I’ve been thinking about labels a lot lately. This is not something that I’ve done a lot of in the past. I think the majority of people don’t think about labels all that much. I find the whole label thing troublesome and constricting. Either or, never both, black and white. Too narrow. I carried the label lesbian around for a long time, along with its sub-labels, dyke and butch. I never liked it. It felt foreign to me and separated me from other people who didn’t own a label like that. Straight, cis-gender folks don’t need labels. They’re simply women and men, husbands and wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, accountants, plumbers, nurses, teachers, widget makers and fire fighters. They don’t need to qualify their sexuality along with those titles, as in, I’m a cis-gender heterosexual female civics teacher who’s brother is a cis-gender male heterosexual proctologist. Honestly, who does that? No one. But we feel a need to label ourselves. Transgender butch pansexual ballerina. Who cares? Really? Unless you want to date the person, does it really matter? Labels are tedious.
I realize that I’m speaking blasphemy here. We’re all into our labels. They make us unique and define who we are. But have you ever noticed how much angst people put into finding just the right label to describe themselves? I have. And I’ve been doing it too. I’ve been preparing for the day when someone asks me what I am. Maybe it’ll be a little child in a restaurant innocently asking me if I’m a boy or a girl. Maybe it will be a frightened woman in the restroom questioning me on whether I deserve to share the same toilet space as her. Perhaps it will be a store clerk not sure if she should call me sir or ma’am. And what will I say to them? I don’t know. What am I? I feel like a hybrid man/woman/butch/transman. Where do I belong? Everywhere. And nowhere.
Labels help us feel connected in community. The lesbian community. The trans community. The LGBTQ community. The African American community. The Muslim community. The deaf community. You get the idea. We keep separating ourselves and sequestering off into our little quadrants of the planet by label. White, straight people don’t do that. They don’t have to. They have privilege and lawful rights that the rest of us are still fighting for. Yet, by labeling ourselves, we separate ourselves from just being fellow human beings sharing a planet. Are we really all that different? I don’t think so.
If I refuse to label myself as a trans man does that make me not a trans man? No. If a deaf man refuses to label himself a deaf man, he’s still deaf. But, what it does do is not set him apart from everyone else as “other”. People often lead conversations with their labels. Hi, I’m Shawn. I’m a trans man. Actually, I’m a transmasculine butch with a lesbian history. I’m also Gold Star and proud of it! Here’s my rainbow business card. Go to my website and it will explain everything. No, how about simply saying Hi, my name is Shawn. It’s nice to meet you.
Then there’s pronouns and honorifics. Sir/Ma’am, he/she/they/zir/etc. At some point I’m going to have to pick pronouns. And an identity. I don’t want to. I just want to be Shawn and have that be enough. My neighbors don’t have to pick a label. I don’t want to either. Right now, I’m sure we’re known as the lesbian couple down the street. Why? Because we’re perceived as different. We’re not different. We pay our bills, go to work, mow our lawns, have fights, go to the grocery, go on vacations, cook meals, play with our pets, care about our families, worry about our country, and everything else just like our neighbors do. We’re not different. The only difference is that we’re technically the same sex and they are the opposite. So what? Get over it. I don’t want to be the lesbian couple next door. I don’t want to be someone’s token lesbian friend. Or trans friend either. I’m really tired of all this othering that’s going on constantly.
The bathroom bills that are plaguing the country right now get me thinking about this even more. If we were not seen as so different than the general population (i.e. white, cis-gender, straight people) where would all that fear come from? People fear what they don’t understand, so we’re told. They also fear what they’ve been taught to fear. Fear breeds hate. But, when it all comes down to it, we’re all just human animals that need to pee and aren’t trying to cause any trouble. Our differences are being used to demonize us and make us seem like some thing vs. some one. We’re people. Bottom line. We’re all just people. And people need to pee.