Poll: What do you think about labels?

May 12, 2009  |  essays

You might want to vote in the poll before you read me yammer on about my own thoughts on labels and identity, so I don’t unfairly influence your answers.

[poll=3]

I realize this is a very non-scientific poll, somewhat limited to the visitors of this site, and therefore not a very good sample of the queer communities’ attitudes toward labels … but hey, you gotta use what you got, right? And this is what I got.

So please, leave comments with more explanations (or feedback on why my poll sucks) about your relationship to labels, and read my own thoughts about labels and identity below.

In pursuing this work of identity, specifically gender and sexual identity, one of the first and deepest and most difficult things I come across is the concept of labels.

I see questions about these things all the time: why do we have to label ourselves? Why is the lesbian community so into labels? Why can’t we move beyond labels? What good are labels? Why do I have to conform to someone else’s idea of what I am or am not? Why can’t I just be me?

One of my “gender rules” (something I’m working on, hopefully more on that in the next few weeks) is that everyone is the expert of their own gender, and so thus to always respect however another person feels about their gender. So if you want to reject labels, and that is the way you feel most like yourself, most liberated, most outside of this confining system of gender, then I say go for it and more power to you.

That’s not the case for me, though, not really. I find a lot of liberation inside of the labels – I don’t feel restricted by them, I feel more free to be more myself than I was before.

So I find this curious. I don’t want to be prostelytizing about how everyone needs labels, and I don’t assume that what works for me works for everyone – or anyone – else. But I do know it works for me, and as I’m developing my own gender theories, I’m struggling a bit to explain why.

There is a perception, espeically of the lesbian communities I think, that lesbians are really into labels. From the outside, a lot of words are thrown around connected to lesbianism and queer women, like butch and femme, dyke, homo, queer, bisexual, I actually think the dominant attitude in lesbian communities is very anti-label, very much a rejection of gender identity and sexual identity words. It seems to me that the heat of the community – the visible folks, the young and activist-oriented – are embracing the word “queer” very strongly, which is a much more inclusive term than many of the others, a huge umbrella under which bi, poly, trans, gay, kinky, genderqueer, non-conforming, et cetera, all can come together and find a place.

What I’m saying is, I think it’s interesting that from the outside, this community appears overly obsessed with labels, but once you get inside of it, there are a lot of ways that the dominant discourse discourages labels and micro-identity development.

But when I started thinking through that, I wondered: maybe that is just true for me and not necessarily a truth about the community as a whole. Perhaps that’s just unique to my experience (and, to be fair, the experience of many other butches and femmes, as I’ve heard stories of gender identity development from many of us and they are similar) and perhaps the dominant community thinks something else. But, I thought, it’s not like there is a study I can turn to about what percentage of queers embrace labels!

And, gee, if I can’t use my blog for research like this, then what the heck is it good for?

I hope the options give a wide enough range of your relationship to the concept of “labels” that one of them fits pretty well for you. If it doesn’t, please do leave a comment and tell me, more specifically, what you think about labels, identity, and you personally.

comment on this
 

Want more? You’re insatiable.

Highlights, announcements, workshops, and sometimes even exclusive smut. Plus, get the password for protected posts.


37 Comments


  1. we had a brief email exchange a while back, you and i, about labels. and the thing that you said that really hit home with me regarding labels went something like this: the more people use labels, the broader the umbrella of the label becomes. that is to say, if one kind of butch uses the butch label, and then another kind of butch uses the butch label, and then another kind of butch uses the butch lable, well then that label becomes even more useful and accessible and everyday! and outsiders might say, oh, hey, i know that person! i know that kind of person. i guess i know butches! or like, if three people call themselves bi–one of them is a woman married to a man, one of them is a boy who dates boys and girls, and one of them is a girl who only dates girls but occasionally kisses boys–well, then, look at that! bi applies to so many different kinds of people–can it apply to me as well? and can i be part of a community with all SORTS of folks if i decide to use the label? yup, i can. and will it help others to see how common all sorts of queer folks are, and how queerness–if i may be so bold–just isn't that queer at all. rather, it's broad, and maybe, just maybe–all-encompassing. like, in a way.

