Episode 87. Being Queer & Neurodiverse: Celebrating Pride & Learning to Overcome Othering with Candace Lefke

We’re wrapping up Pride Month by bringing back another friend of the podcast, Candace Lefke. We met Candace when she shared her ADHD story with us for Refocused, Together 2022 — Candace and her Many Passions

Learn more about the language guidelines to follow when talking about suicide, set by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

Jess Corinne’s article for Learnfully.com, The Link Between Neurodiversity and the LGBTQIA+ Community

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Lindsay Guentzel (00:01):

Kicking off today’s episode with a reminder. From now until the end of June, you can take $20 off the ADHD Online assessment simply by using the discount code REFOCUS20. Whether you’re looking for a second opinion or ready to get answers for the first time, or you just want a little extra info about your brain, this is the perfect next step for you, and it’s super simple. All you have to do is use the discount code REFOCUS20 to take $20 off the ADHD Online assessment and you can head to adhdonline.com to get started today.


You are listening to Refocused, a podcast all about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and episode 87, Being and Queer and Neurodiverse, Celebrating Pride and Learning to Overcome Othering with Candace Lefke. Get started right now.


My name is Lindsay Guentzel, and every week on Refocused, we dive into the incredibly complex world of ADHD, exploring the topics most important to our community by interviewing medical providers, mental health professionals, and ADHD experts. We also just talk to other neurodiverse folks who share what it’s like living in a world not built for them, and of course all of that brings up lots of tips, tricks and workarounds that we can mix and match to fit in our own lives and needs.


Whether you’ve been navigating ADHD your entire life or you’re just starting your journey, there’s something for everyone on Refocused. And I promise that while we take this very seriously, we also have a lot of fun because life is way better with a little laughter in it. So sit back, relax, or do whatever you need to do to get into your listening mode, because the latest episode of Refocused gets started right now.


It’s June 26th, our last episode for Pride Month, and today we’re bringing back another friend of the podcast, someone I’m lucky enough to call a friend in real life, Candace Lefke. Candace shared her story for Refocus Together last year, the special series we produced for ADHD Awareness Month, where we told a different person’s story every day in the month of October. If you’ve already listened to Candace’s episode back on October 28th, Candace Lefke and Her Many Passions, you know we met through work. I was on my first work trip in Grand Rapids, Michigan last June, just months after launching the podcast, and Candace had been hired as our makeup artist for the video shoot we were working on. And since then we’ve been lucky enough to work together a few more times. And through those wonderful hours in her chair, I’ve learned so much more about Candace and her many layers, what makes Candace Candace. And I wanted to invite her back to share more about her experience as someone who belongs to both the ADHD community and the queer community.


And like the conversation I had with Emily Howard earlier this month, I sent Candace the link to Jess Corrine’s article, The Link Between Neurodiversity and the LGBTQIA+ Community. Jess is an educational therapist and neurodiversity advocate, and she shared some of the observations that have come out of research, a very small amount of research, that explored why the overlap happens. The idea that people who have already questioned the norms set up for them by society may have an easier time embracing another thing about themselves that also pushes against societal pressures. A little like been there, done that, but on a much bigger scale.


Now, some experts use the term double minority to describe a person who is neurodivergent as well as queer, and research shows double minority status is tied to higher mental distress as well as poor wellbeing. Another area of concern for a person who is queer and neurodiverse is the phenomenon called othering. According to Kendra Cherry, a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and the author of Everything Psychology book, othering is when some individuals or groups are defined and labeled as not fitting in within the norms of a social group. Othering can influence how people perceive and treat those groups, an example of us versus them playing out in the real world. “They’re not like me. They’re not one of us.” And when we other someone or a group of people, we can attach negative characteristics to them that push them even further away from what we view as normal.


Othering can be incredibly destructive, it helps form prejudices, and it can also play a role in dehumanizing entire groups of people, and those mindsets are often exploited to drive governmental and institutional changes that often results in the denial of rights based on those groups’ identities. According to the human rights campaign, more than 525 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in 41 states this year alone, and more than 75 have become law. Othering can also diminish a person’s individual humanity. And according to Cherry, those that have been othered are seen as less worthy of dignity and respect by society, by their neighbors, even in some cases by their own families.


