I want to talk a little about why I like labels so much. I mean, I’ve talked a lot about labels and their usefulness and whatnot, and I have my arguments for why labels are more helpful than harmful, but that’s not quite what I want to talk about today. This time, I want to be more personal. I want to talk about why I like them *for me.*
When I explore things like “am I aromantic?” I get people telling me that the words aren’t important and I should just live my life. I find that incredibly frustrating, because it is completely invalidating to how I process and deal with things. It actually seems a bit ironic because I usually get that kind of feedback from people who think in words, while I, the person who largely thinks in concepts and sensations, wants the words for labels and identities.
I’m not sure why it’s working that way. I would have thought that word-thinkers would be all about their words, since they use them to think, and my less-wordy self would be less interested in words. But it just doesn’t seem to work that way. I may not do my primary thinking in words, but I still LOVE WORDS SO MUCH. Maybe the fact that I often need to actively translate my thoughts into words to be able to communicate them to other people leads to me appreciating words to a rather extreme degree.
What I really want to say, though, is that having words for things helps me understand them. Being able to grab onto a word let’s me put down a signpost, so I can anchor my rather abstract thoughts into something concrete. I’m not always very good at bringing things together into coherent wholes, and words help me do that.
Ok, here’s an obvious example – “Aspergers.” Before I had that word, I was still myself. I was being who I was for my whole life – who else would I be? But there was a lot about myself that I did not understand, and my behaviors and challenges and difficulties I had often felt random and spread out and incoherent. Gaining a word let me take what was very chaotic for me and find an order and coherence to understanding what was going on. That was REALLY helpful.
This is what words and labels do for me. They don’t confine me, they help me understand what otherwise is often confusing.
To draw another analogy – I once heard that autistic people often do not see wholes very well or easily. We see pieces – all the pieces – and it can take a lot of work to bring those pieces into a whole that we can make sense out of. This is true for me, at least a little bit. How about some more examples? One obvious one, that I’ve written about before, is faces. I see faces in pieces rather than wholes. I am actually not capable of seeing a face as a whole, which can be problematic at times. As another example – ok, story time. I was visiting a friend’s house and she was showing me around. She brought me into one room without announcing what it was first. For a good 30 seconds, I looked around only seeing details – “dresser, dresser, shelf, door, bed, another door” until suddenly it clicked – “BEDROOM!” I had the word for the room, and suddenly all those details and bits and pieces came together into a coherent whole.
So for me, words matter. It’s the opposite of helpful when people try to tell me to not worry about the words, because if I am pursuing finding the right words for something, you can believe that there is a reason for it. Usually that I need to find a way to bring coherence to a number of disparate things that are difficult for me to manage until viewed as a whole.