Quirky, humorous, and bold are the first three adjectives that come to mind when talking about Hina Siddiqui. She is a theater artist, comic creator, podcaster, and, as she proudly shares, a trans-media storyteller.

My queerness is not normative.

Despite having worked with individuals with non-conforming cognitive capacities for several years, Hina couldn’t see the forest for the trees when it came to her own mental identity. Thinking back to how her nascent understanding of queerness kept her silent for a long time, she calls herself a ‘chronic over-explainer’ who struggled ‘to be understood’ and find the right words to coherently explain her unique way of navigating the world.

For me, that's been the core of anxiety… of not having enough words to explain what I want to explain, and that's where my journey started as a young person.

Hina has a painful origin. She reveals how her challenges were themed around a sense of alienation and non-belonging — a challenge that pushed her to look for words and places through which identity could be explained, understood, and possibly accepted. It was only in her thirties that she identified the intersection at which she would choose to locate herself. In the long journey of identifying, understanding, and labeling herself, Hina has finally landed on two words - ‘queer’ and ‘neurodivergent’.

I started using the label bisexual for myself in 2018 when the ruling came out. And since then, my use of labels has evolved. So, I no longer identify as bi. I use the term queer because it seems to describe my political and philosophical inclinations as well.

Labels have helped Hina in her tiresome trek toward self-acceptance. Sadly, one’s acceptance of their identity doesn’t always equate to ‘happily ever after.’ As a neurodivergent queer working in spaces designed for, and mostly by, heteronormative neurotypicals, Hina struggled to be a part of a conforming workforce.

Untangling her professional journey, Hina speaks about her experiences in conventional work environments. Once, as a young adult, and the second time, last year; both proved to be unpleasant, yet revealing experiences. Describing her last job, Hina tells us how her mental health deteriorated to the point of hospitalization. Forced to hide away core parts of her identity, Hina had to walk on eggshells while expressing her views and sported a mask that she did not own. Hina finally experienced burnout and landed in the ICU.

With neurodivergence, adjusting every day is a struggle. And that takes a massive mental toll. Imagine the most blasé activity like waking up and brushing your teeth. Imagine having to think through that activity every day.

Burnout was a wake-up call. Hina resigned from her job and set off on a journey to carve a career for herself. Hina revisits her encounter with hostile work policies and behavior, and how she refused to internalize their prejudice. Instead, she has embraced an invaluable lesson: being different is nothing to be demonized, and it is alright to be herself.

Hina has learned the hard way that, in the long run, you cannot afford to be anyone but yourself. This is the message she continues to promote through her work and activism.

Hina jokingly speaks of being a maladaptive daydreamer. Weaving stories in her head and scripting conversations between fictional characters came most naturally to her as a child. In them, Hina found safety, and as she grew older she unintentionally channeled this habit into something creative and transformative. Stories became her weapon of choice to fight a society that was not designed for people like her. She began using storytelling in creative ways on multiple platforms. With words as her tools and her loved ones as her loyal audience, Hina dared to learn new things.

Today, Hina can be found writing comics, making games, recording her podcast, and curating her homegrown newsletter. Hina has taken advantage of her arsenal of artistic expression to begin teaching creative writing again to others.

Hina contends that we can write our own stories. She believes victims of exclusion have the power to dream up a better future and divorce themselves from past narratives. This explains her passion for cultural futurism. Today’s fiction can very well become tomorrow’s fact, and Hina creatively reimagines the future through her storytelling. Moving away from tech-dominated narratives of the future, she compels her readers to instead consider futuristic themes such as the absence of gender exclusionary practices and pushes the law beyond today’s heteronormative narratives of marriage and property.

One of the stories I'm writing has a madrasa institution, a hundred years from now. And one of my opening scenes, for which I have drawn a little bit of a comic, is of non-binary students in the Madrasa. So the question is, how are these institutions evolving? How do you place yourself within them? And I think any cultural lens on futurism gives you that context. It allows people to see themselves in that future.

When asked for one piece of advice for managers that wish to look beyond diversity hiring and help retain and empower their neurodivergent or queer colleagues, she laughed. Reminiscing about her past, her advice is simple: practice kindness. Hina speaks of kindness passionately, and understandably so. For her, kindness isn’t a virtue but a practice that can be cultivated at work.

More importantly, she touches on the radical perspective that kindness is a learnable skill that can be broken down into a practical schema, especially while managing people with non-normative identities. Making the case for kindness, she links this to the twisted concept of productivity in workplaces — spaces that “are designed to create productivity” rather than molding “productive people, or even happy people.”

Our neuro-queer artist closes the conversation by sharing three prominent life lessons that can enable a radical shift in mindset, even for cis-heterotypical and neurotypical individuals.

Firstly, divorce yourself from the narrative that suggests that the prerequisite to acceptance of your difference is employment.

Secondly, heal your relationship with money. For Hina, understanding and embracing the fact that the income she needs to comfortably live is much lower than what she desires was liberating. Remember, you can have modest needs and still aim for the sky.

Thirdly, she has written off the narrative that she needs to act neurotypical when she knows she is not. It’s critical to recognize that time is a social construct, and berating yourself for not meeting expectations and pre-mandated timelines is, at best, unproductive, if not completely damaging.

As is most often, Hina credits her transformation to two reasons — a great deal of non-judgmental introspection, and a kind, empathetic and, accepting support system. Today, Hina has a refreshingly re-envisioned approach to life: she empowers herself daily by cradling her uniqueness with tender acceptance and encourages others to author their stories of self-discovery and transcendence.

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