Person First vs Identity Labels: Which Do You Use?

HELLO_I-amIn an autism awareness conversation, the question is asked, should we say a “person with autism,” or an “autistic person,“ or an “autist?” How about an “Aspie” versus a “person with Asperger’s?”

My take: whatever that person wants. Not everyone agrees with me on this. Yes, it can get confusing, and it’s hard to keep track of individual preferences. A large number of people believe we should adopt the one, best way and stick to that. But what is that, and who gets to decide?

A pattern emerges on whether or not “person first” language is preferred (a person with ___). If the person sees the label as part of his or her identity or sense of self, then wearing the label is more likely the choice; if the label is seen as an unfortunate condition or burden, then it is more secondary to the person.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter. For example, you could say that I am a person with synesthesia, or that I am a synesthete. Since the implications of synesthesia are typically considered benign, most synesthetes are fine with either phrasing.

Other times, it does matter. A person with gastro-intestinal disorder, meanwhile, would likely find it absurd to be given an identity label for this (and what would that be? A gastrite?). On the flip-side, a person who identifies as an Aspie might find it undermining to be called a person “with Asperger’s”, or even more so “with autism” if being an Aspie is part of his or her core identity. It can feel similar to saying one has an ethnicity versus is an ethnicity. For example, I will say that I am Celtic, but that I have other ethnic heritages that are part of me genetically but less of my identity.

This pattern isn’t perfect. People have varying opinions about whether a condition or set of traits is a “disorder” and even those would who label it as such might still see the condition as part of who they are and own that identity. It can also serve as a way of seeking camaraderie and support from others who share the label. An example of this would be the term Lupites for people with Lupus, which has caused some amusing confusion among roleplaying gamers. I don’t know of a single person with Lupus who would choose to keep the condition, but it can definitely define a person in profound ways, and a tribe of others sharing that label helps.

So what can you do to make sure you phrase things to never insult anybody? First, I’m pretty sure this is impossible. We can, however, do our best while also being patient with each other in the process. I tend to use the pattern described above, which relies on my biased perspectives. I then adjust when I realize the predominate preferences of a group, and then adjust again for individuals regarding their own personal identity.

It’s not a perfect solution! What are your thoughts on this? Do you have any strategies to suggest? What about examples from your own experiences?

 

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Questions from Radcon 6C – from Unicorns to the Location of Double-sided Tape

Radcon 6C: Ammie Hague (aka Fairy Princess Lolly) and Aurora Miller

Radcon 6C: Ammie Hague (aka Fairy Princess Lolly) and Aurora Miller

Instead of writing a summary of Radcon, I am going to present a collection of questions asked. Some of these were overheard in passing, others asked in panels, and some during social events. And yes, many teachable moments happened. Enjoy!

  • What’s a unicorn?
  • What’s a brony?
  • If so many people in the Tri-Cities are so gratefully relieved to have Radcon for a weekend, why can’t they just change the local culture to be more like this year-round?
  • Why do autistic people lack emotions? What? What’s neurotypical syndrome?
  • Since our society has changed so much regarding property ownership and other traits that led to monogamous marriage, might this allow for more diverse family structures such as polyamory to return? Cool! How long will that take?
  • In what ways is religion presented in fantasy literature?
  • I want to propose to my girlfriend and… (this was a long one, so I’ll just let you know that she told him yes!).
  • But why is that called a unicorn?
  • How can we increase diversity in fandom?
  • Where’d you get your [insert costume/clothing item]?
  • Anybody have any double-sided tape?
  • Where is the Fan Room? And why do they call it the Fan Room?
  • Why is all the tea gone?  Is there rum?
  • Are you sure unicorns are that rare?
  • Are labels such as “Aspie” or “dyslexic” or “geek” helpful, or do labels cause their own set of problems?
  • Shouldn’t we prepare kids for the real world?
  • What’s the real world?
  • How can we change the world?
  • How do we discover a more accurate telling of history? How do we know?
  • Your wife keeps the money? Where is your wife?
  • How do we know that no means no, or that yes means yes? Even with that costume?
  • So, there are some unicorns out there, right? They do exist? Why are you laughing…?
  • Anyone interested in volunteering to help with the next Radcon?

Okay that last one was my own question.  If you want to help, or if you have feedback or ideas for programming, please visit Radcon.org to email Programming to let them know!

 

Aspies Don’t Lack Empathy – Just the Opposite

Art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado

Art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado

A common trait that people associate with Asperger’s is the lack of empathy.  This misconception could be due to “normal people” lacking the ability to empathize with Aspies.  Chew on that irony for a moment.

First let me give you two sources who can explain this idea better than I, and then I will give you a glimpse into my own brain.

This has been an emotional topic for me. I am neurodivergent, and my world is rich with sensory perception sensitivity, compounded by forms of synesthesia and living as an empath. Sometimes I feel so much that I have to brace myself. It’s not just my own emotional and physical feelings, but those of others. If I care about the person, it’s intensified, but even a stranger’s emotions can touch me. And I mean touch me — where I am feeling the joy or anger or – sometimes – physical sensations that are supposed to stay put inside of that other individual. Add in synesthesia, and my eyes can strain from the changing lights that surround each person.

If I ground myself against the emotions, or motion with my hands as if to push away the feelings, I can come across as uncaring. Sometimes I have to the leave the room, regroup, and come back prepared for what I am walking into.  And sometimes I even feel anger and hurt at being assaulted by that other person pushing his or her emotions onto me, worse when there’s a demand that I only listen and “take it” instead of letting me try to fix it, to eliminate the source or to heal the person so we can both stop hurting.  However, sometimes it is important that the person go through that whole process, and it also isn’t always my place to “fix” anything.  Luckily there is a way I can meet this need without such harm to myself.

When allowed to be who I am and to use the strategies available to me, I can be my most powerful self – the self who is loving, nurturing, mentoring, healing, and creating.  It just needs to be on my terms, and – with the help of others able to empathize with me – I am learning what those are.  For example, I have honored some requests by parents to advocate for their student in a public school, and this usually involves sitting in a room with emotions running high from the teachers, parents, and especially the student, making sure everyone’s feelings and needs have been heard and understood. I can calmly direct that conversation with a balance of using empathy to guide me but, as far as people in the room can see, a gentle but solid power. They don’t know I’m trembling inside as I take each blow. If I weren’t allowed to put on my armor beforehand, I wouldn’t be successful.

A former boyfriend once described it this way. He sat across a table from me as he expressed anger, and then apologized when he realized he had been mistaken – a fact I knew the whole exasperating time as I tried to “just listen” to him, as he insisted, instead of eliminating the source of his hurt, which I finally did by saying a single sentence.  He described my demeanor during it all as calmly keeping multiple swords sheathed at my belt – a power kept in check. What he didn’t realize was that those were swords I kept collecting from him, sheathing them one by one in an effort to keep us both from being hurt. Either he was going to let me get a word in edge-wise or I was going to (figuratively) whack him over the head with the next one that came my way. Which pretty much describes our breakup.

I’m a messy empath, but I have learned much. The relationship noted above about killed me but served as the catalyst for me to become stronger and a better partner for my current relationships – all of which are a source of loving support and inspire me to be a better person. They are self-aware individuals who value the same traits that befuddle neurotypicals. It finally occurred to me that I had to be picky when it came to dating (and shouldn’t everybody do this for themselves?).  For me, I realized that I can only be that intimate with somebody who is highly capable of empathy, and I was more likely to find that among other neurodivergents. Including Aspies.

 

 

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