  2. I think labels can be useful to the individual trying them on, seeing what fits. It's a good way to work out one's identity (at least so I've found). When they are put onto you, that's less useful, more oppressive.

    And I do think that they require a lot of work. Take the Butch Voices conference, for example: "butch" brings up connotations for some people that exclude some of the voices explicitly included in the conference. For example, I personally tried on "butch" myself, but found that as I understood it meaning a woman-identified person, it didn't fit, and I have moved towards trans. But if butch isn't viewed as opposed to FTM (which it sure is in many circles), then….

    My Buddhist tendencies crop up at this point and say, this is why we can't cling to anything, let alone language! But we do have to figure out how to communicate…

    And that's what I use labels for – a starting point when I'm trying to give people a handle on who I am. They're only that, though – a place to begin a conversation.

  3. possibly because i'm not a lesbian, nor part of the lesbian community, i'm most comfortable with labels on the level (and degree of vagueness) of 'queer'. anything more specific than that, particularly with regard to gender expression, makes me nervous and skeptical. i'm sure a lot of this has to do with my history and experiences as a trans person: for my whole life i've just wanted to be able to not think about gender, or rather to think about gender as little as your average cissexual person does, but being trans has forced it into the center of my consciousness. through transitioning i'm hoping, among other things, to get to a place where gender is not the primary organizing feature of my life, my friends, my community, my sexual and romantic relationships, etc. so, the use of labels that make gender expression (and particularly hyper-intentional, self-consciously designed gender expression) seem super important, or a main way to organize social groups and relationships, are not my favorite. also, gender per se, (as opposed to power dynamic, personality traits, aesthetic style, etc – all of which can be about gender, but aren't necessarily) is not a main feature of who i am or am not attracted to, so it's harder for me to see the redeeming factors in using those labels. whereas if it really got me off, that might not be true.

    honestly, i started reading this blog as a way to try and get more comfortable with people doing intentional, self-conscious gender, since y'all are all over the place in queer communities, and are often really lovely folks. it helps me to get past the initial pang of discomfort/anxiety and taking a minute to get to know people with or without their labels.

  4. ooops – you may have to discount one vote from "I use some labels…". I voted, then read on and realized you want to find out about the [i]queer[/i] community. I'm not queer. I wouldn't mind being, but I don't think this label applies to me. I identify as "mostly heterosexual". A cisgender girl happily married to a cisgender heterosexual man … can you get any more "conventional"? Though I do enjoy reading blogs like yours (especially yours!) for the gender discourse posts just as much as for the hot stories – now does that make me part of the queer community? Am I just a looker-on, or is a looker-on a part anyway, or does voting and commenting on your blog make me part of the community? Honestly, I don't care. I'm just me! Oh, wait… well, you decide :-)

  5. I was just discussing labels with my partner this weekend.

    Let me back up… When I met my partner and we were playing the ‘Get To Know You, 20 Questions Game’ I asked “How do you identify?” since I am very big on not assuming anything. She was silent for a moment then asked “What do you mean?” I rephrased and asked “How would you label your gender and sexuality?” Silence again for a moment and then she answers “Lesbian and I’m a woman.” She spoke in a tone like I had asked if she was a human or not. She seemed confused so she asked how I identify and I replied “Queer Femme”.

    She had no idea what that meant. So we have had many conversations regarding this subject since. I know it’s hard for her to understand mostly because before me she was living in a very binary word. Gay or Straight. Man or Woman. Single or Taken. But we continue to have open and honest conversations about these and other ‘labels’.

    Which brings me to Sunday when @femmethology tweets “I think I am leaving Queer Femme for Femme Queer.” And I share this with my partner. She has no idea what to think. She can’t understand the difference. We have a very long conversation that still leaves her confused.

    Labels are a difficult thing. They frustrate my partner because she isn’t sure what each label includes, how one person can use a label and it mean something so different for another. They frustrate me because I am simply too complex. I have so many labels. Queer. Fat. Latina. Teacher. Activist. lg. Derbygirl. Feminist. Fabulous. Femme. How do you order them? Which one is more important? They’re almost like accessories. Everyone knows too many accessories is overkill.

    I have used labels in the past that seems right at the time and then I let go of as I learned of labels that better fit me. In the end I use my labels for me. Not for the binary taught, misogynist, heteronormative society we live in. I choose and change my labels for myself.

