The Disempowerment of Labels

From what you may have gathered from my last post, I like labels, but I can definitely understand why someone might feel this way – and this is what I want to write about  today.  This doesn’t mean that I change my stance on labels, it’s just that I wanted to write about the disadvantages that labels have – we all label ourselves, as well as use them to self identify.  

With sexual and romantic orientation, such labels are supposed to describe our identity, not prescribe us to one particular. We should dictate our labels, and not the other way around. For example, our romantic orientation might not match up with your sexual orientation (e.g. you might be an aromantic pansexual). 

Labels can also be oppressive – but this only when we force them onto others. Impsosing labels on others is rooted in queerphobia and monosexism. For example, if you use the word ‘gay’ towards someone who doesn’t identify as gay, but shows behaviours that is stereotypically associated with gay men for instance – this can be oppressive. Secondly, your are assuming negative stereotypes about gay people – this is dangerous because it is rooted in homophobia. 

Furthermore, let’s look at another example – non-monosexual people (this refers to someone who is attracted to more than one gender – so pansexual, bisexual and polysexual people all fall under this term) – are often put into a ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ relationship based on which gender they are dating. For example, if a bisexual person is in a relationship with a man, they will be labelled as a ‘heterosexual relationship’, so the risk is being told that you’re ‘not queer enough’ for dating a man – therefore, the label ‘heterosexual’ thrust upon the person, despite the fact that you don’t identify as straight. This is a direct example of bi/pan-erasure (which is also mentioned in my ‘In Defense of Labels & Self Identification‘ blog post), as it promotes the idea that individuals can’t be attracted to multiple genders.

In addition, people who are attracted to multiple genders, and choose not to label their sexuality  may be pressured into choosing a label that describes their sexuality, or they are dismissed entirely because they are ‘confused.’ This is then made worse if they are in straight passing relationship because they are ‘just looking for attention‘, or that they are ‘faking it.’ While being attracted to more than one gender ‘doesn’t make you confused’, being unsure about your sexuality is not a bad thing. It’s OK to be unsure of things, because figuring out your gender and / or sexuality is complicated, especially because you may find that it changes over time for a number of valid reasons. It’s also completely OK and valid not to label your gender and / or sexuality if that makes you happy. 

In terms of gender identity, society often makes the assumption that sexuality and gender are the same thing – for example, in terms of the Western idea of gender, we associate men who are more feminine to be gay, and women who are to more masculine to be lesbians (though I understand that people can fall into these stereotypes, and if that what makes you comfortable, then go ahead). Similarly, those who are presumed to conform to gender roles are perceived to be straight (but if you do conform to gender roles, and if this makes you happy, go ahead – just don’t harm anyone). As a result, people are often incorrectly labelled because of how society sees them – this means that we limit our gender expression to stereotypical norms. This is harmful for non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals. 

But overall, what’s the best way to solve this? I would argue that the best solution is to let people take their time to find a label that fits them, if they want to label themselves at all – the most important thing to let people figure themselves out, and whether or not that includes labels is 100% their choice. 

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