I am a femme genderqueer trans person. I am panromantic, I can feel romantic attraction to all genders, and bisexual – though not in the way you might think (mostly gynosexual and skoliosexual). I’m partnered but ethically non-monogamous. I’m an intersectional feminist. These identities are important to me; I’ve spent a lot of time discovering, agonizing over, and cultivating them. But navigating through the world I all too often hear people say “Why do people need so many labels?” “Why can’t we all just be people?” “How am I supposed to keep track of all this, it’s overly complicated.” and it’s no surprise that these people tend to overwhelmingly be cisgender heterosexual people.
And it’s to you that I speak now: it really isn’t entirely your fault, we’ve all been raised in the same white-cis-heteropatriarchy so your own labels have been normalized and thus are largely invisible to you. Also, like a good liberal person, you probably feel like being post-labels is somehow more inclusive or progressive. But I’m here to tell you that we’re not there yet, labels still matter for lots of reasons, and maybe always will.
Labels help people find community
In a world that loves to erase or devalue identities that don’t conform to the norm, labels help people from marginalized groups find people like themselves. Finding community can be incredibly important in providing moral and emotional support, a sense of belonging, and resources for surviving, thriving, and educating others. Community can give hope and refuge to those who may need it the most.
Not all labels are created equal…yet
In order to even start thinking about getting rid of labels we need to first be at a place where all identities are respected equally, which is far from the case. In a world which believes trans people are mentally ill and there is still no national protection against discrimination for LGBT people it’s hard to hear someone say “let’s get rid of these labels” and not hear “I’d rather you just not exist”. It’s difficult to argue against labels when society is still debating whether the people who own some labels are actually deserving of basic human rights. And it’s especially difficult to argue against them if you’re from a community with the privilege of never having had to fight for your right to exist in the same way.
Labels provide a vector for social progress
One role of labels is to provide visibility. We like to think that we live in a binarist society and that we’re a binarist species, always two fundamental and opposite ways of being (two genders, two sexual orientations, etc.) but the reality of human existence is so much more wonderfully complex and beautiful than that. The emergence of new terminology and the development and evolution of language not only gives more visibility to the individual identities that language is naming but also to the larger idea that human experience is far more complex than we like to acknowledge. This may be uncomfortable to many because general simplistic categorization of humanity is easy and we’ve been taught that it’s comfortable and safe and that is starting to break down. But this visibility can eventually lead to greater understanding, and understanding can lead to acceptance, and acceptance can lead to celebration for all people.
Labels can be a source of pride
I’ve put a lot of time and effort into deconstructing cultural norms, unlearning societal conditioning, and educating myself about misinformation. I’ve questioned many fundamental parts of myself and actively sought answers to those questions. I’ve worked to construct my identity in order to reflect my best understanding of my most authentic self and I am proud of what I’ve come up with. I’m proud that I have a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me. My labels may change over time because I’m always having new experiences and finding out new things about myself but they will always have meaning and they will always be intentional.
My labels matter because they shape how I relate to the world and to the people around me. They color how I view the world and inform the perspective I can give. All our labels are powerful and beautiful and I want them to be celebrated!
EDIT: There are a couple more serious points that I chose not to make because they didn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the post but they are very important and I’d like to make them here:
- Part of respecting the world of queer labels is respecting those who actively don’t identify with labels at all. People choose not to identify with labels for lots of reasons including not having language to accurately describe their experience, having traumatic experiences with the concept of labeling, and not wanting to be outed in public. Not wanting to self-label is a valid choice, whatever the persons reason may be, and should be respected as such.
- Labels are for self-identification and self-actualization, not for classification. It is not your right to label others according to how you perceive them or to force a queer person to tell you how they identify. If you request information in good faith it will likely be given to you if the person considers you and the environment you are in trustworthy, but if they refuse to give you the information you desire it is your responsibility to respect that decision gracefully no matter the tone of refusal.