It’s an identity, not a box!

I confess, another post about words and labels.

I still see people talking about “labelling” themselves or their child and feeling hesitant (or outright against the idea) because they don’t know what good would come of a label. There is also a lot of attitude I see around about labels as boxes. As though once you “slap a label” on someone, they are somehow now confined to a box.

Even now I get twitchy every time I see comments like those. It just seems like such a negative and unhelpful framework to me. Heck, it’s downright sad. Am I in a box now because I have a label? I certainly don’t think so.

That said, I am starting to see use in reframing the issue as one of identity, rather than labels. I could say that I have lots of labels, or I could say I have identities.

Things like:
cat person
horseback rider
and yes, aspie/autistic

Not one of those words is a box! None of them confine me. While some of them come with attached stereotypes, I am not bound by those stereotypes, nor do I feel any need to conform to them. Ultimately, I am ME and those are words that I use to describe me. Whether you want to call them identities or labels or just adjectives, ultimately what they are, are ways for you to have some idea of who I am. They are how I see myself, things about myself I consider important, things that impact my life and my worldview and how I interact with myself and with other people.

I wish I understood what it was that made people fear the idea of labels, because then maybe I could address it directly (my SO suggests that it might be because it is how they use labels on others, but that thought is very depressing to me). As it is, I’m left with conjecture and my own experience of having these words has been wonderful and helpful. Maybe I’m odd, but I often feel like I know myself better when I have a word I can use to describe something about myself. The words don’t confine me to boxes, it’s more like they provide some adhesive, enabling me to see random bits of myself as a more unified whole.

Before my “box,” all I knew was that I had a whole bunch of apparently random issues. I didn’t know what was going on or why I had those issues or what I could do about them.
After my “box” all those separate random issues unified into a single thing. A thing I could wrap my mind around and understand. I knew what was going on, I had things I could do to help myself, I could understand myself better. Not just via the word (though even that is significant to me. I love words), but via having a specific thing to learn about.

It’s hard to quantify exactly what “getting a label” did to help me. However, help it did. And it’s not a box, it’s an identity, ok?


Filed under opinion

2 responses to “It’s an identity, not a box!

  1. Labels can be really helpful, without question. But here are some reasons why people don’t always like them, I think.

    Some labels (like “lazy” or “defiant”) often just speak to symptoms rather than identity… and that’s one place where it gets a bit messy (and, when used enough about someone can psychologically become their identity to make it messier still!)

    Also, how you and I view a label might be the same, but how “society” views one might be very different. For example, if I say my son is dyslexic, it can be a good starting point… but a huge percentage of people will then look at my son as “not smart” or think he “cannot read” or that he “reverses letters”. While any of those COULD be true about a dyslexic, they are oversimplifications that don’t really help him in any context. So, that disparity of understanding/recognition can make labels something unhelpful in many circumstances. It might, in some cases, be better if you didn’t have the label to ‘outsiders’ though it can definitely help you understand yourself better at the same time.

    And there are stigmas involved with some labels that can change people’s perceptions of who someone is. Of course, to combat that, those with any label must work to change the understanding of the label – not unlike autistic self-advocates saying “burden? disease? Uh… NO!”

    Anyway, those are some reasons I can think of. I’m sure there are others, too. Personally, I find them helpful in the same way you do – not as boxes but, well, I mean I am right handed!

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