I often hear people say that those who dislike labels, just don’t want to address the issue. I both agree and disagree. Label are both good and bad.
If you’re confused, let me explain. By labels, I mean the words that people use to describe their identity. For example, male and female, gay and straight, etc. (I recognize that there are more identities than these, but lets keep it simple).
So how can they be good and bad? That’s confusing.
Well, lets start with the bad, and end with the good; its always best to finish on a positive note. Labels can be bad because people don’t tend to fit perfectly into boxes. We have this image in our heads of what it means to be male; strong, brave, powerful, smart, etc. But not every man is all of those things. In fact, most men probably aren’t all of those things. They don’t fit into the box of masculinity. It works the same for women. We are taught that women are small, delicate, soft, nurturing, etc. But I bet you can’t think of a woman who is all of those things. Even if you did come up with a man or woman who fit those descriptions, I bet you can think of one who can’t. The truth is, not every man is the same as every other man, and not every woman is the same as every other woman. There are plenty of nurturing men, and powerful women. We don’t fit into boxes.
So labels work perfectly for men who fit into the masculine box, but they don’t work so well for the men who don’t. The same goes for women. So are using these labels harmful? Maybe. But one thing I’ve learned as a student of social science is that if it exists, it has a function. So what’s the function of labels?
They’re descriptors. They help us explain who we are and what we like. If you’ve spent much time looking at things in the LGBT community, you’ve probably found someone explaining their identity, and it looks something like this: “Hi, I’m a straight, demisexual, biromantic, cis¹ male, and I like unicorns.” (I just made that up. This is not how I identify, nor is it how anyone I know identifies). So what are all of those words? What do they mean? Why does this person feel the need to say all of that? My head hurts.
I’m not going to spend time explaining all of those (read about them here), but they are just using labels to quickly and easily explain who they are and what they like. If you know what all of those words mean, you’ll quickly understand that they are a male, who was born male, they are interesting in having both male and female romantic partners (though not necessarily at the same time), they are interested in having sex only with females, and they only feel sexually attracted to a woman after they have formed an emotional bond with that woman. Do you see how long it took to say all of that? It was much easier when we used labels.
Conclusively, labels can be limiting, but they do help us explain ourselves in a much simpler manner. Isn’t it much easier to say that you’re an accountant than to describe all of the responsibilities of the job? That’s why we have labels. While it’s true that some people may not know what a particular label means, it’s never a bad time to learn!
Whatever your stance on labels, be respectful of others with differing opinions; they have their reasons!
¹ The term “cis” is an abbreviated form of the word “cisgender”, which means the person identifies with their biological sex, or the gender they were born as.
Part of the Daily Blogging Challenge July 2015