Guest Author - J. Ruel
What does your label read?
If we really wanted, we could each sum each other up in words, tags, pieces of us that don’t ever encompass who we really are. Labels work well for packaged food and the boxes the post office sends us, but for people? Is there any harm in labelling others?
If someone were to label me, it might look like this:
Young. Cute. Mohawk. Bear. Genderqueer. Male. Effeminate. Partnered. Religious. Libertarian. Yankee. American. Son. White. Other. Puerto Rican. Writer. Tall. Quiet. Opinionated. Tan. Pale. Independent. Affectionate. Etc, etc etc.
We do it all the time to everyone else. “He’s gay!”. “She’s a homophobe!” “They’re all a bunch of right-winged crazies.” It’s easy, you see, to put labels on people. On one hand, it keeps us from having to actually separate people into, well...people. Instead, we can categorize people into neat black and white boxes, as if one term can easily define an entire soul. Labels are a bit like stereotypes - there’s always a little bit of truth mixed in with a whole lot of generalization.
We do it because it’s easy. We use labels like code words to signify our meaning without bothering to really look at a person. Saying, “He’s a homophobe” so clearly defines the complexity of a person, right? Wrong. Labelling people doesn’t help foster discussion and awareness. Instead, it promotes the same narrow-mindedness that the LGBT community has for so long been haunted by.
Effects of Labels
In some ways, labels can be good. Saying, finally, “YES! I’m transgendered!” can be liberating. The label can be used to find others who fit into the same group you do. You can see that you do fit in somewhere, and that some aspects of your identity make sense.
Other labels are more harmful. Stupid. Worthless. Pointless. Unloved. Unwanted. When we let others define our worth, we lose. We let the one word define our existence, as if our souls could be contained in the entirety of one textbook definition. It limits who we are and what we can achieve. We all have many labels we can and do use to define ourselves. Just don’t be trapped by your label, and don’t trap others in theirs. Humanity will only be better by greater understanding - not less.