In this current world climate, we seem to be determined to put people into a nice neat package and say "that's them, that's who they are, they belong there." I don't believe this is always for the wrong reasons as it can so often be. I don't think it's because of fear of something or someone that some people don't understand. I don't really know WHY it's the case. All I know is that I have often, and most likely always will be, put into a category. Pigeon-holed if you will.
I'm talking about this because I spotted an article on the BBC website about a model, Priyanka Chopra, wearing a top that has caused many people distress by being insensitive. Without focusing on that particular issue and the rights or wrongs we might feel towards that situation, I want to talk about the issue of labels and how they have affected me throughout my life.
To be really honest, I think I fall into the category of someone who likes to put people in a specific area of my mind. I find it a lot easier to broadly put situations and sometimes people into little mental boxes. Open boxes on a wall, like the ones you would occasionally spot in a staff room with a nice label on the bottom of the box so you know whose it is. Pigeon-holing seems to me to be a natural thing to do in order to give your life a little tidiness. We have our school friends, college friends, uni friends, work friends and family friends. We have labelled which friend falls into what category in order to make our lives easier. Our options online are the same. You can share statuses on Facebook either publicly or to specific people and a wealth of other options in-between and you can choose who fits under which label. We constantly order many other parts of our lives too. Supermarkets would be a total mess without labelling. Not just from an advertising perspective but also when you're trying to find the eggs. Where does labelling become such a problem with people?
I would hazard a guess and say that labelling of people can sometimes rub people up the wrong way. After all, we all feel we are more complex than objects or groups. I have some first hand experience in this subject.
Throughout my life I've had a variety of labels. Some that cut a little deep and others that I now wear proudly. I was a "naughty" boy when I was younger. I was a "loud" child. (There is a link I think. I was never any good at not getting caught). I was a "lazy" boy because I struggled with written homework. I was "belligerent" because I always had to have the last word. Eventually, I was "Aspergers". A label that I have both loathed and loved.
I feel the Asperger label has done a wide variety of things to me and for me. Labels directly helped me to receive additional assistance through all levels of my education. They helped me to get support through my teenage years. I saw a few health care professionals who I owe a lot to. They helped me to find a place for myself after having felt misunderstood for so many years. However, for all the ways it helped me, it also tarnished me. I was the boy who needed help. Who was different. Who was "special". Who was weird! This created a sometimes overwhelming sense of paranoia many times in my life.
Is labelling a good thing for people? Do we need to attach a notification for others about someone else? Should we not allow people to discover what a person is like for themselves? I don't know. I've not made up my mind. I don't think I ever will. I've directly benefitted from my label. In too many ways to even calculate. I wouldn't have had the additional patience that certain more senior members of my school's faculty wouldn't have given an "ordinary" child. I wouldn't even be writing this blog at this very moment because of it's subject matter.
Do I fear my label? Yes. Absolutely. Definitely. I've always been scared of having this label. It's always hard to highlight a difference in yourself. We as a species seem to find it easier to blend in with others rather than stand out. Not in terms of achievements or skills but in terms of how we see the world or how we live our lives. There is a large part of me that loathes having a label that can be, and often is, seen as a disadvantage. Like I'm somehow on the back foot because I'm on the Autistic Spectrum. I really dislike that assumption. It increases my fear of people knowing that I have this label and it increases my fear of being honest about who I am. It's seems better to not talk about it and hide it away from others so as to not confuse them and "damage" me.
As I've said before, I'm the lucky one. I'm an Aspie under the radar. Many people aren't even aware I have AS. When I talk to people about it I still get the odd, "there's nothing wrong with you" as AS people look "normal". And then I get the standard, "I think everyone is a bit on the spectrum" conversation afterwards which I rarely engage in as I'm no AS expert, I don't feel qualified and they might be right as I don't know otherwise. I fear it greatly because a label of this nature sometimes feels like a criticism. Many labels about people are positive. Olympic Champion, Maestro, Doctor, the list is endless. It's the negative connotations associated with a difference that upset me most and cause my fear. I know of some Asperger people who refuse the label entirely. I suppose this is because if you were to walk into a room and shout really loudly that "I'M DIFFERENT" you'll be treated that way and who wants to be treated differently when you already feel different within yourself?
But I push past my fear because of all the positive the label has brought my way. After all, it is the truth. I do have Asperger's Syndrome. Why keep it secret? Surely that exacerbates the problem and makes life harder for myself?
In summary, my label has been good to me. If it has hurt me in any way, I've not noticed. (Probably because of the Asperger's.) Sure, it scares me. Even more so now people are able to find out that I have it on the internet and not just from me directly. I've definitely blown my "normal" person cover with this blog. However, it's nothing that needs to be hidden. It affects my life to this day and why not be honest about it? Promote the issue and it can only lead to more understanding.
Maybe I shouldn't let the label define me. After all, I'm more complicated than a box of eggs on a shelf at a supermarket. Just.