A sunflower, a purple heart, and a rainbow are emojis that come to mind as we reflect on our conversation with Vaishali. Despite delving into heavy and thought-provoking issues, her warm and genuine smile remained a constant companion in our conversation.

I have always been queer and dyslexic.

Vaishali recalls feeling different from a young age but not knowing the source of her uniqueness. This sense of difference led to profound isolation, as society often equated 'different' with 'wrong.'

Discovering her identity as a lesbian at the age of 19 was a watershed moment in Vaishali's life, but it also marked the beginning of a journey filled with challenges. She then finally had a name for the feelings she had always known but couldn't quite understand. However, coming to terms with her sexual orientation wasn't an easy path.

In her early twenties, she faced another revelation—she had dyslexia. This added complexity to her sense of being different, and the weight of these discoveries began to take a toll on her. Vaishali found herself at a crossroads. She grappled with the decision of whether to continue masking her true self to avoid the alienation she feared or to embrace her authentic self, even if it meant risking rejection. She chose to become adept at playing a character that others found acceptable.

This seemed like a safer choice at first. However, it came at a cost.

Vaishali realized that even if people accepted the persona she presented, it was a hollow acceptance because they weren't embracing the real her. It was a charade that left her feeling exhausted in her professional life, where she played the role of a neurotypical (NT) individual, hindering her from discovering environments where she could thrive as her authentic self. Additionally, this inauthenticity seeped into her personal relationships, leaving her craving depth and validity while only experiencing superficial connections. The fear of rejection had kept her in the closet for a long time, but she eventually understood that the costs of being disingenuous were far greater. This realization fueled her determination to gradually open up, unmasking herself professionally and personally.

Today, Vaishali has transformed into an advocate for authenticity. She has come a long way from the isolation and fear she once faced. Now, she proudly expresses herself, unapologetically sharing all aspects of her identity with the world, and in doing so, she has found acceptance, love, and a sense of fulfillment she had long yearned for.

Don't ask me if I can do this job. Ask me how I can support you best so you can do this job.

When asked about misconceptions about dyslexia, Vaishali spoke to us with unwavering candor. The first misconception she challenged was that “dyslexia makes you less productive.” Vaishali firmly disagrees, emphasizing that it's the environment, not dyslexia itself, that often affects performance. The second misconception she dispelled was that “dyslexic individuals are lazy.” Vaishali pointed out that early age and the institutional prioritization of reading and writing over speaking can create anxiety for dyslexic individuals. By understanding these challenges and offering appropriate support, it becomes clear that dyslexia has nothing to do with laziness but everything to do with unique communication and processing styles.

Speaking about managing and leveraging dyslexia, Vaishali outlined a four-step process with us: First, understand your nervous system and recognize its strengths and limitations. For Vaishali, this meant realizing her aptitude for out-of-the-box thinking and systemic issues with repetitive, mundane tasks. The second step involves dismantling the internalized self-doubt and stigma of being neurodivergent. Vaishali emphasized the importance of reframing one's own perception of divergence, recognizing that being different is not a flaw but a unique perspective. The third step requires repeatedly sharing the case of one's nervous system to others. This means advocating for oneself, setting boundaries, and saying no when necessary. The fourth step is a wise one - helping others. Vaishali believes in the power of ND folx supporting one another. This support system includes directing fellow neurodivergent individuals to helpful resources, sharing personal experiences, and reassuring them that they are not alone on this journey.

When asked for advice for folx falling in the intersection of queerness and neurodiversity, Vaishali shared two insightful pieces.

Comfort Zone vs Safe Spaces

Vaishali firmly believes in the importance of distinguishing between comfort zones and safe spaces. She advises individuals to acknowledge the baseline of anxiety that often accompanies being in spaces where one feels different. Comfort zones, while not entirely safe, offer a familiarity that can be comforting. However, she underscores the significance of safe spaces, as they allow individuals to be their authentic selves, advocate for their needs, and reduce the need for masking their true identity. Vaishali emphasizes that remaining in a comfort zone can lead to missed opportunities for personal growth and self-discovery. She encourages self-reflection to help individuals determine whether they are in a comfort zone or a safe space, recognizing that this distinction is vital for their well-being and personal development.

The way my imposter syndrome works is I never ask for help.

Imposter syndrome is a challenge that Vaishali understands intimately, having grappled with it herself as a neurodivergent and queer individual. She acknowledges that feeling like an imposter can be particularly intense in settings where one stands out as different from everyone else. She points out that this issue isn't exclusive to neurodivergent individuals; even neurotypical women, especially in male-dominated fields like tech, can experience it. To combat imposter syndrome, Vaishali recommends recognizing it, creating a space for oneself, and asserting that one deserves a place at the table despite being different.

As our conversation with Vaishali came to an end, we found ourselves circling back to that warm and genuine smile that graced our entire discussion. Vaishali's journey, with all its complexities, has left an indelible mark on our understanding of the intersections of identity, diversity, and self-discovery. And this is why those three emojis come to mind as we think of our conversation with Vaishali: as vibrant as the colors of a rainbow, as resolute as a purple heart, and as uplifting and optimistic as a sunflower in its fullest bloom.

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