First of all, let’s get one thing straight (I’m not, hahahahahaha. …Sorry), there is a difference between identifying as and labelling as. For example, I myself identify as cis-female and as gay/lesbian, but I am labelled many different things ranging from ‘butch’, ‘femme’ to a ‘homo’. How you identify is how you feel, and who/what you are; labels – although sometimes the same words as identifiers – are ways to describe you, whether it be looks or personality. Labels can be both self-applied – I may refer to myself as a ‘goldstar lesbian’ and as a ‘soft butch’ – or applied by society, or even bullies – this is where terms such as ‘dyke’ and ‘fag’ come in.
My opinions on labels are varied. The opinion that the world would be far easier if no one had to come out, or explain their sexuality etc. is a valid, and good opinion. A world where everyone is simply themselves would be wonderful. However sadly, at least for the present, it is unrealistic.
Labels, for one matter, are clear. Although I’m all for fluid sexualities and androgyny, having such clear-cut labels like ‘lesbian’, ‘gay man’ or ‘bisexual’ are helpful when getting to know someone, filling in a bio for a social network or even just dating. They explain quite simply who someone is gender and sexuality-wise, and luckily there are now numerous labels for all the ‘grey’ area inbetween, which means no one is left out. Sometimes this can be tricky as you may identify as many things, but there is not a limit to your identifiers. You can be an asexual goldstar lesbian, genderqueer femme if you like – just be you, and embrace the labels!
n.b. visit this website for a comprehensive list of LGBTQ+ terminology.
Another bonus of labels is the communities? Again, the whole ‘everyone is just the same’ thing is great, and true, but let’s face it who doesn’t love the LGBT+ community – the plaid shirt, U-Haul and cat jokes around lesbians, the glitter and the rainbows… Labels created this wonderful world of uniqueness and inclusiveness. Although yes, it would be brilliant if everyone could just get along, the fact is they don’t, and labels help people to find similar people and a safe place to be who they are and meet people who understand the difficulties LGBT+ people face.
In addition labels help us express ourselves. Just as the way that clothes we wear show who we are, ways we label ourselves (emphasis: not ways we are labelled by others) also tell people about us – describing yourself as ‘femme’ or ‘butch’ can be a way of letting your inner self out and being proud about it. Maybe you feel uncomfortable dressing in masculine clothes, or you are in the closet, but describing yourself as ‘butch’ can still be incredibly empowering to openly refer to yourself as the way you feel you are.
Another reason labels aren’t just useful, but are necessary, is trans* people. What would the world be like for someone who comes out as trans* if there weren’t gender labels or sexuality labels? It can be seen two ways: one, that if there were never any labels, there would be no trans* people anyway, there would just be people, which is obviously fabulous. But think about it from today’s point of view – labels exist, so they’re going to be used, and having them used correctly in reference to a trans* person (i.e. the correct gender) is crucial to that person feeling comfortable and being accepted.
Labels are tricky and can often be hurtful, but they can also be fun, helpful and empowering. The world has labels and probably always will do, this cannot be undone. The main thing now is to educate people on using labels correctly and inoffensively. And remember: you may be okay with labels, but maybe the person you are labelling isn’t. Think of a little yellow ‘Warning: Labels may hurt feelings’ sign before labelling someone.