After my stint with labels a while ago, it’s time for me to revisit them as they have been brought up a lot lately. While I did revisit my queer label more recently in a post about my queerness and I have been using my Semantics Sunday posts as a way for me to explore my individual labels, I want to go back to the more general subject of labels.
I want to start by saying this: I love labels. I would even go so far as to say I have a label fetish. This, in many ways, informs a lot of what I do, and there will be more on my label fetish later. As I’ve said before, basically any noun and most adjectives are labels. The problem with labels is that we need to realize that labels are useful tools but do not speak of us as a whole.
From my last post on labels:
An example: you order a burger at a restaurant. While this is a burger, it could be made of beef, turkey, chicken, soy, vegetables, black beans, or something else entirely. It could come with: lettuce, tomato, onion, mushrooms, pickles, garlic, pastrami, bacon, swiss cheese, cheddar, pepper jack, provolone, smoked gouda, or any number of toppings. It could also have: mayo, mustard, ketchup, ranch, hummus, barbecue sauce, or any number of sauces. It could be served on: whole wheat, white, sesame seed, rosetta… I think you get my point. These combinations create an almost infinite number of variations under the common label of “burger.” So it is with any label.
We call both garden burgers and buffalo burgers “burgers,” but they are radically different entities, and are often not (though sometimes are) consumed by the same people.
A lot of people dislike labels because they are limiting or because they believe if they choose to embrace a label it is then expected that they will never deviate from that label or appear in any way contradictory to it. This is part of the reason why I embrace a whole string of labels–femme and boi and faggette and genderqueer and drag queen to name a few… and those are just my gender labels–because if I present myself as a whole large group of labels it’s hard to push me into one box, because I’m already spreading myself across a thousand. By embracing a multitude of labels I am also trying to change the way we think about labels, because I can’t be pigeonholed into one label if I openly embrace multiple labels. How could someone choose just one label to put me into?
But I’m a rare case, though not as rare as some may think. Most people are not as comfortable straddling multiple labels, or orbiting multiple identities in the gender galaxy or any other galaxy. My multitude of labels enables me not to be shoved into one box, but how does that help those who don’t feel the pull of multiple identities, or who feel mostly one gender and a little another but who don’t want to embrace the second label fully?
That’s where realizing that while labels have the ability to box you in, they also have the ability to free you so that you have a better idea of yourself but also so that you can figure out the way you think of yourself, or what you think of yourself as, and then be able to move within or beyond that. Labels don’t have to be permanent nor do they have to inform who you are at every moment, just who you are at some moments or most moments or different transitive parts of you. The “problem” with labels can be “solved” by the realization of impermanence and fluidity, and that even if you embrace a label that does not mean you have to fit anyone’s definition of that label but your own.
I am aware that not everyone is obsessed labels in the same way I am (nor have they fetishized them). I don’t mean fetish in the sense of something that I need to get off, though it can in the right context, it’s more of an obsession or a desire. Perhaps more accurately it is actually a language fetish, theory fetish, or analyzation fetish… and there I go trying to nitpick my label of my fetish into something more precise).
Like I’ve said, I believe labels can be extremely useful when thought of in the right context. Labels are also extremely important, they can bring us together as much as they can tear us apart, the problem is so many focus on our differences instead of our similarities.
And I’ll leave you with a quote from The Leather Daddy and the Femme:
You want me to say I’m bisexual because you’re a woman, okay, I’ll say it. It’s no skin off my ass. But I don’t love women. I love you. Far as that goes, I don’t like most men all that much either. But I’d die for the guys in my tribe. Now are you beginning to get it? … See, it’s all well and good to call yourself whatever. I answer to faggot and gay male and leatherman and all those names, but if answering to a name means I can’t do something I decide I want to do, fuck it. And if someone wants to give me shit for what I decide to do, it’s their problem. … some rules exist just to prop up somebody’s prejudice, and they’re bullshit just like any other rule that’s meant to ensure conformity. … I’ve begun to wish more women were like you. Then maybe calling myself bisexual would make sense. Because believe me, if I had any objection to fucking pussy I never would have fucked yours, dear. I did not just screw you that first night to be polite. [bold emphasis added]