I was talking with a friend today, who's a teacher in a middle school and advises her school's Gay Straight Alliance. She was saying how the group talks a lot about labels and how she is always trying to help people understand that it's OK not to have a label for feelings, OK to explore, and that there isn't a rush to find the perfect word or language to describe any part of yourself, including your sexual orientation. I thought about Jacob's article, Living without Labels and how he figured, for himself, that labels were more trouble than they were worth.
I think that can be true. But I also think that labels (and language in general) can be really powerful. When we choose to name ourselves it can be kind of revolutionary. Invisible can become visible.
I'm of the mind to believe that only you have the right to define yourself, and nobody else should ever presume to have the power to put labels on you...but I think that while it's great to remind people that it's cool not to have a label, we shouldn't ignore the power and meaning that can come from being able to name aspects of our own identity, on whatever level.
What do other folks think about labels? Are they for cans only? Is there too much pressure to have one? Do you find meaning and benefit from being able to name your various identities? I'm curious to hear what you think.....
Posts: 384 | From: Philadelphia, PA | Registered: Sep 2008
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I think there can certainly be too much pressure to have a label -- I've had a lot of conversations that go along the lines of "<heteronormative assumption>" "Actually, I'm not straight..." "oh, then what are you?" "Nothin'" "HUH".
I personally feel that I have no need for a label for myself, as I've never put much weight in knowing exactly what my sexuality is -- I've always just kind of gone with the flow. Which is just what makes most sense for myself. I suppose the label closest to describing what my orientation is would be bisexual/pansexual, but I tend to just go with "fluid" or "queer" because my sexuality really IS fluid, it fluctuates, and I find other names/labels tend to simplify it too much for my liking. And I just really don't give enough of a hoot to pick any one real label
However, I absolutely understand the feeling of empowerment and becoming visible that people get from finding themselves a label that fits, and no way in hell am I going to tell people that they shouldn't try and find the right-fitting label if they want to. I think it's absolutely up to the people themselves whether they want to have a label for themselves or not. But that's what it should be about -- the person deciding for THEMSELVES what makes them feel best about themselves and most comfortable and empowered. Not anyone trying to label themselves because of outside pressure.
Posts: 1182 | From: Ontario, Canada | Registered: Dec 2008
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My university is hosting a conference this week on Post-Colonial Studies and, in particular, the meaning of community. So, for the past couple of days, I have listened to a lot of conversations about what community means, and about both the advantages and the disadvantages of affiliating yourself with/declaring membership of a given community.
There is a lot to be said for the freedom that comes with refusing to own any given label/identity. But for me, rejecting communities has always been an act of rebellion. And not in a positive sense, either: I felt like no one could possibly understand or relate to what it felt like to be me, and therefore there was no community for me to be a part of. During that time, I also did not label my sexuality: I was going back and forth between bisexual and lesbian, and neither felt like a good fit for me, which was frustrating and disappointing.
It took a while for me to accept that, even if there was no one else at all out there who even remotely understood what it was like to be me (unlikely as that might be), there still was a value in bonding over the things I do share with others. And I started to realize that I already was part of several communities, and I started to own those identities. Realizing those connections was really empowering, and I embrace my labels now.
Part of that might also be about the fact that I don't have just one label or identity, but several overlapping ones, and it's the unique mixture that makes me ME. I'm a lot of different things, and being queer is just one facet of that, but it's part of who I am and identifying as such allows me to reach out and connect with people who share that experience.
-------------------- -joey Scarleteen Volunteer
"The question is not who will let me, but who is going to stop me." -Ayn Rand Posts: 8853 | From: Cologne, Germany | Registered: Sep 2005
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Whether and how I label myself depends on why someone is asking. I call myself "queer" most when I want to emphasise that I am part of the queer community; when I'm asked to put a specific label on myself I say I'm pansexual, or just that I'm attracted to the people I'm attracted to.
I think labels can be a good tool for raising visibility and feeling like you're part of something (and for letting people know who you're potentially attracted to, and who you're not.) In a perfect world, I think the former two would both be obsolete; people would be knowledgeable about orientation, and everybody would feel like they had an accepting community to belong to no matter what anybody's orientation was.
Looking at the amount of "What am I?" threads in this section of the forum, I would say that there is too much pressure to put labels on oneself, and on each other; that may hold especially true for young people. I bet a lot of the people asking that question would be happier if they didn't feel like they had to know right away.
The highest result of education is tolerance. -Helen Keller Posts: 50 | From: Halfway down the California coast | Registered: Jul 2009
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I'd like to share a story. About labels, that is.
A few years ago, I started questioning my sexuality. I was also trying to get a hold on puberty in general. So I just decided, I'll just not worry about it! I guess when I'm an adult, or when things feel more concrete, I'll decide then just what I want to call myself. Until that time, anyone I'm attracted to, anything I enjoy, is AOK. Anything goes. No labels.
Now I do feel more adult, much more, and things do feel more concrete (if anything ever can be) and now I do have a label for myself. It's come under my own power. I'm bisexual. I own that part of myself.
And it was so simple. I sort of wonder why no one else seems to have thought of this. Am I just the only one to mention it?
Posts: 10 | From: Alabama | Registered: May 2010
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