I like my labels. “But labels are for soup cans, Nora.” “Labels aren’t for people.” “Use person first language!” “You’re not autistic. You’re a person with autism. You’re a person first!” So many times people try to take away the labels from me that I crave – the labels I’ve worked so hard to carve out for myself and accept as a part of the Nora-ness that I am.
I have food allergies. There are many foods that are not safe for me. I rely on labels to tell me what is safe and what isn’t. Sometimes the labels lie, but most of the time they are a huge help for me. I feel like it’s a similar concept in my day to day life – my labels help me know who is safe and what groups are safe for me.
Labels help me know that I am not alone and that I am not broken. Before I came out as asexual and aromantic, I felt broken. I tried to make myself act in a way that wasn’t me and didn’t make me happy, in a desperate attempt to fit the cookie-cutter molds of the world. It helped me find other people like me and have a word to put on the feeling I could never quite put my finger on.
Labels help me know what people are like me. When I connect with fellow autistics, for example, I know that I won’t have to explain some of my quirks. I can use jargon that they understand or use themselves. Or explain it in a way that makes sense to them, whereas explaining them to an allistic (or a person without autism), it wouldn’t quite click on the same way.
In the same way, labels help me know what places are not safe for me. If you’re labeled with puzzle pieces, I am on my guard because I assume you support autism speaks. If you use certain slurs, that label shows me that it’s not something I want to be in support of or contact with. My labels not only help me, but they protect me.
By trying to take my labels away from me, you’re diminishing who I am. You still use labels in your day to day life like “doctor”, “teacher”, “blogger”, and “friend”. But when it’s something that the world perceives to be negative or something that doesn’t fit with what they perceive the world to be like, these labels are suddenly bad. These labels are suddenly undesirable. These labels are suddenly not what we want them to be.
It seems to me that the people who are most against labels aren’t the ones who benefit from the labels. They get a sense of self pride and think they’re being ever-so-clever and such a BIG help to us by reminding us that we are more than our labels. That we shouldn’t choose to use labels. That labels are not for people.
But the thing is – they are. As a disabled person, my labels are everything to me. They assure me that I’m not doing anything wrong. They assure me that I am not broken, that I am not flawed. They assure me that there are others like me in this big, beautiful world full of all different types of people and all different types of labels. It allows me to say who I am in less words.
I like my labels. Please don’t take my labels away from me because you don’t like using them for me. Call me autistic. Call me disabled. Call me Annora – because that is who I am. It’s messy. It’s not perfect. But it’s beautiful – just like I am. They all mesh together to create the whole picture of who I am. My labels are me.