(This article is in conversation with its counter-part: Why Labels Don’t Matter. Check it out for *gasp!* differing opinions and viewpoints.)
Jump to what you want:
- Labels destroy ambiguity
- Build community
- People are Starbucks
- Save yourself time
- Wave your label with pride!
- Help create acceptance
- Labels grow with you
Some people switch labels every week, some never switch their label. And some don’t see the purpose of labels at all.
“I’m me,” they say. “Why do I have to define myself?”
I understand that sentiment. It’s incredibly freeing to define yourself outside language’s restrictions. Words, despite their prevalence and creation, can sometimes feel not quite right.
But we’re here to tell you that labels, should you choose to subscribe to them, are important. Here’s why.
Not knowing is scary
Imagine this: It’s late. Your teeth are brushed, you’re in your pajamas, and you’re about to go to bed. Cut the lights off and shut your eyes. You’re about to fall sleep when–
There’s a thud outside your door.
You bolt up. Your heart rate increases. Breathing increases. Palms clam up. The back of your neck prickles with sweat.
What was that?
The thing is that you don’t know. It could be anything. It could be a burglar. A thief. A serial killer. Pennywise the Dancing Clown from It. Freddie. Jason. The freaking Babadook, for god sake.
It could be anything, and that’s why it’s so scary.
The human brain is designed to fear ambiguity precisely for this reason. You don’t know what the threat is, so you don’t know how to defend yourself from it. You don’t even know if you should take the risk to check it out. You’re paralyzed.
This, to some degree, is what it’s like to not know your identity (Yes I really did just compare gender/sexual confusion to possible serial killers. It’s for the metaphor!)
With gender, you have a feeling. You feel this feeling often, but you don’t know what this feeling is. You don’t know how to define it.
And much like how a mysterious noise scares you, a mysterious feeling confuses the bejeezus out of you.
By being able to identify that feeling, you take it’s power away. It’s no longer this looming thing your brain subconsciously flips around in its mind over and over like a Rubik’s Cube.
The human brain doesn’t like ambiguity. It’s true for noises, it’s true for self-identity.
Labels build community
Yay! You’ve figured out your identity!
After your refreshing night’s sleep, you go out on the block and see other people reppin’ your same identity with pride. Maybe it’s Queer, Genderfluid, Pan, Trans, Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay.
Whatever it is, you know that there are people like you, who feel the same way you do and that you’re not the one anomaly in a species of almost 8 billion members.
In short, you know you’re not alone.
Who doesn’t love a Starbucks order?
No matter what you think about the coffee company that seems to be taking over this godforsaken planet, you can admire the lengths people will go to get their drink exactly right.
“Yah, can I get a soy mocha frappuccino with light-foam and a drizzle of caramel on top?”
And, despite all the adjectives and nouns in that short sentence, you can probably imagine what kind of drink this person wants. Because that’s the beauty of language. You can keep adding words to words until they’re just right.
This person walks away, sipping their frothy liquid and knowing that they’ve gotten something they like. Nay, something they love.
And you can too. Knowing all the words in the LGBTQ community means that you can build your own custom identity, getting how you feel just right.
I should mention that the idea of Starbucking your identity isn’t mine. It came from Kelly Kitagawa in the below video.
While I recommend watching the video for the full effect, here are few highlights:
- “Listen, I just like my identities just like my Starbucks drinks menu: diverse and complicated as hell
- No one’s saying, “I don’t like to label my Starbucks drink.” Don’t worry. I get it. People aren’t Starbucks drinks, unfortunately.
- That doesn’t mean labels aren’t important. Obviously, not everyone fits into the boxes that labels put you in.
- But labels can also be a really helpful tool to help you break down stereotypes. If you don’t have a word to describe your identity, how are you supposed to start a conversation about it? How else are you going to try to get people to be more open to your identity?
- And to me the most important thing is that labels help you find a community to connect with people of the same or similar identity. Not every pumpkin spice latte tastes the same, just like not every pansexual is going to explain their sexuality in the exact same way. But the word pansexual definitely helps you communicate and gives you a starting point to understanding your and other people’s identities.”
