Many discussions are happening these days in the autistic community (also LGBTQIA+, Black, Hispanic and other ethnic communities) about “identity.” How do you “identify?” What are your pronouns? Do you prefer to be referred to as an “autistic person” or a “person with autism?” Human beings have always categorized and defined ourselves and others into groups, based on common or dissimilar identities. Each of us has MANY identities, ways we identify with and belong to different groups. Some identities lend traits you were born with and others come to you through experiences in life. These groups overlap, or intersect, into a HUGE Venn diagram and there is JUST ONE PERSON, you, who identifies with all the groups you do. That is what makes you unique; the view from where you sit in all those groups is your perspective and it is also unique.
You are the sole decider of your identity groups. Nobody else can tell you what your identity is or what groups you belong to. Those who attempt to ascribe an identity to you should be summarily disregarded. If someone is not willing to employ their curiosity and engage with you in a conversation, if you both so choose, to ask you how you identify, they aren’t worth your time. Sure, there are plenty of times when identity is not a necessary topic of conversation, but the point is, you should not have to tolerate anyone else mis-identifying you.
Your perspective is a function of all the groups you choose to identify with. It is your unique way of looking at the world based on the intersection of your identities. Your perspective is the one gift that you, and only you, can bring forth to the world. You have a voice and nobody else can speak for you. Your perspective is valuable! The world will be worse off without all the perspectives speaking up and speaking out. You may be a non-binary, afro-latinx, only child, immigrant, pescatarian, living in Idaho who plays conga drums and raises chickens and manages the local arthouse theater in town. Or you may be a cisgender, white woman of Swedish and Danish descent, trauma survivor, with an above-average IQ, 5 children and a husband who is shorter than you. All of those traits constitute identities, as you choose to identify, and all of them collectively contribute to your perspective.
Nobody gets to define you and your identities and nobody gets to define or silence your perspective. It is your right and responsibility to speak your truth, honestly and authentically, from your perspective. It is also your responsibility to NOT assign identities to others or try to predict their perspective. This happens when we assume and stereotype others rather than asking questions and remaining curious.
The problem with identities is that people take them VERY seriously and VERY personally. A bit too seriously and too personally, IMHO. Even with all of your identities melding together to create your perspective, why do you think anyone else should agree with you on a topic? I mean, they may agree, or you may be convincing enough to have them see your perspective and change their mind, but none of those situations can be taken for granted. You must assume that your perspective is your own, unique way of seeing the world and that nobody shares it precisely.
The beauty of this situation that we’re all in is that we all have infinite opportunities to learn, grow and build our empathy toward others by talking with, and more importantly, listening to people who have perspectives that are different than our own. Since everyone’s perspective is different in some way, we just have to get more comfortable with seeking out differences and seeing those differences as gifts. We fail to learn if we are always seeking agreement. We must seek challenging perspectives to learn about ourselves and our place in the world. That is literally why we’re here on earth. But that’s merely my perspective, as a white, autistic female, frequent insomniac, aspiring Buddhist, who plays saxophone and tries to live in balance with the universe everyday.