Like I said, othering can be incredibly destructive. It’s something Candace opened up about in our conversation last week, sharing her experience with othering, and I’m so grateful to her for her willingness to open up about her experience as a queer neurodivergent. And I’m so excited to share her story with you in today’s episode, Being Queer and Neurodiverse, Celebrating Pride and Learning to Overcome Othering with Candace Lefke.


I threw this really big question at you and I love that you’ve actually had time to really sit and consider it throughout Pride month no less. When you look at being a member of the LGBTQ+ community as well as the ADHD community, what are some of the connections you’re able to see?

Candace Lefke (06:41):

I just started connecting the dots and realizing that the community around me, which is very queer, is very neurodiverse. And I feel like I realized that my coming out and realizing I was a queer person in my twenties and really accepting it. I probably knew that way beforehand when I was younger, and once I knew that and then getting diagnosed in my early thirties with ADHD was a huge, “Aha.” It just made sense. It was the click in the puzzle, the last piece that made sense on why I personally struggled so much with my childhood, just feeling so othered. I didn’t always click with my peers. I was quirky. I think I was just a little different. I struggled with disordered eating stuff, so I got teased for my body. And now knowing what I know now and being a queer person, there was just so much that just made sense to me. It was the last piece to the puzzle.


I am curious even more on the science of it. The more that they do research on this, I think it will be really cool to see maybe what the correlation is with that, because again, I never fit in any way, so it makes sense that I’m both queer and neurodiverse. And now finding my people later in life, finding my community and really finding people that understood me was first the queer community. But now realizing that the majority of even my queer friends are also neurodiverse, and even when it comes to conversation and how we hold conversation with each other and it feels like a homecoming when you find your community in both senses. And it just feels good to be around people that understand you because I think I was misunderstood for so long by my peers growing up and that caused its own hardships growing up with very few people that really got you.


And then now looking back and reflecting a lot too, I think I knew I was queer probably in fifth grade, but didn’t want to find another reason to not feel connected to my peers and being afraid of allowing that truth to come out. I think I suppressed it for a very long time that I identify as pansexual, so I had crushes on girls and guys and admitting that to myself, I held that in and didn’t want to speak that into existence until I was out on my own. And really finding that for myself and feeling in a place where I didn’t care as much or I knew the people that were surrounding me were going to be accepting either way. It’s been an interesting thing to think about. I think I mourned and struggled for the assistance I didn’t get as a kid, and I also feel that with being queer. I wish I could have had that experience so much earlier in life.


And it’s honestly a joy to see my kiddo, who is also neurodiverse and also queer, coming out into it. Even though the world is really scary right now for queer people, just that generation is really embracing it so much earlier. I was down at Pride this past weekend and just to see all these young teenagers just fully embracing their queerness, it just makes my heart so happy, and just seeing it within in my kids and my friends’ kids, that they’re going to find community so much more and find belonging so much quicker because we know so much more on both ends. It’s great.

Lindsay Guentzel (10:35):

And I’m curious how you see what you went through, knowing so early, and then not wanting to accept it because of where you were in life and the people that were around you and being othered already, and then to find your community and to have gone through all of that. And then to get your ADHD diagnosis. Do you feel like finding yourself as a queer person set you up to walk into this diagnosis and just be like, “Yes, this is it. I’ve been here, I’ve done this, I know what this process is like?”

Candace Lefke (11:07):

Yeah, I think it did big time. Coming out as queer was harder. I think I went through that hard and knowing that I was different and that fear of not being accepted for that. And when I got the diagnosis of my neurodiversity, to me that was just confirmation, and so much understanding came with that. I went through being queer in a very small country town, just feeling like I didn’t fit in with a lot of my peers. I really struggled. Once I got that diagnosis of my neurodiversity, it was like, “Oh, yes. Yes, this makes sense.” And honestly, I felt relief because now I had an answer and I was able to start accepting all those pieces of myself. Being queer, I don’t know. I feel like now I feel so much safer and now I have those communities, both communities, both the ADHD community and the queer community, and finding my people. It’s so hard when you grow up feeling so different from everybody else.


