Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Zisk, Alyssa Hillary. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Zisk, A. H. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Labels are Tools

This is in response to someone deciding that they were going to inspire post number thirteen about my identity and why you all need to just get over it already. I couldn't even have my twelfth up for a week without someone deciding that they needed to take issue with labels.

Someone shared "I Know I Don't Need To. I Choose To." The sharer is pretty cool, actually. Someone felt the need to respond: "a label is something that get in yhe way of who are and what youcan do" Hint: If someone writes a nice long blog post going through issues with "You don't need to label yourself" one word at a time, a one sentence rebuttal that I've probably heard before isn't going to change anything. It's just not. (A one sentence rebuttal that is actually addressed in the original post even less so- I said right in there that labels could be great, horrible, or anywhere in between, and that's not even the only thing in that post which is relevant.)
I responded on Twitter, too. Shorter of course, since Twitter has maximum lengths. "see, that just shows that you're the kind of person that post was too. That's literally all it does.  Other people might use my label to try and get in the way, but that's not the labels fault, it's the person.  the label itself? A tool that can be used for good or ill. Your discomfort won't stop me from using for good."

And that's basically the issue. A label is a tool. Nothing more, nothing less. Like most tools, there are a lot of things that can be done with them, by a lot of different people. Some are good. Some are not.

Trigger warning for violence on just this paragraph. It's the nature of most tools, to have helpful and harmful uses both. You can use a hammer and nails to build a house, or you can hit someone with the hammer, or you can hammer a nail into a persons head. You can cook food in a frying pan, or you can wallop someone over the head with it. If you're in a Disney movie, you can apparently also use a frying pan in a swordfight with a horse... (I am referring to Tangled. Good movie, major trigger warnings for manipulation and emotional abuse.) In the Harry Potter series, you see magic being used for both good and ill. That's how it is with tools. End of trigger warning for violence.

Labels are not an exception.
Labels can be used for good things:

  • Understanding oneself: Knowing that I am Autistic explained a lot. Why do I jump and flap when answering questions in things like Jeopardy or Around the World? Why was I the only one still jumping when the bell rang in high school? Why is typing often easier than speaking? Why, why, why? Oh. My brain is wired differently, and it even has a name: I'm Autistic. That makes sense.
  • Finding community: Maybe not everyone needs this. But for a lot of people who are significantly different from the mythical norm, finding other people who are like you is huge. It was huge for me. This label, Autistic, helped me find them.
  • Understanding power dynamics: There are power dynamics related to the mythical norm. Not all these norms are actually majorities, but they are dominant groups. It's hard to talk about the power dynamic between groups if we don't have names for the groups. And not talking about it doesn't make it go away. (It's been suggested, a lot. There's actually sciency stuff that's been done, the whole "we're all the same" thing and "ignore the differences" thing don't work. They hurt.)
  • Explaining power dynamics: Ok, so now I understand this dynamic. How can I explain it to someone else, how can I show what the problems that need fixing are, if I don't have a word for everything going on?
  • Knowing who you're talking about: Yes, your name is a label. "Alyssa" is a word for me, it's the label we use to know that I'm the one we're talking about right now. If there are multiple people named Alyssa in the room, we might need more specifiers, but that's a label.
  • Getting things fixed: It's a known thing: If just one person needs a thing, it's their problem. With a whole group who all need a thing, there is at least a chance that it can get done. So we've got a label for the group, and for individual members of it. Yes, this is activisty.
  • Making a POINT: Yes, I do partially use the "Autistic" label to make a point, but this actually applies more to my thought process on calling myself "Disabled" than any of the others. Very activisty. A bit of a "I'm going to make you look at what you do, and if it's uncomfortable maybe you should stop doing that."
Labels can be used for bad things:
  • An excuse not to do things: There are a lot of things that disabilities really do stop you from doing. There are a lot of things that disabilities don't stop you from doing, too. Mostly I see this as a rhetorical point made by people who don't want us to use labels, but it is a thing that can happen- not often, but it can. It's not the same as "letting your disability stop you" from doing something that your disability makes harder/impossible by definition of what that disability is, which it is sometimes conflated with. When a person does this themself, they've usually been taught to do this by the next bad thing...
  • An excuse to stop someone else from doing things: This is huge. Ableism is to blame for this one. It comes in a lot of forms, too, and it can be pretty sneaky. "a label is something that get in yhe way of who are and what youcan do" is a response to this one and the one before it.
  • To invalidate an opinion: Usually dominant group saying that having the label prevents you from understanding the issues faced by people who have the label. 
It is reasonable to choose not to use the label for yourself (under most circumstances, anyways, there are some dominant group labels where refusing a label that applies to you can hurt others,) if you think using it would do you more harm than good. It's a tool. It's not the right tool for everyone. I get that. But it's not reasonable or acceptable to tell someone else that they can't use it themself because of the harmful uses. Which is what "You don't need to label yourself" or "Don't label yourself" or "a label is something that get in yhe way of who are and what youcan do" all are. (Note the fact that the speakers are all talking to someone who uses a label here. They are't saying "a label is something that get in yhe way of who I am and what I can do," they're telling someone else who uses a label that they shouldn't. That's not OK. 
It's extra ironic if they use the fact that I have the label as the reason that I can't see how bad the label really is. (I can't have the label because I'll limit myself, but you can use it on my to explain how limited I am? Okay... what?


  1. Yes, this!

    A "label" is just a word for something that already exists.

    When I got my ADHD diagnosis, a lot of people were all, "You shouldn't be trying to label yourself like that," and I was all, "Why?"

    Because it wasn't like the label magically made my executive function issues and fidgetiness appear. They were already there. Just like my difficulty with making and keeping friends is already there. And my weirdness that attracted so many bullies when I was a kid was already there. And my tendency to run across campus just because I like the feel of running, heedless of the jeers of, "Run, Forest, run!" And my fine-motor coordination that prevents me at 25 from writing in cursive at all (oh, handwriting sheets, you were the bane of my childhood - handwriting hurts me and writing neatly is a can-not-do thing) and makes even my printing illegible unless I concentrate on it. And all my other quirks and challenges. They were already there, just without a name for them (some of them still don't have a name, but that's why I'm saving for a more thorough evaluation).

    The label is a name. Just like my first name is a name. Or my screen name is a name. Or my family name is a name. My family name means peasant, but nobody uses classism to tell me that I'm "limiting" myself by "labelling" myself as a low-class person, right? Why is it okay for them to use ableism to tell me that I'm "limiting" myself by "labelling" myself as disabled? I'm not limiting myself - my disabilities were always there, I've just found the name for them. My disabilities don't limit me, and neither does the name for them - but others' preconception of what those disabilities mean? That might limit me. But that's not my fault, it's theirs.

  2. Sometimes a label is like a teflon jacket that keeps other labels from know...stupid..slow...lazy..those kinds of labels that are razor blades to the soul.

  3. I often get annoyed with one person I know who, after being diagnosed autistic later in life, goes around saying, "Thank goodness I wasn't LABELLED when I was younger." Why? Maybe if you had been, you'd have received some help.

    I often say, "A label tells you what's inside. You wouldn't go to the store and buy a box with no label on it. You wouldn't know if you were getting a TV or a kitchen sink."

    1. I mean, I'm also glad that I didn't officially have the label in K-12, but it's not about the LABEL. That's about the fact that some of the schools I was at had problem ideas about autism and would have done *bad things* with the label. Which is different. And really about the problems with my schools, not about the label.


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