I want to talk about labels, but first a quick context placing of us and the need for such things.
What’s the point of a label? Isn’t it to provide some sort of description, some sort of understanding or explanation? Some sort of context? How can I explain why all these things on the table should go together… I can classify them as all being grown from the ground, all plants, all with seeds in the middle, thus: fruit!
Of course, labels get more complicated when it comes to people. We want to label ourselves in ways that we appreciate or support. We shy away from other people labeling us, especially if we doubt their motives or don’t agree with their classifications.
When I was young there was Gay. There was Lesbian. Then, there was Bi. Bi was relatively new, at least in my experience. It wasn’t really mainstream, and there were a lot of notions of what it meant. (Namely that it was a label for fence sitters who were afraid to go all the way to Gay-dom.)
One of the things labels do is attach or confirm stigma or stenotypes. Even to his day the label of Bi is a double edged sword. Bi people are many times not fully trusted in either camp.
But this article isn’t about Bi… it is about self labeling vs societal labels and where the line between the two can get blurred.
I have a friend who doesn’t want to be referred to as “religious” or “Christian.” And yet. She goes to a Christian church. She teaches her children the Bible as truth. She believes in God, vehemently. If you ask her about her beliefs, she call it a matter of faith and the explanation of why this label and not that label can go on and on.
Another example. I have another friend who is male, progressive, considerate, pro-choice, pro-woman’s equality, pro-women’s empowerment, etc. But he shies away from the label of “Feminist.” His argument is that the label of “feminist” is so charged with negative emotions, that he would rather not claim it.
I am torn. On the one hand we should be allowed to label ourselves. That, shouldn’t be contested. On the other, if it walks like a duck… talks like a duck, looks, smells, quacks, eats, and poops like a duck… Then me calling it a duck even if it wants to be called Near By Pond Dwelling Specimen of Feathers and Awesome, is, well understandable. But out of consideration of the Near By Pond Dwelling Soecimen of Feathers of Awesome, I can try to adapt.
Of course, in my idealized world, people would claim the label warts and all and work from within in the in-group to change the connotation. Show the world that Feminists aren’t all evil tyrants bent on world domination. Prove that people can be religious and yet open minded.
This brings me to the LGBT community where we are constantly working to redefine our labels. Gay doesn’t mean pedophile. Lesbian doesn’t mean man hater. Bi doesn’t mean slut. Trans doesn’t mean freak. We label ourselves these things despite the negative (in some places) connotations so that we can come together as a community, give support to each other, and claim the good qualities for each label.
I know there are readers out there who haven’t yet claimed one of these labels. Maybe you are afraid that you aren’t the right kind of gay. Maybe you are afraid of what it will mean to your relationships with others, with yourself, to claim the title lesbian. It is okay to be afraid
Let me say that again because it is important.
It is okay to be afraid.
But is okay to be brave too. If you aren’t ready to tell the world you are gay, you can still self label. Try it. Come out to you. In the mirror, to your shadow, in the dark, alone in the park,… whisper it to yourself.
You can start with a whisper. Someday you will say it loud enough to be heard.
That is why your fellow community members are here, that is why the LGBT Community Center is here, that is why GSAs are here.
We don’t care which of the alphabet soup letters you want to align yourself with. Some of us don’t care if you want to make up new words to describe yourself. The point is, whatever you label yourself, or want to label yourself someday, you deserve to be listened to.
Labels are important and we invite you to share ours.
Label me: Bi, Sister, Feminist, Carnivore, Skeptic, Agnostic, Pagan, Geek, Bookworm, Wine Snob, Democrat, Progressive, Volunteer, Writer, Activist, … Ready To Listen.