  6. For me, labels are simply another way to describe people. It's not always used well, but overall it can be very helpful for identifying others similar to you and to just letting you know you're not the only person who is a certain way. I always feel a sense of relief when I've found a term that explains something new about me in a way others can relate to.

  7. As a self-identified queer femme, I find some labels useful while finding others limiting and oppressive. In general, I think queer is my favorite label. I think that gay, straight, and bisexual all support society's binary gender system, and leave out so many people. When speaking to people that I don't know very well and that are outside of the queer community, I tell them that I'm bi to simplify things a bit. I think that calling myself bi leaves out a lot of the people I'm attracted to (FTMs, genderqueer people, etc), and I'm not quite comfortable with that. So, I've come to embrace queer as a description of my sexuality. I find gender labels to be somewhat more limiting. I have a fairly simple time of it, being cissexual myself, but I know that it's much more complicated for my girlfriend (who is genderqueer).

  8. Ideally, I would have voted for a combination of options 1 and 2, like so: I like labels, but I think they need a lot of work and intention in order to use them well.

    I do think labels require a lot of work, but that doesn't make me skeptical of them. I like them as tools or conversation starters, and find them genuinely useful and interesting.

  9. i love labels. i'm sure you already knew that, but every time the conversation comes up i feel a renewed need to explain myself – and i just came up with an extended metaphor i'm going to subject you to ;)

    it's extrapolated from the idea that people are like books.

    but i am such a book that not even myself or my girlfriend will ever be able to read (much less understand) the whole thing. so it seems a bit unfair to expect mere friends or acquaintances, much less strangers or someone i've just met, to have only that unmarked volume to go by.

    so i have a title. my name may or may not tell you anything about me, but it will at least give you something to refer to me by.

    i have a cover. my cover is pale and curly-haired and short and tends to wear skirts, but sometimes wears cargo shorts. now maybe you'll recognize me if you see me again, and perhaps you can convey which book i am to someone else.

    i have genres. genres like femme, queer, gay, bottom, nerd. of course, a genre like "fantasy" might mean tolkien or dragonlance – not to mention that someone might take you to mean erotica in certain contexts. nonetheless, it gives you a frame.

    but if any of that has made you curious you may begin to open the book. perhaps the cover flap will answer the question "how do you define femme for yourself?" or maybe that's chapter 10. or both.

    i need the shorthand provided by all of these aspects, because it is very important to me to be able to have all of these levels of interaction in my life. i do not think that there is anything negative about superficiality. it would be awful if all of my relationships were superficial, but frankly i think it would be equally negative if they were all completely in-depth.

    lastly, without such shorthand i feel that i am asking people to chose whether to ignore me or read the whole damn book. faced with that stark choice, even people who are close to me now may well have turned away.

  10. I chose the option "I use some labels, but I'm skeptical."

    Labels have caused me a whole lot of unnecessary anxiety. The problem I see with labels is that they're more often used for the purposes of *exclusion* rather than *inclusion*. What I mean is, "lesbian" feels to me like it excludes queer women who aren't "gold stars" (an expression which also seriously bothers me) more than it defines women who love women. "Femme" is a label that keeps out women who don't identify with a particular kind of femininity, "butch" keeps out women who don't identify with a particular kind of masculinity. Maybe it's because I've never really felt any of the labels apply to me, but they've always felt like iron gates to me more than anything else. It's like, oh my god, what do I have to do to be a femme? Do I really belong with that label? Will people judge me for identifying that way? And boy, do they. I think policing of labels and identities is way more common than your perspective on everyone being an expert on their own gender and identity.

    I've embraced "queer" too because it's inclusive; I see queer as being a label for otherwise misfits, people like me who get policed everywhere else.

    So I think labels need a lot of work. But I also respect that they have been liberating for many. And I even, on occasion, use one for myself, and even make up my own, like alphafemme :)

  11. i am interested by your observation that the lesbian community gets criticized for being label-focused, both internally and externally, while there's a dominant discourse *in* the community of rejecting labels. that's been my experience also. a few thoughts about it…

    * are we really label-focused? or is that an illusion created by the fact that we are inventing & using our own language because the "normal" heterosexual terms don't work so well for us? (hipster, preppy, goth, grunge, to go in just one direction) could be a bit of both, of course. but i'm skeptical of the 'lesbians love labels' meme because it strikes me so strongly as a method of silencing a discussion that can't really happen using existing, non-lesbian-subculture terminology.

