Queereka has been talking a lot about identities and labels as of late, and I’m not going to be any different. We’ll change subjects sometime! Maybe. Possibly. So gender and sexual minorities seem to have a lot of labels attached to them. Of course there are the well known ones like Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, but then we have a slew of other, lesser known, labels. I’d list them here but they could double the size of this article and I’d still miss some. So with so many labels and identities, how do we determine which ones are okay to use or “valid”? Simply put, we don’t.
The thing about labels is that you can’t impose one on someone nor can you deny the labels someone uses for themselves. Take Will for example. With my personal definition of transgender, he fits under it perfectly. They don’t conform to social norms of gender presentation nor do they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. However, she doesn’t identify as transgender. She identifies as queer and gender queer. While I may feel that gender queer falls right under the transgender umbrella, calling Will, or anyone else who doesn’t identify as transgender, transgender would not only be imposing an identity on someone else but denying their own identity. Most of us have had our identity denied at some point in time. We know how it feels, how much it hurts. So we should be the last to ever deny someone their identity.
But what about when someone identifies as something that is considered a slur or is hurtful to others, such as tranny, dyke, or fag? Well, it gets a little more complicated. We still should not deny them those identities. Many use them in an effort to subvert the harm they cause and try to make them into good terms. However, we can’t simply let them go unchecked either. Naturally they shouldn’t be used to describe someone who doesn’t identify with them, but what about when they’re used in a public space such as, say, a popular television show about drag. Just as a crazy example that came out of nowhere. In cases like that, we really shouldn’t be using these terms. Many people who may not be familiar with terms, their meaning, their use, and the history behind them watch shows like that and attend public performances. When they hear someone they view to be a part of these groups use these terms in public situations, they don’t usually see the pain and the hurt these words can cause. So they believe that they are okay to use.
There are also many who simply do not like labels. After all, we are all human. Saying we are gay or straight, cis or trans*, bisexual or asexual, or whatever else simply divides us. They can make one side or the other “less than human”. Generally, I agree with this sentiment. First and foremost, I am human. However, it is because we are human that we need labels. Not so others can identify us and put us all away neatly into our own boxes, but because we need individuality. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without all my labels. I wouldn’t have a cause to rally behind, a community to support me, or friends who share similar view points. We are all unique individuals, and to take that away would be to take away what makes humanity so special and interesting.