Elliott Knight is an activist and community leader in Kitimat. They are the founder of the Kitimat Gender and Sexuality Alliance, as well as serving on both the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Advisory Commission for Persons with Disabilities.
They are queer, autistic, have ADHD, borderline personality disorder, anxiety and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. They are also physically disabled and live with chronic pain.
The line between disability and identity is never a clear boundary with strict rules. It is impossible to separate oneself from the labels and language that exist to attempt to explain and interpret the totality of a person.
“Contrary to what so many people believe, when you’re autistic that’s the way your brain is wired. I once had someone, a relative actually say ‘Oh if you pray hard enough your autism will go away’ and I just went off on her because I don’t want that. Not only is that a horrible thing to say, but without my autism I’m a completely different person.”
Knight is also part of a dissociative identity system, meaning they experience many different identities, that all work together to form the person that is Knight. The different personalities that make up Knight are called headmates.
“It’s hard because we get fake claimed a lot. People are like, ‘Oh you’re not really plural’.”
“The way headmates form is different for every system, this is where I especially cannot speak for every system because plurality is vast. So we are, it’s called a traumagenic system, meaning we formed via trauma.
“DID (Dissociative Identity disorder) and the lesser-known OSDD or Other Specified Dissociative Disorders are more often than not the result of severe childhood trauma.
The only reason we don’t fit the criteria for OSDD is because our plurality does not cause us distress, but basically, the brain will see a character and its like ‘we could use them in the system.
“It’s like, you see this traumatized bastard, they can join the other traumatized bastards!”
At the time of the interview, Knight has 145 fully formed headmates and an unknown amount of fragments in their system. Fragments are headmates who are not fully sentient, or conscious.
Their first split happened when they were four, likely as a result of being a hyper-sensitive undiagnosed autistic kid and having unprocessed pain and medical trauma. Their first operation on their club foot happened just before they turned four.
“There’s a saying that I saw that the brain’s job isn’t to make you happy, it’s to keep you alive.”
People will often expect other people with marginalized identities to be a spokesperson for an entire community. This applies to both disability and queerness. And there is often a lot of overlap between the two communities.
“There’s the social model of disability and the medical model of disability. And so the medical model is what most people are familiar with and that is that people are disabled by their disabilities. The social model is that people are disabled by society. So for example, if suddenly we woke up and everything was physically accessible, and everything was accessible for autistic people, so few people would be classified as disabled,” said Knight.
“Unfortunately it’s not completely perfect, because even in that world I would still have chronic pain. I would have trauma flashbacks.”
The social model of disability says that disability isn’t something to fix it’s something to accommodate for. Everyone has the potential to become disabled at any point in life, and creating systems built for disabled people as the default will serve everyone.
Knight brought up the example of glasses as a disability aid that is often, for lack of a better word, overlooked. Glasses are so normalized and widely available that people forget that sight impairment is a disability, but because of the systems we have in place, it is a relatively easy accommodation to make.
Having those accommodations baked into the design of our infrastructure would save everyone time and energy. For example, Knight had to stop using their wheelchair because they found that it took more energy to use a wheelchair around town than it saved.
Due to the activism work that Knight does, things are changing, albiet slowly.
“I know that there is a very dedicated group of people in town who are fighting to make sure that it happens as fast as possible. Unfortunately, it can’t be as fast as we would like.
“I do have a lot of hope, I know it can be so easy to lose hope when it comes to things like this but when it comes to Kitimat specifically I do have a lot of hope for everything.”
Knight is also one of the organizers of the Pride Prom, happening on June 3. They spoke about the challenges of building community, and why the outcomes are more important than the obstacles.
“Obviously there are dissenters, and I say that to be very polite, but as it usually is, it’s a vocal minority. Not saying that that means we shouldn’t watch out for them, but there’s more love than hate.”
Knight is a deeply authentic person. They are so honestly and earnestly themself. The joy and passion they have for the things they love lights up the room. That level of self-acceptance is often threatening to other people. Authenticity takes tremendous courage and bravery, but authenticity is often not a choice, it’s a matter of survival.
“I’ve never strayed away from being myself. I was bullied very severely in elementary school to the point where I almost did end my life. And I look back and realize not once did the thought that if I act like them or if I stop being myself they’ll leave me alone. Not once did that cross my mind and I issue that to being autistic. I look back on my past self and just think ‘I am so proud of you kid’.”
Knight concluded with advice for kids who are currently in the position that they were in.
“I don’t want to say that it gets better because I do feel that’s very cliché. I would say you are enough. No matter what you think or what people tell you that you are enough just the way you are. and on that, you are not too much either.
“You are you and one day you will find people who are overjoyed to meet you and you will make your own family if you don’t have a family that already loves you.”