And I’m sure you understand that. Even just being neurodiverse is hard enough and having that diagnosis later in life, again, it just allowed for so much understanding of why I struggled with social stuff, why I struggled with my moods and disordered eating, and it just allowed so much more compassion for myself. It’s just been an amazing journey to really sit into my authentic self. Now I’m 34 and finally I feel like I am seeing these pieces and all these things that I used to really struggle with within myself. First being queer and being afraid to express that of myself. Now I’m out loud and proud. Do not care. I love that about myself. It’s actually some of my favorite parts of myself, and I love being part of the queer community so much because they’re wonderful and it’s allowed me to have so much healing and compassion for my past self and knowing that I was struggling because I was on a path to eventually find my people. It was just going to be some time.


But yeah, I feel like it did prepare me for my diagnosis. I felt like I welcomed my diagnosis with open arms. I was like, “Finally, I know you,” and I didn’t feel so alone anymore. And some of my struggles, I started to hear the same repeating stories of the same struggles that I had as a kid. And I’ve really bonded honestly with some of my best friends are also neurodivergent of some sort, mostly ADHD, some a little bit on the autism spectrum. Just being able to bond with people about being queer and neurodiverse and the struggles that we went through in our early stages of life is such a comforting and bonding experience. To feel really truly understood by your peers when you were so misunderstood for so long is joyous. Again, just went to Pride and I was just beaming the whole time because I’m just around my people and people are just being creative and expressing themselves in beautiful ways and I love it. I love being a part of this community. Both communities. It’s great.

Lindsay Guentzel (14:56):

We met through work, so I know what you do for a living, but I’m hoping you can share a bit more about what you do for work and how that also fits into who you are.

Candace Lefke (15:05):

I am a traveling hair and makeup artist, so I do all the things. I work on weddings, I do commercial shoots, I work with photographers. I do branding and headshots and, again, get to use my makeup skills and my hair skills to make people feel fabulous. And I love that too because being part of the makeup world and cosmetology, I think that was a place where I knew I wanted to be creative and that was always something that I excelled at. Even growing up in high school, I was already cutting my friend’s hair, and I knew I wanted to go into some type of creative career because I knew from just being at school that I could not sit in a cubicle all day, so I needed something that I could do with my hands. I’m a very visual learner. And being introduced to that community, I started getting my first taste of queer people, lots of queer stylists, and I wasn’t even 21 yet when I started cosmetology school.


And I feel like that was my first introduction to really seeing queer people and, again, wanting that creative career that allowed me a lot of variety too. My career really does fit me perfectly now because it changes up all the time. I tend to get bored. I used to work in the salon, I used to work where I’d go to the same place every day, and now working for myself and with an agency, it changes up. I get to drive. Tomorrow, I can go into Chicago for a commercial job. I get to do boudoir. I have weddings. It’s fun. And again, I have so much crossover with being neurodivergent in this career because it is so creative. And I do feel like neurodivergent people tend to have a little bit more creative brains and need that shift and that change of day-to-day life. And yeah, it’s just been cool to have this be my career and how well it fits.

Lindsay Guentzel (17:14):

And I’m curious from what you’ve experienced through your career, if you think it helps you as a queer person with ADHD, because you’re constantly being introduced to new people, and so you understand the importance of being open and welcoming and accepting. And I’m sure there are people you work with repeatedly, but at the same time, it’s also this revolving door of people and you never really know who you’re going to meet.

Candace Lefke (17:42):

Oh, for sure. Having new clients all the time. I feel like what I do, I do have some returning clients, but it’s a little bit more rare for me. It’s not where I am in a salon and I have my clientele that comes in every six weeks. And I personally love being those minorities. Sometimes it’s a little nerve-wracking to be honest with you, especially being in the wedding industry in West Michigan, it’s a little conservative out here. So there is times where I feel nervous about exposing who I am, but at this point in my life I’m very open about it. And I always end up having honestly really amazing conversations with these total strangers because I don’t like small talk. I really don’t. I love getting to know people on a deeper side too, and I always end up having these really amazing deep conversations with these clients that I’ve literally just met.


And it’s always fun when I have another neurodiverse person sit in my chair because I can tell immediately because the conversation, again, there’s something that we just understand each other so well that it just tends to click. And I love sharing those stories. And I think me coming out as queer and neurodiverse and opening up that conversation with people, I’ve had so many great conversations with complete strangers and I find a lot of commonalities and it’s so cool. But there is a downside. I feel like it’s hard coming out all the time too. I think after a while, especially being a queer person, that becomes hard because I think a lot of people, especially where I live, still assume that you have a husband and assume that you’re dating a man. So you get those uncomfortable questions where you’re just like, “Actually, no.” And then there’s times where honestly, I just let people guess whatever, and I don’t care too much, especially if I’m at a wedding and I don’t know the family as much.