    * i have my own post to write, i think, about the incredible pressure to conformity that exists under the protestation 'i'm just me! i'm an individual!' not in every case, of course. but in general i think that middle-class white u.s. culture is obsessed both with conformity and with claiming an ideology of individualism that is used to disguise the investment in conformity.

    well i'm just crotchety as all get out today apparently. back to work with this queer stone butch.

    *

  12. Hi, Sinclair.

    I chose the option "I use some labels, but I'm skeptical…"

    I'm new to all of this, having just come out this year to my mother and myself. The more people I meet, and the more I search inside myself, the more I find labels to be both useful and limiting. They've been useful in helping me navigate but also limiting because as I get to know people, I find the labels I put on them at first weren't always correct. This is especially true for myself and on occasion, my girlfriend.

    Off-topic (sorry): as I mentioned, I'm figuring things out as I go along and I wanted to thank you very much for your blog. It's been a great help to me and I enjoy it–the information you present, the links, the stories, and of course reading about your journey. It is much appreciated.

  13. I love labels!! But not because I think everyone should fit into a box but rather because it's a discriptive tool, they are like adjectives or detail. Like in a story, the better a writer paints a story the more I can imagine it, see it in my head. Labels are an expression, they don't define us but rather describe us. I don't feel trapped by my labels at all but rather empowered and free because of the labels I choose for myself, because of the adjectives or details I choose to describe who I am.

  14. Well, a man here, for certain definitions of that term.

    I have to say that I find them to be useful at times. Because unless I specifically come out as ___ I'm perceived as heterosexual and cisgender. I'm definitely not the former, and don't know about the latter.

  15. I find that labels are empowering when I use them myself; they describe the intention behind my gender and sexuality. The problem is that they tend to be misinterpreted: to me, "boy" is a wide category; but most people won't see it that way. That's why I usually add other words to queer it up.

    Some of my favorite labels are completely illegible to most people in my daily life, such as "queer" and "genderqueer" and even "transgender". Their content is so liberating that you need the ability to see beyond the binaries in order to understand them; in that sense, labels are only useful in certain contexts.

    I chose "I use some labels, but I'm skeptical; they need a lot of work and intention in order to use them well", but the other options make sense to me, too. I'd mix them up: "I like labels because they're sometimes useful (and I love them because they're empowering), keeping in mind that people are complex. In the end, I am just me, of course."

  16. I voted "I like labels". Though curiously, I don't like the word "label". Label is a word that tends to be used to do a negative evaluation of a social – or identity – category (as in "butch is just a label.") Or to eschew one's own membership in an identity category (as in, "I may look X, but don't label me X") Or to dismiss the lived reality and 'truth' of others' claimed identity category as being "just a label." We ALL use identity categories, whether we officially like them or not. Usually we like to be ascribed with the same sort of "label" that we ourselves avow (or claim) as part of our social identity – whether that be a binary category set – like straight vs gay, that can encompass the entire population as one or the other, and is 'recognisable' and 'comprehensible' to most; or whether that be the diversity of available 'queer' identity categories that exist in parallel to such clumsy binaries (of course, I would say that!) which, I reckon can be really useful tools for us (and "us" is of course itself a social category) to make sense of ourselves in our diversity, and to intersubjectively produce and recognise – together, and never just on our own – the sorts of "labels" or identity categories that we 'fit' and that make us hum; and thus, to find (recognise; validate; and yes, "label", with permission) the odd-bod collections of 'sorts of folk we fit WITH' – whether lovers, friends, family, community.

  17. I find labels very empowering and liberating. Being a new bisexual, I'm still spending a lot of time trying to find myself. I began thinking about gender more reading your blog, and then also get involved in the femme blogs. Reading all of these gave me so much confidence and freedom. And when I heard the term tomboy femme I about cried, because it made so much sense to me. There IS a word to describe who I am. There ARE other people like me. I know labels can be misused or abused, but for me they've done so many good things. I feel so much better about myself knowing the butch/femme/queer bloggers.

