Tuesday, 15 August 2017

When does an adjective become an identity?

This is a Rivetcounter post really, and I will post it there too for what that's worth. It's too early to say whether Rivetcounter will finally take off but my thoughts have been turning to autism matters aagain lately.

Since getting my assessment over eighteen months ago now I've just been quietly getting on with being Aspie, not thinking about it a lot of the time; forgetting it sometimes. After all, I haven't changed; my life hasn't changed - I just acquired a label, a description, an explanation (of sorts) for what that life feels like. It's still the only one I know, and it still feels normal to me - because it is normal for me. The most interesting thing is getting an insight into how other people are different from me, which I never really appreciated before.

One of the things I've been doing is looking into setting up an autism network at work - and I'd particularly like to have a network for autistic women - partially because our experience is often different, and partly so as not to be totally outnumbered by men from the computing service... In the course of this I met up with the author of this blog, and then I read this post, and it got me thinking.

I've dipped into a few autism blogs, but (as you may know) I don't do Twitter or Facebook, and I'm not really that au fait with the world of autism activism - perhaps I have all that to come. But I've long been quite interested in the idea of identity politics, primarily because I don't really get it. So it seems to me ironic that autistic people should be arguing whether being autistic constitutes their identity, or is seen to, and whether this is a good or a bad thing.

From the start, I felt most comfortable saying that 'I am autistic' - even better, because I think (hope) it gives a more accurate impression, 'I am Aspie' - and wishing there was a more 'official' adjective for that. I much prefer this to saying 'I have autism', or 'I have Asperger's Syndrome', or 'I am a woman with autism' - or even worse 'I have an autism spectrum condition', or worst of all, 'I have an autism spectrum disorder'. Because having someting, even something as neutral-sounding as a 'condition', still - to me at least - implies a pathology.

But when I say 'I am autistic', or 'I am Aspie', I am not asserting an identity, or defining myself. I am not an autistic; I am not an Aspie. I am applying an adjective. It describes an aspect of me (the way my brain works) in the same way that other adjectives like brunette, right-handed, or ticklish, describe other aspects of me. But when I say I am female, white, heterosexual, to me those are still just adjectives. Feminist, liberal, atheist. Even English. To me these are all just adjectives. They describe me but they do not define me. But to many people at least some of these categories of description would constitute their identity, or at least an important part of it.

And I had the feeling that it was perhaps a particularly autistic perspective to see things like this; to not be happy with - or able to - adopt any identity other than 'I am me' - and not really knowing what that is, from day to day.  Which is why the idea of autistic identity politics feels contradictory.

However, as I think about it - and I'm going to start rambling now - I begin to see how an off-the-shelf identity could actually be especially attractive to someone who has always struggled to define themself and find their place in the world, and that the perspective I've set out above is that of a mature and relatively confident woman. The me of thirty years ago might well have felt - in a way she probably couldn't have articulated - quite different.

So the answer will no doubt be different for different people for all sorts of different reasons - but it's still an interesting question. When does an adjective become an identity?

1 comment:

  1. A really interesting and provocative piece, thank you.

    Frank

    ReplyDelete