But my clients, my brides and stuff, most people know. And we get to have really cool conversations about it. And I’ve even had people sit in my chair and open up to me about it. I’ve had a model that wasn’t out to anybody. And because I was just loud and authentically being myself and being queer and being neurodiverse and having these in-depth conversations with complete strangers, I had somebody come out to me that isn’t out to anybody. And how special is that that you can at least find a person that feels safe enough that you can just be like, “Hey, me too?” And that honestly makes my job worth it because I love those small moments and those small connections with people and hopefully creating a really safe place of being in my chair and allowing that understanding and hopefully making them feel seen too, because I know they sit in my chair and we don’t always know what’s going on.


So I just really do enjoy finally being in a place where I am my authentic self, and I’m proud to be that. I’m not ashamed of being neurodiverse and I’m not ashamed of being queer anymore, and that’s such a beautiful freeing thing. And I feel like being in such a industry where I am sitting face to face with people, it’s so important that I am that because I have become this space where people can also be authentic. Even if it’s just for an hour while they’re sitting in my chair getting their makeup done, they can confide in me and know I’m there too and I’m not going to judge, because I am othered. I’m a minority in a couple of ways. And I think, again, being authentic allows people that safety to feel like they can be authentic too.

Lindsay Guentzel (21:51):

That’s a lot of weight to bear though. Do you feel the pressure, even just sometimes? I know you mentioned that it gets tiring to constantly have to out yourself. Do you feel that especially now in this climate we’re in?

Candace Lefke (22:06):

Yeah, it does make me nervous. I feel like the agency that I work with is very queer and queer allies, and I surround myself with a pretty aggressive group of people that I don’t worry about as much. But it does. It gets tiring when I meet, again, some new clients that I get, weddings where, because of the area that I’m in, west Michigan is very conservative on the outskirts. And actually just this past weekend I went to a wedding and I was nervous because it was in a small town at a salon close to where I live. And it’s known for being extremely conservative there. And I have a fan that I fan people off when I put their setting spray and stuff on, and it’s a rainbow. And there is times where I get nervous about, “Okay, is this the day that somebody says something? Somebody scoffs? Somebody says something inappropriate?” And the moms or the family typically is who I worry about, that I will just start being treated differently.


And I haven’t had that happen too much, but I have had a couple of instances where people got weird when they found out that I was queer. But you know what? At this point I’d rather be out and proud and allow that lighthouse for people that might be too scared or don’t feel safe enough, because for the most part, what are they going to do? They can judge me all they want, but there also might be another kid in that family that’s queer and they don’t feel safe with anybody else in that family, but then they see me with my rainbow flag and know that there’s other queer people out there that are living and thriving, and to me that’s more important than my discomfort anymore.

Lindsay Guentzel (24:13):

It’s very brave of you, and I’m sure that’s a lot to take on, but I’m so happy that at that point. I do want to ask if you’ve ever thought about the relationships you’ve had, if they’ve been affected by your neurodiversity, and if you can connect some of those dots as to why certain relationships maybe worked for you or didn’t work.

Candace Lefke (24:36):

Oh, yes. I feel like my neurodiversity, I really struggle to think ahead on a lot of things. And within my personal relationships, when I was in a relationship with people that weren’t neurodiverse, this is before I was diagnosed and newly queer, and being in a queer relationship, especially two women, the bond becomes so strong and it’s such a deep emotional bond. But my struggles with neurodiversity made some of my partners feel not considered, just because I was struggling to navigate my day-to-day life so much. It does get hard, and I even feel like keeping up with friendships, I get overwhelmed really easy. I’ve struggled with relationships my whole life. I think that’s one of the biggest hurdles with my neurodiversity. I tend to, if people are not around in my daily life, I forget them sometimes and I don’t want to do that. It’s just if it’s not in front of my face sometimes I get so busy and wrapped up in just the few things that are going on.


