by Princess Harmony Rodriguez
Black Girl Dangerous’ Crush of the Month is a feature where we choose the most swoon-worthy and inspirational QTPoC whose work and flair has left us inspired and blushing. Then we interview them so our amazing readers can join us in crushing, fanning, and absolutely swooning over these amazing QTs.
This month’s crush is Lydia X. Z. Brown! Lydia is an autistic, nonbinary, asexual of color who does writing, organizing, and public speaking. The focus of their work is intersectional disability justice, examining institutional and personal violence against marginalized disabled people. They are also the chairperson for the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, past president of TASH New England, and a board member for the Autism Women’s Network. Plus, they’re the Lead Editor for All The Weight of Our Dreams, the first anthology of art and writing made by and for autistic people of color.
Has it gotten hot in here, or is it just us? Without further ado, here’s Lydia!
Princess: I have to say, following you and your work, that you’ve done and achieved so much. What called you to do this work? Of course, you are disabled so I imagine that factors into it, but was there anything in particular that brought you to what you do?
Lydia: I have always had the belief that if it is possible (all resources and access to resources considered) for someone to do something about injustice, then it becomes morally obligatory. I also believe that we should work for justice not only when we or people we personally know might be affected, but when any human being is subject to injustice.
For me, it started in high school. I grew up surrounded by savior narratives, and the idea that community service – in a very savior type of way where people with privilege need to “save” the marginalized – was how to do right. I didn’t really question that, so I assumed that I was a good person if I adopted this mentality.
After a failed stint taking that approach of community service, I got in touch with autistic adults working to change narratives about autism while advocating for policy reforms in Massachusetts, especially around (the totally fucking legal) use of torture at the Judge Rotenberg Center, where disabled people are subject to painful electric shocks as a form of behavioral modification.
At every point in my life, I have sought to live out my belief that I must use whatever resources I have at any given point in time to challenge injustice, to fight both interpersonal and systemic violence, and to support braver, more welcoming spaces for those of us who have been marginalized or targeted.
Princess: Being disabled myself, I know that just the idea of work can get overwhelming at times. What do you do to unwind? What does self-care look like for you? Or are you one of those rare people who is at peace when they’re working?
Lydia: Self-care looks like reminding myself, explicitly, that it is OK to take breaks. It is OK to say no. It is OK to set limits. It is hard as fuck, and sometimes scary as fuck too, but it is still OK. It is valid to have boundaries. It is valid to feel overwhelmed. It is valid to feel stressed.
For me, self-care is hard. I do enjoy being busy and having work to do, but I also have a breaking point. I’ve gone through burnout in phases. I find myself at or beyond capacity a lot. I know I’m not alone and that for many of us, we struggle with this, and yet we keep talking about why self-care is so important.
As a marginalized person who is also very privileged in other ways, that means doing what I can with resources (spoons included) that I have at any given moment to support, promote, amplify, and connect the work of the most impacted. (And yes, survival is work! Resisting from bed is work!) And it also means, when I don’t have resources at a particular moment, taking breaks. Letting myself reset. Reminding myself I am valid and my existence is valuable.
Some of the ways that I practice self-care, when I succeed anyway, are eating foods that I enjoy, listening to music that I love, talking to my partner and close and trusted friends, and roleplay and fiction writing. And of course, cuddling with wonderful kitties and dogs.
Princess: Switching gears, sort of. How does the work you do inform the different relationships you have with people? Be it romantic, platonic, or business, how do you apply all that you know of intersectionality and disability justice to interpersonal relationships?
Lydia: One thing that I’ve noticed is that most people I am close to and trust deeply are not part of movement spaces. Many are not activists, organizers, or advocates. That’s been important to my mental health, because as much as organizing is a core part of who I am and what I do, I also exist as a human being outside of the work, and need to nurture these parts of myself.
Applying intersectionality and disability justice to interpersonal relationships means, doing my best to hold myself accountable for my capacity to harm laterally and oppressively, recognizing that everyone comes from different places for a variety of reasons, honoring and uplifting the work and labor of people whose efforts are frequently erased or demanded without pay, and working with the people in my life to figure out non-violent ways to deal with harm when it comes up.
I am not perfect or infallible. I have fucked up before and I am certain I will fuck up in the future. But I do hold myself to high standards in accordance with my values and principles, and I hope that whenever I do cause harm, I do my best to rectify it and to prevent myself from causing the same harm in the future. I also hope that I can work with others to develop alternatives to harmful and violent ways of getting things done.
Princess: What advice would you give to other disabled or neurodivergant people in or pursuing relationships? What have you learned from your relationships (no matter what kind they were)?
Lydia: Take time to develop openness and trust in your communication with any partner, whether you are mono or poly, or in committed or casual relationships. No relationship will ever be perfect or conflict-free, but a lot of conflict can be reduced or avoided with proactive communication. At the same time, it’s not always going to be possible to be totally up-front about every possible thing that might come up, either because of past trauma (especially true for many of us disabled, neurodivergent, or mad QTPOC) that makes trust hard even when we want to, or because of not yet realizing something could be an issue or a source of conflict until it happens.
A lot of what turns out to be hard for us is that disability is unpredictable. Some days, we have more spoons than others, and disability absolutely impacts how we navigate life with partners, whether we live with partners or not. Practicing disability justice in a relationship context means recognizing that our needs, capacities, and spoon-levels are constantly fluid, and that it is okay to give and take space, whether or not we understand the exact reason why our partner needs to fuck off and take a break. It means letting ourselves be imperfect (not to excuse harm in any way, shape, or form), and recognize we will make mistakes and fuck up at some point or another, and that is a sign of humanity.
Being emotionally intimate with another human being (whether romantically or platonically) is hard work that requires intentionality and interdependence, even before you add differences in communication, sensory experiences, trauma, and identities into the mix.
Princess Harmony is a nerd, writer, and happy little loser. She enjoys anime, video games, fashion, and cute things. Also, if you feed her snacks, she gets real happy. She’s also available as a consultant on matters of race, transgender identity, and all things anime.