About identity

I have been thinking a lot about identity lately. I come with a bunch of elements of identity – non-binary, autistic, schizophrenic, advocate, writer, person with a difficult past, the list goes on. Identity is all about what make us us but it can become quite loaded and political. We live in very political times, although I suppose that could be said of all of human history. Our political and social views form part of our identity. I shared a post the other day saying that ‘in this house Black lives matter, love is love, we believe in science, no human being is illegal…’ and a few other descriptors of inclusivity. I was very aware that posting this would identify me as someone who espouses a left-leaning, social democratic sort of view. Surprisingly I had no backlash against the post (I always expect to get trolled when I post something like that). Potential trolls aside, the post asserted a part of my identity and drove me to write this post.

Much of my identity is focussed on the divergent groups that I belong to. Many others who belong to ‘diversity’ type groups find that these inform their identity. Being in a divergent group often leads to shared experiences with others from that group, leading to a shared sense of identity. A key thing to know about this is that however a person identifies is correct. Gender identity is a case in point.  I am non-binary and that is not up for discussion, even when I wear a dress!  My identity is my own. How a person identifies in terms of gender is  correct and not up for disagreement or debate. Even if you think someone looks ‘male’ or ‘female’ take your cue from how they identify a rather than making assumptions.

The same goes for autism and identity. Many autistic people – including me – identify as autistic rather than as a ‘person with autism’. I cannot count how many times well-meaning people have instructed me as to how to identity and tell me I should say ‘person with autism.’ This is absolutely infuriating! I know who I am and someone spouting something they learned doing whatever disability training they have is not going to change the fact that I am a proud Autistic person! This is true of people with other disabilities too. It is never OK to tell someone how to identify themselves. Note to well meaning people, autism is not an add-on that I can choose whether to be ‘with’ or not be ‘with’. 

My identity has a history to it. When I was a young twenty-something I found myself in some pretty dire circumstances. I was a prisoner and in order to survive I learned to act like a prisoner. I masked and camouflaged like you wouldn’t believe. Then when I was 26 I found myself wanting to rejoin non-criminal society. I wanted to get my personality back but I had masked for so long I couldn’t remember who I was. I figured I should decide what my character should be. I observed qualities I liked in others and worked out who I wanted to be. I think part of my original character was still in existence, buried under a bunch of nasty stuff but a lot of the Yenn I know now came about through that conscious effort to make a character and identity for myself. I largely picked my identity which is a hard thing to do but quite a liberating thing to do as well. Since then I have added my autistic identity, my non-binary identity, my identity as an advocate and author and a range of other elements to what makes me who I am. 

Identity is a key part of what makes every one of us who we are. It is important to respect people and refer to them in the way they identify. 

How a person chooses to identify is their identity. It is not up for discussion or disagreement. Simple as that.-2

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