What purpose do labels give us?
It is the general assumption that we ought to fight against labels because they have provided the foundation for discrimination. If you are A, you need to do B but if your C you need to do D; A’s cannot do D and C’s cannot do B. This makes the world fit into neat little boxes that everyone can abide by. It organises the world into sections and draws a line on types of behaviour that are considered to be deviant.
This mistaken assumption also perpetuates the assumption that if you have one label, then you cannot have another, or rather that when you discuss aspects of your experience in relation to a label, then other aspects of your experience must be ignored.
A woman can discuss her experiences in relation to disadvantages as a woman but if that woman is black, the assumption is that a discussion on race is irrelevant in relation to gender. Patricia Hill Collins and Angela Davis prove this not to be the case. Still, if a woman is black and autistic then she can only pick one experience to defend: gender or race.
Intersectionality has been dismissed as another aspect of identity politics but my issue with this is that identity politics and feminist intersectionality both ignore the other aspect of human experience we all endure: Mental health and intelligence.
I do not have a mental illness although autism is sometimes lumped in with other disorders of the mind. Those with low functioning autism also have additional learning disabilities and thus have what is considered to be a low IQ. We, the autistic are female, fluid, or male; bisexual, gay, or straight; black, white, mixed and can come from poor homes or wealthy families. Some of us are not IQ intelligent but are more than proficient at other types of skill such as creative art. Not all of us are a genius but we all need support, understanding and societal acceptance. Autism is the last aspect of the human condition that is not argued to require equality; instead academia argue that we need a cure.
These labels intersect our daily lives and inform our experiences yet only class, race and gender have really been critically examined. Imagine if someone suggested the cure for homosexuality or for being black? Well, they do and this is what conversion clinics and bleach are for.
The purpose of having labels is so that we can choose to reject the ones we are given at birth and create our own destiny based on our freedom to exist. Certainly, the choice not to be autistic ought to be there. Low functioning autism also has issues with learning disabilities and other genetic disabilities that manifest physically. Therefore, in suggesting a cure for autism, are we confusing the comorbidity of their disability? What I mean by this is that the issue is not with autism; rather autism arose because of the other conditions – it is the other conditions that need curing not autism.
A few key studies have been released in the last few weeks that show a correlation between the genes responsible for autism and the intelligence that allowed humanity to evolve into the technologically advanced state we are today. It is no secret that many of the greatest inventors are said to have been on the spectrum. If we prevent autism from arising in our populations how will humanity advance?
We need these labels to help us identify the complex nexus of our experiences and help us relate them to other people. This is especially relevant for autistic people. We require the framework of identity in order to define ourselves. We can then make the informed choice as to whether we feel like we are who society tells us we are.