I have been doing a lot of reading for my upcoming class on international and intercultural communication. I expected information on communication between foreign cultures, things that would help in communicating with people in the various global offices of the global corporation that I work for. But the readings all seem to be American-centric, and dealing with various identity factors.
There are two main things I have observed on all these conversations about identity factors. First, they define a dominant group and non-dominant groups (all others) for each of the identity factors. Second, most people seem to have a primary identity factor or two that seems to take precedence over all the others.
Think about the question: Who are you? People usually answer this question by claiming their most important identity factor first, and then listing the others in a general order of importance. But usually there is a primary element. For example: Black, Latina, Gay, Middle Class, Autistic, woman/feminist, Christian, Farmer, etc.
So what happens when a person doesn’t have a primary identity. My answer to the question “Who are you?” is myself. I have identity factors, but none of them is a primary identity. I am a nexus intersection of my identity factors.
Why do I bring this up now? Because I know someone who represents this principle even better than I do. Her name is Carly. On a cold day in Corning, NY, 18 years ago she made an entrance into the world, and has been proving this principle ever since.
One of the identity factors mentioned in my books is ability: are you able or disabled in some way. At the age of 3-4 Carly was tested and given an identity label: Autistic. Being a parent we were concerned about labels. Labels are necessary to get access to helpful services, but labels can also segregate someone and differentiate them from everyone else in ways you don’t want to be separated. Yet we live in a very good school district — while she had the label necessary to get the services, she didn’t get labeled in a way that got her separated from others in a negative way.
But perhaps the most important thing about this label is that Carly didn’t tag herself with it.I remember a class somewhere in middle school where the students were instructed to choose a role model and write a paper about them. Carly wouldn’t, Carly couldn’t write the paper. When I asked her why it was because she liked herself as herself, for who she was, and didn’t need or have any role model. It took quite a bit of discussion with her to convince her that she didn’t have to have a role model to write the paper. She could explain how she didn’t need a role model, and then write the rest of the paper about people who demonstrated good traits that she appreciated.
Carly doesn’t describe herself with labels. She is herself, she is who she is, and people need to deal with that. She knows things about herself, that are who she is, but she doesn’t define herself by these. People may try to stick her into groups, but she won’t be classified that way.
What does this mean? It means that she doesn’t play the identity politics games, and you can’t play the identity game with her. It is hard to pigeon-hole her and predict her responses without actually getting to know HER, rather than the groups you want to stereotype her with. You cannot deal with her by dealing with the groups you think she is a part of. You have to deal with her. As herself.
That said, I am going to write the rest of this blog about her characteristics, about her skills, about the way she has impressed and amazed these parents.
Carly is smart, artistic, musical. She has written a lot of interesting story, drawn and created a lot of physical art.
She hasn’t taken any piano lessons, but she has taught herself to play piano enough that she has composed a song or two. Follow this link to see her playing one of them.
She also likes to follow various artists on the internet, and has actually become one of the (minor) sponsors of the upcoming movie by writer/artist Gemma Bright. As part of her fascination with the upcoming movie — Outcast Hero — one year she had her birthday cake made to follow the shape of one of the characters in the movie — Marlon. When the picture of the cake was posted online, Gemma Bright appreciated it enough to actually draw a special cartoon strip featuring Marlon eating a piece of said cake.
This year, today, the cake is of Demo, a character created by raocow, an online lets player (someone who plays through a video game for the internet so people can watch how/what they play. He is known for his non sequiter commentary). After making that cake I had a round cake layer left, and after I put icing on that, Carly created a Cat Planet Cake Planet cake from it (raocow is also known for his play through of the game cat planet, so it keeps the theme). While my creating of Demo was the more complex, I think Cat Planet was actually them more elegant of the two.
So now she is 18. Watch out world! Happy Birthday Carly!