Labels save time
Imagine that same Starbucks order. Imagine that person explaining their identity without the use of those labels.
Let’s use Kelly’s example. Keeping it simple, let’s ask for a good ol’ pumpkin spice latte.
You, the non-labeler: Hi, I want the drink that has the bulbous orange seasonal squashes with the thing that makes you cry. Um, it’s in Sriracha? Makes your tongue go on fire? Right. Yeah. And the kind of drink with one shot of espresso and mostly cream.
The person behind you: Yeah I just want a freaking pumpkin spice latte.
Words of symbols for meaning. While these words may not be totally accurate, they get the job done and save you a lot of time. Describing your identity in simple terms allows you and your interlocutor to get on the same page so you can dive right into discussion. Or immediately change the subject as to how pumpkin spice lattes are overrated. The beauty of language!
Labels become symbolic
I’m not gonna lie. I love having a rainbow flag hanging up in my apartment. That’s because this whole umbrella term of LGBTQ not only looks great on my white cinder block walls but fills me with, dare I say, pride.
Yes. I love looking at my rainbow flag. I love the symbolism of my identity.
I love is going to gay pride and seeing rainbows on faces, on flags flapping in the wind, on bare chests and shoes.
Rainbows represent the LGBTQ community. Well, homosexuality historically, but the rainbow now represents queerness in general. When I see a rainbow flag, I know that it’s owner, in whatever way, shape, or form, resonates with the LGBT community just like I do.
Labels are communicated non-verbally through symbols such as flags, clothing, pins, buttons, etc. You tell the world who you are by donning your symbol. Conversely, when someone sees you with that symbol, you can have a totally awesome moment where you shoot finger guns at each other, grin, and say, “ayyyyyyy.”
Labels can create acceptance
The more people talk about their labels or display its symbol, the more they’re normalized. The beauty of labels is that become more ingrained in society over time.
Just like how no one really accepted bisexuality in the early 2000s –I mean, just watch the L Word and watch how the characters treat bi folk. Dana dropped this gem in season 1:
Dana: Christ, Alice, when are you going
to make up your mind between dick and pussy? And spare us the gory bisexual details, please. (E01.S01)
And let’s not forget Tina’s entire complicated arc with Henry. After a messy separation with Bette Porter Tina dates a single dad named Henry. After right before their first date, Tina and Alice share some banter:
Tina: How do I look? Am I too dressed up? I feel dressed up.
Alice: You look good.
Tina: OK, bye.
Alice: [to Dana] You’re right. Bisexuality is gross. I see it now. (E10.S03)
So yeah, bisexuality has come a long way. It’s not some confused state between just going full-on gay: it’s its own sexual orientation. Bisexuals in 2018 have their own flag, populate a good portion of gay pride parades, and are seen with increasingly more visibility.
The same acceptance, but with the same slow speed as the early 2000s, is happening with transgender, non-binary, pansexual, polyamorous folk and more. I’d wager that if no one talked about their labels and pushed past negative stereotypes, there wouldn’t be the amount of acceptance we have now.
Labels change with you over time
It’s kind of like a linguistic scrapbook. You thought you were a certain person at this point in life, and you used a certain label to describe yourself. As you grow older, your labels expand and grow with you.
But just like how you never really forget your emo phase in middle school, you don’t forget the label you once lived by either. This label, though no longer actively representing you, rests in the graveyard of your memory. You were the person you are today by outgrowing that label.
Isn’t that beautiful?
It’s tough though. Shifting through labels takes time and induce massive confusion. If you’re anything like Ash Hardell definitely expressed some concern over this process in one of their earlier videos called “Labels.”
Ash describes not really fitting into any existing term to describe their sexuality (which, in their later videos, switched to their gender), and then just accepting who they are: a labelless person who is still just as valid in the LGBTQ community as any self-identified lesbian, gay, transgender, or queer person out there.
In the end, your ultimate self-acceptance makes the long, confusing label journey worth it.
What’s your label? Why do you like using it? Describe it down below, I’d love to hear it!
Thanks for reading, y’all. I know this was a long article.
I love you. So much.