Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Label Maker

We got into a discussion at work today about person-first language. For anybody unfamiliar with special education or disability awareness, the idea is to always put the person ahead of the diagnosis.
To not focus on the different ability level of the person, but instead emphasize the commonality of personhood. i.e. "A person with Autism" vs. "The autistic person." The former shows person-first language.  (There is great disagreement about Deaf, as it's considered a cultural identifier, especially when it's got the capital D. I tend to default to using both - "A person who's Deaf.") 

One of my most favorite podcasts, Poly Weekly, recently did an episode about being introverted and also polyamorous. It got me thinking about person-first language because the entire episode was chock full of people saying sentences that started like this: "As an introvert..."

Side note: I am completely in love with Capaldi as the new Doctor Who. I keep hoping Frisbee or Now-hubby will start watching it with me and be all, "omg this is fantastic" and then Capaldi can be their Eccelston.

Anyway. Sentences that begin, "As a so-and-so..." are definitely not using person-first language. But my cringe-face goes beyond just that. I have sort of a love/hate relationship with labels. On the one hand, I think they're useful to establish baselines in conversations and give people an idea of where you're coming from when you're talking about a subject. On the other hand, I don't think any label can exist on it's own without at least a bit of discussion i.e. "Oh, that's what you mean when you use the word, 'bisexual.' Here's what I mean when I use that word." Because words are tricky and the human experience is variable. 

My second big problem with labels is that they can sometimes become an easy scape-goat for behavior. Not in the sense that, "I'm making out with this woman because I identify as a lesbian and for me that means I find other women sexually attractive." Whatever people. Get your respective freaks on. You don't need to justify it to me.

I'm not talking about excusing sexual behaviors. I'm talking about scape-goating general personality traits. It sometimes feels as though there has to be a label tacked onto everything; it's not enough to just simply observe that something happened. Something happened because of a particular personality trait or characterization of the people involved. Labels can remove the responsibility to analyze and process one's own behavior. A given event occurs and because of a given personality label the expected given outcome is reached. c follows b which in turn followed a. Nice and easy, lemon squeezy. Life becomes less about thought and more about finding the appropriate noun to stick over all the messy stuff.

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