  18. I think this is interesting. As an outsider, I never thought the lesbian community seemed label-obsessed. I like labels myself.

  19. You didn't put in an option for not caring. I don't care whether people use labels or not…particularly about me. The way others see me does not impact at all on the way I behave or think about myself or them.

  20. As someone who has only recently started to make an entrance into the queer community, I struggle with labels– I use them for cursory explanations, but usually never in talking about myself. I suppose that part of my issue with being labeled is the same old "don't pigeon-hole me!" reaction that I have to a lot of things, as well as feeling like there is some meaning that I am supposed to ascribe to, but haven't quite gotten a handle on. (As a former lit student, my impulse is to find a concrete definition with all of it's nuances, but that dictionary has not been written yet– and even if it was, it would be outdated by the time it got published.) I dislike labels in that they make me feel as though I should cater to whatever definition I may feel is expected of me, but it's dawning on me that other people are going to label me as whatever they perceive me to be. I'll forge right on ahead, doing my thing, adapting their labels, and perhaps shaking up what they defined whatever label to mean.

  21. Labels are helpful in beginning to understand people, but we worry too much about them. Labels shouldn't be an end to identity. They should be a beginning. You start getting to know someone by using a few words that we can call labels. Butch, femme, queer, dyke, boi, grrrl, trannie, top, bottom, switch. Do I use male or female pronouns for you? But beyond the first few words everyone is more complex and unique than one or two or three words can explain. I don't have a problem with labels. But I do have a problem with those who sneer at me for using them as shorthand or just playing with and experimenting with them.

  22. I find it is impossible not to label myself. My outward appearance is very feminine and in the area I live, that automatically makes me "straight" unless I say otherwise. I don't mind being called "straight", but it tends to make things a little strange when I prefer to hang out with non-straight people at "gay friendly" bars and clubs.

    For a while I called myself "lesbian" because it allowed me access to the exclusive & judgmental local lesbian community. That didn't really fit me either because I do like men, both cis- and not. Then I realized that I am also attracted to transgendered men and started dating one.

    So now I say I'm "queer" because it requires the least explanation. Unfortunately, I still have friends and family who don't understand that, to me, being queer isn't the same as being gay, but at least I can call myself queer to new people without them (mostly) asking me why I've dated men, women, and transgendered people.

  23. Sinclair, you have a gift in getting people to think about and discuss interesting, open-ended issues. Cool.

    I struggle with labels at times. I blogged about it last year since it was on my mind at the time. I use the term "queer" as an umbrella for a widely disparate community of people.

    As a former botanist I see the labels used by the queer community as akin to a dichotomous key. Not so much in the linear, binary way, but more in a descriptive, informative way. My girlfriend calls herself a soft butch, I identify as a tomboy femme. I like these two terms because they are open to interpretation. Everyone fills in the definition from their own store of knowledge. And their definition surely won't fit us perfectly but will give some frame of reference.

    But I also feel constrained by labels. I call myself tomboy femme but the femme part is very small. "Real" femmes would look askance if they heard me describe myself that way.

    Really insightful comments from your readers!

    Siouxsie_suse: great point about the word "label".

    Leo: not crotchety! accurate!

    Lady Brett: good analogy!

    Em Femme: what does tomboy femme look like to you?

    Great post. Evocative and interesting. Thanks!

  24. I have found labels, like so many other things in life, are a negotiation. Using one you get the benefit of letting people know what you want and how you'd like to be addressed and treated. The cost is you may be excluded from things that aren't specific to your identity.

    Conversely you can refrain from labeling yourself and just give every person you meet a long list of your complex personal characteristics and desires. This may work in online forums, but is cumbersome in a nightclub.

    "YEAH, WHAT?"

    "I identify as queer, but I date men and women and although I am butch I bottom to femme girls, but I top gender males."

    "WHAT?"

    "NICE BOOTS, WANNA FUCK?"

    "OK!"

    I don't think this is isolated to sexual identity in this day and age. These are post-post modern times and every label is getting more fluid. Interactivity blurs the line between art creator and art viewer. The postmodification of science blurs the line between anthropologist, sociologist, psychologist. Are we as bloggers writers, journalists or diarists?

