Who defines IDENTITY?
Since Zane and I created ALICE, The Opera, I've been thinking a lot about my own identity. With a (surprise) autism diagnosis (it's not at all unusual for girls and women to go undiagnosed for years), I've been thinking a lot about the fact that ALICE, the opera was created around my own autistic experience. I always felt deeply connected to Alice since early childhood. She takes everything literally, she is forthright and curious, she is ever confused by the rules of a world that don't always make sense and by characters (authority figures) who are constantly questioning: "who are you?" And demanding that her identity fall within the rules of those who are nothing like her. (Autistics living in a mostly allistic world).
That question, "who are you?", that we tackle in our opera, is one that I keep asking myself daily. Who are you? Who do you want to be? Since my "diagnosis", it comes down to finding myself within a community of which I had no idea I was a part my entire life. It's a community (autistics) filled with vibrant, deeply feeling, deeply empathetic, wildly creative, wildly unique people. People like me, and not entirely like me. If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person. And yet, we all seem to have more in common with each other than we do with the rest of the allistic world. It's revelatory to find your community, especially after feeling like an alien your whole life.
Lately, it's got me asking one more question. Not just, "who are you?" But, who is defining who you are? As an autistic girl and now autistic woman, it's easy for others to define us. With historical diagnoses designed to identify only white boys, and meant early on to institutionalize, infantalize, "help", so many autistics get lost and confused. (the opening aria of ALICE, Act Two addresses this straight on in "Alice, Lost and Confused" in a way where anyone can relate). In all of it, in the finding of identity, in the redefining of identity... as important as it is to ask "who are you?"... it's equally as important to ask yourself, "who is defining the identity?" And the answer to that question, almost always, must be, you.