Humans seem to have the innate desire to label everything; labels give us a sense of order and regularity, they’re a minute sense of security that can help to ground us before we get caught up in the chaos of our modern lifestyles. Labelling something can be seen as an attempt to assert control over a situation and it can help us to manage unfamiliar circumstances.
What compels us to label ourselves? Is it easier? Does it give a sense of belonging? Does it offer assurance that we fit into a category? Socially constructed labels have limited us to predetermined boundaries inside which our identities must lie.
Labels can be suffocating. They’re offensive, inauthentic and even restricting. If society labels me as a “poor student” is this all that defines me as a person? Can I amount to anything more? It’s almost dehumanising.
When people hear that I’m a student they tend to make certain assumptions about who I am; they use generic stereotypes to establish my character and put together a loosely fabricated, extremely prejudiced, identity for me. Using labels ignores the deeper reflections and complexities of who we really are.
The LGBTQ+ vocabulary is confusing for anyone, including those who are a part of the community, and can be enough to turn anyone’s brain to alphabet soup. Over 50 genders and around 29 different sexualities have been defined for people to identify with. With such a range, surely there should be something underneath the LGBTQ+ umbrella that I can use to help define my character?
I have confused and over-complicated my own sexuality for years. I’ve labelled myself as straight, gay, lesbian, pansexual, bisexual… and even asexual when I lost all hope for a brief period. Sexuality is an exceedingly baffling concept; no matter how many labels there are it sometimes seems that I defy them all. No, I don’t think of myself as anything special, I just don’t feel like I fit neatly within the already established sexual binaries.
I will fully admit that I often masquerade my fear as confusion; the anxiety that comes with having to put a label on myself is just too overwhelming. I worry over pre-determined ideologies about sexualities and how this will affect how society sees me. If I identify with a lesser-known sexuality does this make me less of a person?
Some say that experimentation is the only way to truly find your sexual orientation. Sexuality is a spectrum, after all, and it’s not uncommon for people to feel curious about being attracted to other genders. What scares me is the societal stigma that experimentation has garnered. Whilst I agree that I haven’t sought clarity, it does not mean that I am promiscuous/an attention seeker/just covering up the fact that I’m a lesbian.
My sexuality isn’t stable but I feel myself constantly chasing it, wanting to be able to question and define it, in the hope that everything will be better once I am able to categorize it. Although, do I really need a label to validate my feelings?
For now, I prefer to identify as queer. A label condemned by many, and often considered a slur, queer defies stable identification as it has so many different facets. Although it may produce just as many questions as it answers, I like to think that being queer gives me an acceptable space to freely explore my sexuality.
But if I cannot define my sexuality, then what does gender mean to me? What is sex? Intimacy? Maybe the answers to these questions will change on a person-to-person basis, or maybe year on year. Maybe I will never know.