    The longtail theories extend into desire and identity too. We are an online civilization and so all perspectives can have a voice, no matter how complex the breakdown is.

    The important thing to remember is that all of these identities and desires are not new, the only thing new is society's need to label them for proper Search Engine Optimization.

  25. i chose the 3rd option, but after reading more of what people have said here, i wonder if my issue isn't more that there are no labels that fit me that others recognize much. het queer butch female partnered to genderqueer MTF, is close, but still no cigar. pun intended.

  26. My experience of labels is pretty close to yours: claiming the right one has always been an incredible relief, a liberation, an affirmation, and very satisfying. I struggle with some labels some of the time, but overall I find them really useful.

    And I agree with you about the anti-label attitudes in the lesbian community, or really in the queer community — “lesbian” is too limiting for a lot of folks. I don’t have any problem with people who eschew labels or feel this or that label is wrong for them or confining for them, but knee-jerk label-bashing bothers me. Humans categorize things, humans have a need for words to describe our identities, to differentiate ourselves from who and what we are not, to declare who and what we are.

  27. I can see how labels are useful and work for other people. But these days I only use them to describe myself for convinience's sake – although my feelings have changed over time.

    It is a little bit like 'ohh, there's your box then!' The ones that fit best also seem to involve the most explanation, which also seems a little beside the point of labels.

    But also labels are fixed and generally used to describe a constant/permanent state, and I am fairly fluxish…

  28. I generally find labels useful to help me begin to understand new people I come into contact with, but I always bear in mind that people's identities change over time, and that there are no hard and fast definitions for labels. I guess I use them as a general indication of a few things: the individual's vague position on the gender/sexuality spectrum, and also the person's awareness of gender/sexuality issues.

    However, I have grown to despise and resist any mention of labels with straight people. I find that my straight friends and acquaintances often have very narrow and inflexible ideas in their minds regarding labels. So for example, one friend freaked out when I mentioned I was seeing a transguy – "But I thought you were a LESBIAN!?"; or "If you're a femme, why are you wearing jeans?". Very narrow, pretty ignorant, exceedingly tedious. So, whereas I used to try and educate my straight friends about LGBTIQ stuff, including labels, I now pretty muh leave them to figure it out on their own.

    Incidentally, the only term I really dislike is 'queer', simply because to me it is so general as to be meaningless. I know it's really popular in the community at present, but it really tells me nothing at all about the person, because the term covers such wide territory. It's kind of the ultimate anti-label.

  29. alphafemme: "It’s like, oh my god, what do I have to do to be a femme? Do I really belong with that label? Will people judge me for identifying that way? And boy, do they. I think policing of labels and identities is way more common than your perspective on everyone being an expert on their own gender and identity."

    I totally identify with this (though for me it's more "What do I have to do to be butch?") I also am much happier with labels as adjectives: that butch or queer or whatever can be one description among many, and that I can rearrange them or change how I feel about them at will. When the label works as a noun ("a lesbian," "a butch") I feel like I need more commitment to it internally.

    Something similar happens externally, with the policing of labels. There are labels I'm reluctant to take on, even though I have that same sense of recognition that Em the Femme and Sinclair and Daisy have talked about, because I don't want to have the conversation where someone's like, really? you identify with [x]? you're totally not a REAL [x]! And it's true – I'm not. Those are usually labels (like butch, actually) that have this fairly broad spectrum of expression; so because I'm not very intensely butch/whatever, I don't fit people's idea of someone who claims that particular label.

  30. I like labels, but can be skeptical …

    We all use labels, whether we like it or not; that's how our brains determine relativity. How's the weather? Hot. Cool. Sunny. Overcast. This helps us categorize. Can the label change? Sure. Does it mean the weather will be that same way all day long? No. But in that moment, it provides perspective.

    I tell people that I use labels as an adjective, not a noun. The same way I would use tall, Irish or blue-eyed. Those don't define me, but they help you get a sense of who I am.

  31. as someone with scientific training, i think there is too much bias in the way that the questions were worded for these results to be numerically meaningful. the second one was most nuanced and belonged most to the language of the blog. nevertheless, an interesting conversation.

