Who am I? All about identity 

When I ask the question ‘Who am I?’ I get quite a few thoughts, as I imagine most people probably do. Identity is not quite as simple as that though. Identity is bound up in politics, social expectations, diversity and self-knowledge. Identity is a very complex thing.

When I unpack my own identity the first place I go to is the diversity-type groups I am a member of.  I am neurodivergent – and within that identity I am Autistic and ADHD. I am a Disabled person – the most significant one of those being my psychosocial disability, my schizophrenia. I am Queer and within my Queerness I am asexual and non-binary. And within my non-binary  identity I am agender. I am a person with a lived experience of poverty, social housing and accessing crisis support. I am an ex-prisoner. I am also white and (currently) middle class. I suppose these sorts of identity could be called intersectional identities. My identity also includes being an author, a public servant, a cat lover and a fan of shiny things. 

My intersectional identities feed into my deeply-held personal identity. For me as an advocate these things are particularly important as they connect me to others and allow me to understand where other people in similar groups are coming from. They are also extremely personal and  a key part of what makes me who I am. 

In terms of my neurodiversity, Autism and ADHD are deeply ingrained parts of my character, my very being. Without Autism and ADHD I would not be Yenn. They are not things I can remove from myself and I actually quite like having them even if they can cause some issues. I am proud to be autistic and ADHD and I feel a very strong connection with my neurodivergent peers. In terms of my schizophrenia it is a different approach. While schizophrenia is also a big part of my life I actually do view it as an add-on. It is something I would gladly remove if I could. It makes my life challenging and has put me in a lot of dangerous and frightening situations over the years. So while it is also a key part of my identity, it is also something I don’t really embrace. It’s complicated!

My Queer identity is something which makes me want to dance down the street. Coming out as non-binary was one of the most incredible things I have ever done. I immediately embraced my non-binary identity. I am so extremely proud it is almost palpable. I LOVE being Queer and I have identified as Queer in one form or another since I was 16. My Queer identity is my crowning glory. I love it and treasure it.

Then there are my privileged identities. I don’t like these and I remember as a child not wanting to be white because I was studying history and learn gin that white people did some really dreadful things like imperialism and slavery. However, being privileged is not a sin and people cannot help it. I cannot get rid of my whiteness but I can be an ally for others and most importantly I can challenge my privilege and learn from the experience of People of Colour. 

One thing about identity is that other people often have opinions about ti which they shouldn’t really share. I always say that the way a person identifies is their own. This stuff is totally individual and it is not up to anyone else to say how you should identify. Identity belongs to the person whose identity it is and no-one else. One issue I often get is people saying ‘you shouldn’t say you are autistic. You should say ‘person with autism.’ Um no. Big no. Saying ‘I am autistic’ is called identity-first language and it is perfectly appropriate. It goes to my point about about owning neurodivergent identity. And some well-meaning person telling an autistic person how to identify? Well to my mind that is ableism so just don’t do it!

Gender identity is another area where people can be very unhelpful. I always figure that most people have two boxes for gender in their mind, the boy box and the girl box. Whenever they meet someone they mentally put them in one of the two gender boxes. Trouble is that a lot of people don’t fit in the boy or girl boxes and there are a myriad genders, not just two! So when someone puts me in the gender box (usually the one marked ‘girls’) I get very annoyed and upset. You cannot tell someone’s gender identity by looking at them. (That point goes out to everyone who has called me a ‘lady’ or ‘girls’!)

Identity can be uplifting and liberating but it can also be invalidated by ignorant – and sometimes downright bigoted – people. If your identity includes some intersectional groups then cultivating a sense of pride is a good thing to do. It can also be great to connect with others who share some of your experience. If your identity includes some privileged type groups then try and include some allyship for those in intersectional groups in your life and educate yourself.      

enn at Mardi Gras 2019

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