In Defense of Labels & Self Identification

*There are  links to some resources within this post, as well as my blog posts about ‘coming out‘, / what labels I currently use / links to other sources / my blog posts about certain flags. This is a very interesting topic, and please feel to leave your opinions in any comment box!* (Also bear in mind that this post will also be heavily one sided (meaning I’ll be arguing from one perspective as I could be here for hours analysing both sides – but I may do a post that talks about the disadvantages of labels). 

Labels and self identification -I’m interested in both these topics, as I like to see how people label themselves, and it can lead to some very interesting conversations, as everyone has a different output. I personally like using them – I’ve written a blog post about my current identity, and the idea of labels were the centre of both my Photography A – Level coursework and my short film project. I feel as though labels are useful, and have have definitely helped me form a sense of identity and community – they have also helped me make some of the best friends I have ever had, as I would of never met some of the friends I have now if I didn’t come out of the closet But I do get why some people might not like using labels – maybe some labels aren’t that important to them, or maybe they feel as though that there is too much of an emphasis on them. for example – and that’s OK – society, as a whole, and from a gender perspective for example, believes that it exists in a binary manner. But this isn’t the case – the fact is that gender, sexuality, romantic attraction etc exists on an ever fluid spectrum, and is definitely a lot more complicated than people assume it is. 

I like labels because they have given me a sense of community – because as  a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am connected to millions of people just like me across the world – and this is probably the biggest achievement of social media and the internet. We are a community, and we have the queer power to make positive change in the world – with that in mind, we should respect what labels someone may choose to use for their gender and / or sexuality – no matter if we fully ‘get‘ what that label means. I also like labels for the simple reason that they give me a word for what I’m feeling – when I was questioning my sexuality and gender, Ash Hardell was a huge help with that sense of knowing – and because of that sense of how I identified in terms of both gender and sexuality, I could start to reach out and be proud of who I am. 

Additionally, labels can also help us to describe our gender and / or sexuality can help us find solidarity in a heteronormative / cisnormative world – but that doesn’t change the fact that society will treat you differently based on your sexual orientation. So the majority of media products cater to heterosexuality, because it is ‘the norm’ – this results in the ignoring of queer stories being told by the mainstream media. As a result, it can make you feel weird, isolated and unaccepted – and because we are so underrepresented, many LGBTQ+ people may feel obligated to discuss their coming out experiences. 

But I want to stress something –  this post is not trying to force you to use labels! If you don’t want to use labels, that’s fine – you do you! I just want say why I, as one person who identifies as many things, and like labels, thinks labels are super helpful. When discussing labels, a common response can often be – But why do labels matter? We’re all the same.” (Or something similar along those lines) – this can be understanding, and does come from a place of well – intending individuals. To this, I would argue that I feel as though labels are crucial because stand up and be proud – and the fact is, we’re not ‘all the same’ – and in the case of the LGBTQ+ community, we need to proudly declare our identities (especially if you have intersecting identities – e.g. if you’re a QPOC, or someone who is disabled / neurodivergent and LGBTQ+). Be active. Be heard. Be out – but coming out is a personal choice, and not everyone can is able to come out, for a variety of valid reason (e.g. by choice or because of an unsupportive environment).

However, here’s the thing – labels are important because they can be used as power. Labels aren’t the cause of inequality in the world – people are. The reason for this type of thinking is because we are socialised to think that our differences are the cause, but the fact is that oppression, and inequality, are systematic (meaning that the institutions that exist within society are coded in – so, for example, “Bathroom bills” passed in various states are an example of the systemic oppression of transgender people”). But labels can definitely be used as a form of oppression – so they can be both useful and harmful at the same time. 

Speaking of power dynamics, without labels we can’t have conversations about   privilege and power. For example, my life is drastically different to a heterosexuals because as a transmasculine nonbinary bisexual person, I may encounter queerphobia at some point in my lifetime, whereas a perceived straight person will not experience this. This is because labels may give us the power to have us to conversations around  these unfair power structures – so labels don’t cause inequality in themselves. 

Furthermore, it can be used to discuss perceived privilegeFor example, bisexual people (or any other sexuality that doesn’t fit the binary of gay and straight) are more likely to face hardships from both heterosexual and unfortunately, other individuals within the LGBTQ+ community. This is because there is unfortunate discourse within our community, and this is something I may write about at a later point. What this means is that bisexuals/ pansexuals, for example, erased in the media are often, or unjustly coded as ‘straight‘ or ‘gay‘ depending on what type of relationship they are perceived to be in (so, for example, a pansexual person will have perceived ‘straight privilege‘ if they are in a relationship with a man)  – but of course, I do agree that individuals are free to label themselves however they want. I just wanted to highlight the  bi/pan-erasure that bisexual / pansexual individuals face.  What this means is that I want to challenge, and hopefully change the way that bisexual are represented in the media, as well as the way that bisexuals are erased. 

In conclusion, I think labelling and self identification is an empowering and crucial thing to do because we need to have these talks about how power / privilege work – plus, labels just make me feel comfortable. 

5 thoughts on “In Defense of Labels & Self Identification

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