Monday, June 8, 2015
What Is Up With All The Labels?
This image has been going around on fb. Some people say that it just confuses or complicates things, others question why we need labels and wonder why we can’t just accept that we’re all human, get over ourselves, and perhaps move on to more important issues.
The above chart is far from perfect. It fails to provide a clear definitions of some terms and it leaves out some identities all together. But then again, there are as many gender identities as there are people; we all define, express, and experience our identities uniquely as individuals.
So why have words to define different identities? After all, if each person is unique do any of them really mean anything? At what point is it all just a ridiculous mess of micro-labels as each person claims their individual identity?
I don’t see these as labels or categories in a strict sense of “Let’s classify everyone and everyone must fit inside a box.” I see these words as just that, words. We need words if we are to have discussions. We need a common vocabulary if we are to understand what we are talking about. Discussing words, what they mean, and how we use them, helps us expand our understanding of not just those words, but of what those words represent to the people using them.
Sometimes people use words divisively or hurtfully, to stigmatize and isolate people or groups of people. That’s unfortunate, but it does not decrease the validity of having words. It does not take away the importance of having words to help us explain who we are. Words can also help us reach a greater understanding of those around us and how they experience life. Those words can bring people together and help us find others who get us, who will look at us and see someone who shares some common life experience or existence.
As adults around me struggle with some of these concepts, or perpetuate assumptions that are based on lack of information and understanding, it’s clear that we have a long way to go before many people, often including those who think they are progressive or open minded, are well informed and have reached a place of understanding. From trolls on YouTube to well intentioned allies, it seems people struggle to grasp the value of being able to say “I am this!” and having that validated by the people around you.
Comments revolving around labels, that pointedly suggest that labels aren’t necessary or that people “just want to feel special” frequently surface: Why do we need to label people’s gender identity beyond male and female? Why do we need to label people’s sexual orientation beyond gay and straight? Why can’t everyone just be who they are and not worry about the labels?
As I learn more about gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation, I think how different it would have been if this information had been available when I was a teenager. I see adults around me perpetuate the myth that every teenager is obsessed with having sex and will be having sex at a very young age if they are given any opportunity at all. This offends a couple of kids i know who identify as gray-ace. Not all teens are obsessed with having sex, in fact, some people are asexual: they are not interested in having sex. I wish I had known that when I was a teenager. Understanding the terms asexual and grey-ace helped me have a greater understanding of myself at the age of 47. And that’s the power of words. Words can give you that Aha! Moment when you understand something about yourself that you could never quite put your finger on. Words can help you feel more comfortable in your skin because can explain something about yourself in a new way - even if you are only explaining it to yourself.
Raising Allies has a Resources page where you'll find links that explore many words and labels.