Identity first language vs. person first language

I have been wanting to write on this topic for a while.  I think this particular post will be largely flow of consciousness, as I am not quite sure where I want to go with it.

I identify as having been diagnosed with a number of “disorders” a lot of them “mental disorders” according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Disorder (DSM) and yes, that is the full title of at least some versions of it (excluding the version information).

Most of these diagnoses I do not identify with as a “core identity” or to be fully honest, as even valid.  So maybe due to the whole thing with my “multiple diagnoses” and “multiple disability” I may have a slightly different view than many people who have spoken on this.  That being the “issue is really quite complicated.”

I have heard many times that we do not call a person as “being bipolar,” and I think the argument there is relatively sound.  That being essentially that “we don’t speak of a person being cancer,” but it does miss a key part for many people.

Many people who have been diagnosed with certain conditions, see those conditions as core to their identity.  Many autistics identify as “being autistic,” and feel that saying they are “a person with autism” is devaluing this identity.

Some of these “identity first” people have gone so far as to say that you must use this language.

I think that one of the things that I feel you have to really understand in a lot of cases a person may well have a “complex identity”.  For me, even something as core as “being trans*” I have multiple ways of expressing this, and would really like that this “multiplicity of identities” be respected.  I identify as “non-binary,” I present “feminine,” and I am generally perceived as “female,” my legal and medical status is “female.”

So, how do you respect my identity?  You allow me to speak for myself.  If someone asks you about me, and I am there, you will tell them that is a question to ask me.  If I am not there?  The same.  There is one thing that I will allow as being sound social construction.  The “Hi, so and so, this is so and so”.  The thing there though, please, please, please, be sure you are using the correct name.

My full name is Jigme Datse Yli-Rasku.  In most cases Jigme is quite acceptable.  If, for some reason we are in a situation where my legal name has been used, I will often use that, as the whole process of changing the name is far more difficult for many things than it really should be, so while my legal name has not changed, I think in most circumstances there should be prevision for the use of a “preferred name” and in many situations a legal name should not be required at all.

So, I have kind of gone all over the place here.  And really only briefly touched on some of the many issues here:

  1. It is complicated, and for certain individuals it is so very incredibly complicated they really can’t keep it straight themself.
  2. You should respect what the person wishes to be called.
    1. Allow the person to speak for themself if at all possible.
    2. When not possible, allow the issue to not be a topic of discussion, unless it is essentially the reason you are talking.
      1. People who do not communicate in “typical ways” may well be incapable of expressing themself in certain situations.
      2. Non-typical communication styles should be respected as much as possible, and if possible be allowed to be used.
      3. In cases where a person who is incapable of communicating in a way that is fully understood, cautious communication on their behalf can be highly beneficial, when that will allow things to at least progress.
  3. In general, unless you have talked about this issue in detail with a person, you have no idea how they would like to have certain stuff expressed.

There are a few issues which I think are very key to look at here.  One is the social justice issue of ableism.  Ableism is the belief system (which is very much the standard) that people who are able, are better than people who are disabled (and is far more than that).  While the vast majority of people would not consider that they believe that when asked, but their behaviour and language usage speaks strongly of that.

When asked to “see the person not the disability” the contrary version of “see the person not the ability” makes no sense whatsoever.  You would never speak of a “person with strength”.  While we are being asked with person first language to say “a person with autism” which will imply that “autism” in this case is a weakness, because if it was a strength, it would be emphasized, not diminished.

In this regard, I would say “when in doubt, choose to use identity/disability first language.”  If you speak of a “person with bipolar” you are diminishing the value of “bipolar”.  Many people believe that “mental illness is a social construct,” or that “mental illness does not exist.”

While I believe strongly that our current system is badly damaged, and that it is largely based on social constructs.  The problem with viewing it strictly through that lense, is that it ends up making the experience itself as a “social context” which is extremely misguided.  These experiences are very real, the issue is not that the experience don’t exist, but the “social construct” lense can be used to erase them.

That these experiences are “illnesses” or “disorders” is where the social construct exists.  Not in the fact that these experiences are social constructs, or that for a good many people who these experiences are very distressing.

I think very much we need to find a way that we can find ways to help people, which does not involve making “everything a disease.”

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