I forget birthdays. I’m not good about planning things ahead. Partners that might have wanted me to show affection or love through planning something for them or putting on a party, things like that completely overwhelm me. So it’s definitely taken a toll on my relationships. And I think when I got my diagnosis, that was one of the biggest ahas about ADHD and also the biggest thing that I really had to mourn because there’s so many relationships that I wanted to keep nurturing and people that I really did care about that might not have felt cared about because here I was undiagnosed and really struggling mentally in a way that really struggles to allow you to show up in ways that you really want to sometimes. So yeah, it was a big aha moment for me to really understand how neurodiversity had impacted my relationships with people.


And I’m happy now that I know, but I’m still figuring it out and how to still navigate that. But I’m happy I know now cause it allows me to forgive myself for things that were my ADHD, and not because I was a crappy partner or a crappy friend. It was just my brain struggles. So I think I’m learning still so much about being neurodivergent and being in relationship with people that I’m happy that I have a lot of people that are in my corner now that are also neurodivergent. And I have a group of friends that are mostly neurodivergent because they understand when I disappear and then I pop up a month later like, “Hey, I want to hang out. I want to see you.” And they don’t hold it against me. They don’t think I’m a crappy friend. They know that because they are doing the same things. We’ll try to get together and we miss each other five times or we forget about an appointment we made with each other or whatever.


And I just have these relationships now where we allow each other so much flexibility with them and we don’t take it personal because we know that each other struggles with those things, so it’s nice to finally have words and understanding in a way to communicate that with the people that are around me too.

Lindsay Guentzel (28:27):

Last thing I’m going to ask is what are some coping strategies that you use? Or what has helped you work through some of the stuff that’s been going on? What works for you? What keeps you grounded?

Candace Lefke (28:39):

I think what keeps me grounded the most is honestly my community, my friendships with my other neurodiverse friends and people that I can just be really vulnerable with. I think having these conversations, again, I don’t like to have tiny conversations with people either. So even my clients that sit in my chair, I keep having these amazing conversations with people and having so much validation and just hearing my friends and my clients and strangers have the same struggles and relate to me so much helps recenter myself and helps me really feel loved and accepted in my community. There’s times where I still, I feel terrible. I forget things. And to have people that are just like, “It’s cool, girl. I get it. Believe me, no biggie.” And now that I have those people in my life, it doesn’t make me feel like I’m doing so much wrong, and that just really helps ground me in my community.


And even having conversations with my kiddo about it as well and just see there’s so much understanding there. My people really help keep me grounded through things. And even going to Pride this past weekend, just feeling so much support and feeling the love. It does ground you and makes you feel a lot more hopeful for the future.

Lindsay Guentzel (30:37):

Thank you so much for listening to and supporting this podcast. If you’re new here, my name is Lindsay Guentzel. I am the host and executive producer of Refocused, a podcast all about ADHD that would not be possible without the incredible talents of the team I get to work with, including Phil Rodemann, our coordinating producer who leads our live production, scheduling and audio editing, Sarah Platinitus, our managing editor responsible for leading our research as well as guest and show development, Al Chaplin, our go-to for planning, creating, and organizing content strategy for social media. Support for this podcast comes from our partner, ADHD Online and the incredible team of people I’m honored to work with every day, including Keith Boswell, Susanne Spruit, Melanie Meyrl, Claudia Gatti, and Trisha Mirchandani.


Our show art was created by Sissy Yee of Berlin Grey, and our music was created by Louis Inglis, a singer-songwriter from Perth, Australia, who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39. Finally, a big thanks to Mason Nelle over at Deksia in Grand Rapids, Michigan for all of his help in getting our videos ready to share with you guys. Links to all of the partners we work with are available in the show notes.


To connect with the show or with me, you can find us online @refocusedpod, as well as @lindsayguentzel, and you can email the show directly [email protected]. That’s [email protected]. And remember right now through the end of June, you can take $20 off your ADHD assessment through ADHD Online with the promo code REFOCUSED20. Whether you’re looking for a second opinion, are ready to get answers for the very first time, or you’re just looking for a little extra information on your brain, this could be the perfect next step for you or someone you care about. Remember, get $20 off your ADHD Online assessment simply by using the discount code REFOCUSED20 at checkout. Head to adhdonline.com to get started.


Take care of yourselves and please, in an effort to reduce the unbelievable amount of stress we all carry around with us unnecessarily, be a little kinder to yourself this week and we’ll see you back here soon.

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