  32. Labels are just another box the 'society' can put us into. They're afraid when they can't classify us. Not being able to classify means not knowing how to react or even how to refer to us. I'm a lesbian and I'm not going to label myself. That just makes me one of 'society' – a very stereotypical narrow-minded society.

    No offense to others.. That's just how it is where I live. Hopefully it's different for you.

  33. although I voted that I hate labels because I am who I am and because who I am changes, I do feel that labels can be fun to play with and it's exciting to be able to use them to twist how others think of us.

  34. jumping over the moo

    ditto zoe. ditto G.

    and people here are using 'labels' to mean 'descriptive words'. some of them are most often used as adjectives, some as nouns…

    the words in a language reflect the truths in that culture (and vice versa). words are important-they give us the ability create ideas, and to pass them on.

    a teacher once told my class that everything was 'alive'. after trying to convince him otherwise using the specific criteria sanctioned by the scientific community and losing, i tried a different approach: 'why have a word that means everything? we already have 'everything'. ' lesson? not everyone has the same meaning for a word, but there has to be some generally accepted idea for the term to be useful (though it can change over time and place).

    if you told me you didn't use labels (for yourself or others) then i'd say you were dumb as a doorpost. seriously. describe yourself. describe your environment. if you think 'butch' or 'femme' or even 'kinky queer butch top' is too limiting then do some research, spend some time, and get creative. labels are not limiting, people are. (i swear to god i don't belong to the nra)

  35. jumping over the moo

    ps: obviously labels can be used to hurt, but only in the same way words can (and not some magic label poison way). i guess that might go along with the second reply-insisting that those that use labels do so intentionally and with a lot of forethought-but i think i can still stand behind a strong 'i love labels!' label. if you use a label while honestly trying to communicate with someone who does not understand a word then try your best to explain it (think of it like teaching qsl-queer as a second language), and if someone uses a label and you don't know what they mean (or just don't understand why your assumed hetero man boss uses 'butch', too) then just ask.

    as an aside: is it contradictory that i take off all the labels on shampoo or lotion or cosmetic bottles because i don't like the way they clutter up my tiny apartment?

  36. I chose third. Don't think it's as big a deal as people make out.

  37. Interesting, provocative topic.

    I guess my approach to labels is two-fold…one is internal, the other external.

    Internal: How I name myself helps me in my evolving process of self-discovery. It is a path to learning more about myself, and therefore, about my relationship to the world. Labels can be nouns or adjectives or verbs or adverbs. Words themselves can be mutable (just like we are as people and as a culture) both in their definitions and in their usage. This is part of what I love about them as a poet, they can both be rigid and fluid (depending on your world view, length of time, and willingness to break rules of usage). They are a metaphor for living, and for this reason, I love them and celebrate them. I also allow lots of flux when using them for, with, and about myself. I seek to be loving and compassionate and fun in how I define myself. I am quite enjoying playing with defining myself as “butch”, not because I am butch but because I engage in “butch” actions (mowing an acre of lawn dressed in capris & matching crocs) and there is something fun (I love to tease M) and empowering and fucking with the term when doing so.

    External: I am defined by the world in many ways, and I am often treated in ways by others based on their reactions to their own definitions. The world sometimes defines me in cruel ways, in ways meant to demean and harm me or limit my opportunities. The world sometimes uses words to do this to others it believes are not me – I am most often assumed to be straight. So it is with pride that I call myself a lesbian, because it is important to me that others reframe me in this light, and perhaps rethink their stereotypes about what that word means. I am also a feminist, and femme, and kinky. I am unwilling to give up the feminist label both because I believe in much of the critique and because I want feminists to rethink what the word feminist means. I do agree that the more people use the term in an expanded form, the more the word expands and changes, and so perhaps, thought follows. I believe that to pretend that words have no meaning or no impact on your life ignores the concept of oppression and the powerful role words play in it.

    Words, labels, can be powerful tools, both of oppression and of empowerment. They can box us or lead us to new discoveries. We can use them to find ourselves and to change the world. And we will use them both with skill and with carelessness, with love and with spite, on ourselves and on others. It’s the wonder of it all.

Trackbacks

  1. Quick poll about labels for queer people « Culturally Progressive
  2. Porn For Women, By Women » Blog Archive » Link Love

Leave a Reply