Labels are important to a lot of people in the LGBTQIA+ Community. In general, it seems that most people use labels not only to characterize themselves as something specific but also to identify with a group and belong to a community. It can be an empowering thing, and I definitely understand that. In spite of this, I personally dislike the use of labels, and I want to explain why. As I do so, you will find that my concerns extend far beyond labels themselves and into another topic. The issue that I have with labels can be categorized with the broader discussion of personal identity in general.
The reason I don’t like labels is that if they are used by anyone other than yourself to define something about who you are, then you are letting somebody categorize you and put you into an allegorical box. People (especially people in power) love to use labels to define individuals. They have a need to group us together however it can be done. We are grouped by religion, by race, by sexuality, by ethnicity, by disability, by gender, or any other label we use to define ourselves. When we are grouped together like this, two things can happen:
- You are told (often times) that because you belong to a said group that you are expected to act a certain way that fits within the acceptable parameters of behavior for your group. If you do not, then you might be compelled to do so or be expelled from the group. You are essentially told how you should act and how you should live your life.
- These groups are often divisive. You should only belong to so many groups, and they can’t be in the same category. We are not always accepting of others who fall into a different group other than our own, especially if their behaviors or values do not reflect the ones found within our own group. The groups are exclusive and often fight against each other. Race against race. One sexual orientation against another, etc.
My opinion about labels, groups, and categorizations I will admit is biased. I often feel like I don’t fit very well into only one label within a category, so of course, I don’t want to use them. A good example for me would be not being able to identify as gay, straight, or bi-sexual because for different reasons, none of them fit perfectly with my identity. I also don’t like identifying as white or Caucasian because no matter how small a percentage, my ancestry is diverse and doesn’t come from one race or ethnicity. This is why I try to refrain from using labels as much as I can… but labels aren’t entirely the issue. The issue is that other people, whether well-intentioned or not, often try to tell us how we should live and who we should be. In the process, our own opinions get stifled to the masses.
If we want to apply a label to ourselves, that’s our choice. I don’t think you can entirely get away from it. But we need to make sure that in the process, everything that comes with that label are things we want. You should make sure that you still be yourself, even if the label you use has stereotypes or expectations that don’t match your own life. You shouldn’t conform.
I don’t know about other people, but I can say that all the time I hear folks try to tell me what is best for me or who I should be. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t seek other’s advice, but we should be careful to let someone else talk us out of doing something we feel is right just because they don’t agree.
Deep down, we know what is right for ourselves and we don’t need everybody else to make those decisions for us. We don’t need them to try and define who we are. It’s okay if we don’t fit into any preconceived category, group, or label that our society has constructed. It’s okay to not want to be labeled. It’s okay to be different!
It’s the people who are different, the ones with new ideas, that are going to change the world. You can’t be different if you just live like everybody else and define yourself like everyone else. It requires a new way of living, of adventure, of experimenting, and seeing the world with new eyes.
Embrace who you are, and be okay in your own skin. There is nothing wrong with being different. You don’t need a label to tell people who you are. Show them.