout the book, and we are so proud of our authors. The anthology without be nothing without them!

What one thing do you wish more speculative fiction readers knew about autism?

It’s interesting because I am currently working on a space opera that has two neurodivergent characters. And they display different autistic traits of mine. The two characters aren’t copies of each other because that’s not how autism works. There’s not one way to be autistic. That’s the big thing I’d want neurotypical readers and authors to understand. We normally find the male savant who cannot experience empathy—that’s the commonly crafted “autistic person.” But in life, there’s so much diversity within how neurodivergent people just are. Some are introverted, other extroverted. We have various personalities. Autism isn’t restricted to one gender, race, culture, or sexual orientation. And those who have met Talia and me will notice how differently our personalities seem, and we are both autistic. You can’t just base autism on outward appearances.

Have you had trouble with the publishing industry because of being autistic, and/or because of being marginalized in another way?

I am ridiculously lucky that I am with Renaissance press. I feel like I won a lottery because their motto is “diverse Canadian voices.” So, their mandate is to elevate the works of marginalized folks. Talia and I were given so much trust on Nothing Without Us, which had been amazing since neither of us had sat on the editors-in-chief side of the anthology table before. But Nathan Fréchette, the publishing director, was always there to support us and answer questions. We also had so much support from readers and other authors that the book earned a Prix Aurora Award nomination in 2020. That kind of blew out socks off. The peer recognition of an anthology that starred disabled, Deaf, neurodivergent, and mentally ill main characters felt wonderful, to be honest. (Fun fact: Nothing Without Us was also taught twice at Trent University as part of a disabilities studies course.)

But I have had a few instances where I felt I needed to bring up ableism at events, and that didn’t go over too well. My personal take is that writers conferences should have lived-experience people as accessibility coordinators. Even a team of people for that purpose. Accessiblity and accommodation inclusion is a huge undertaking, so the more input, the better, in my opinion.

What's the biggest thing about the publishing industry that you wish would change?

I am always trying to learn and grow, so one of the topics that I recognize should be addressed these days is in-depth point-of-view writing. While I have no issue with abled, neurotypical folks including disabled, ND characters in their stories, I feel it would be best if these characters were just part of the story, and not protagonists in an attempt to do deep-dive own-voices storytelling. Best leave it to authors who have that lived experience. Also, publishing has to stop accepting stories where disabled people are tragic, or only on the page to boost the abled main character, or even worse, the entire point is for disabled characters to be cured or overcome their disabilities. Personally, I’d like to overcome ableism, especially the kind that leads to inspiration porn stories. Just let us be us. Also, dear big publishers, sign on more disabled, d/Deaf, neurodivergent authors, and authors who manage mental illness. I would like to find more realistic experiences with mental illness. Not the harmful trope that mentally ill people commit all the crimes ever. Harmful tropes can lead to public perceptions in real life, which can have dire consequences, in my opinion.

Do you have any writing advice for other autistic people?

I do! Please do not let anyone tell you that your autistic character is “too much” or “not autistic enough” or “needs to get over themselves," whenever you include autistic characters in your stories. In real life, we as people are told things like, “You can’t be autistic, you’re looking right at me! You socialize well!” At least, that’s the perception I receive at times because I’m jokey with a big personality. Also, I’m hard of hearing, so I tend to look at people’s mouths specifically, as a backup with lip-reading. 

So, your lived experiences are valid. The other thing I would say is to seek out other autistic authors. We exist! For me, knowing other neurodivergent writers has been so edifying. Community is really important to me because you can find validation and even share some snark together. (Gosh, I love snark.) I founded the Spoonie Authors Network (spoonieauthorsnetwork.com), and we have a Twitter chat every Sunday @SpoonieAuthNet callde #SpoonieAuthChat. We chat about writing topics, and it’s very fun a casual. A nice way to interact, too.