Question of the Week: November 13th, 2012

This is the Question of the Week, a way to stimulate conversation.  It occurs every other Tuesday.

Some people like to criticize the use of “labels,” or self-identifiers. What do you think? Do we have too many labels? Do we need more labels? Is there ever a point at which we have too many?

About Aydan

Aydan is an aromantic asexual biology grad student in the US. She blogs at Confessions of an Ist about asexuality, Christianity, environmentalism, and feminism.
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11 Responses to Question of the Week: November 13th, 2012

  1. ALL THE LABELS!!!! is what I think.

    I sometimes worry that, because I’m labelless and flaunting it, and occasionally say flippant things like ‘I don’t hate labels! I LOVE labels! Sometimes, I can have 10 before breakfast!’, someone will use me as an example of someone who doesn’t need labels, like ‘he can be confident in his sexuality without labelling it. Why’re you so ‘special’?’

    Which makes me feel guilty because I would be *so screwed up* without labels. Because labels have helped me so much in figuring out who I am, even if I don’t have any consistent ones right now. Because, ultimately, ‘labels’ are just ‘words’, and we need words to talk about things, and we need specialist words to talk about specialist things, and destroying words is censorship and destroying specialist queer words is saying ‘we don’t need to talk about this, this isn’t worth talking about, stop talking about this’ and, you, know, fuck that.

    All. The. Labels.

    • Seth says:

      ^^ THIS ^^

      Labels really are necessary in discussions of identity. More than that, they’re tools used to understand identity – particularly one’s own. I may be a little hesitant about some of the labels I use, but I understand myself much better for being familiar with them. Without them, I doubt I would ever have been able to reject the null hypothesis that I’m straight and cis.

  2. ace-muslim says:

    Having the label “asexuality” to describe myself means to me that it is not just something about me (as I assumed for a long time) and that there are others who are like me. I’ve also found that various new words and concepts like romantic orientation, queerplatonic relationship, and squish help me to understand myself better and think about myself and my options in a new way. Long live labels!

  3. sable says:

    Labelling things is the basis of language. There are genuine objections to the way we use those labels (eg. ), which may the reason why some people issue blanket condemnations of “labels”. However, a lot of the objections I’ve seen to labels seem to be about insecurity – that the objector can’t find a label that fits them, that the objector believes they have a right to not be troubled by unfamiliar words / concepts / ways of thinking or that the objector labels those who use unusual descriptors as desperate for attention.

  4. Siggy says:

    I’m very pragmatic about labels. Labels can be very useful, allowing for group identification, and better ways to communicate. I don’t personally go for labels when they’re just neat and novel.

  5. Sciatrix says:

    I tend to favor Siggy’s approach in that the primary way I think about labels is as a communication tool. In keeping with that, I often tailor the labels I use to fit my audience, depending on how familiar with asexual communities the person I’m speaking to is. (I always identify myself as asexual, but I may or may not use other sub-labels depending on the context of conversation.)

    A negative point on labels: sometimes, if your audience has never encountered them before, labels can get in the way of communication. For example, when I was doing LGBTQA panels we would habitually introduce ourselves to the students alongside our identities (asexual, gay, transgender, etc.) in order to give them an idea of where we fit under the alphabet soup. I knew a person who would include a long string of complex romantic, aesthetic, and sexual identifiers in their introductory spiel, which usually had the effect of seriously confusing the students and wasting time that could have been otherwise spent discussing questions about the lived experience of the panelists. In that case, the use of complex labels was counterproductive to communication because confused the audience enough to shut down discussion.

    I’ve been thinking of labels lately in the same way I think of scientific terminology/jargon–highly specialized labels are very useful shorthand for specialized conversations or to help clarify mental concepts, but too much jargon can really hurt clarity if you’re always having to stop and define terms.

  6. opel says:

    You could come up with a label that uniquely fits your identity, eg agender-panaromatic-non-libido-quaker, cisgender-hypo-homo-kinsey-5-sexual-flurry, ftm-auto-sadist-sexual, or ’round-down’ to the nearest one, or bin it altogether.

    When it comes to label, I think less is more. Our sexuality is too complex to put into words

  7. Queenie says:

    I agree with basically everything Sciatrix said, and I think I break labels into two groups.

    One is “labels I use for myself.” This group is more about me figuring out where I fit. Sometimes it can be really great to have a label; for example, I find the idea of demiromanticism really helpful, because before I knew demiromanticism was A Thing I just figured I was “bad at crushes.” I think that a lot of the time having a label can help you feel secure in your own identity, because you know it’s not just you who has this experience. (Sometimes I even find it helpful finding labels that don’t fit me, because it gives me a different perspective.)

    The other group is “labels I use to describe myself to other people.” Like Sciatrix said, a lot of people don’t recognize a lot of the labels that are used in the asexual community (or other GSRM communities), so if you inundate them with a string of words they don’t recognize, they’ll get really overwhelmed. If I’m teaching people about asexuality, I’ll start with the most basic level: I am asexual. I’ll tend to introduce concepts before I introduce labels; for example, last night my roommate and I were having a really awesome conversation about sexuality, and I introduced her to the idea of a romantic orientation and ran her through a bunch of possible different permutations BEFORE saying that I identify as biromantic. I think if you introduce the label first, sometimes people can get hung up on the word itself rather than the idea behind the word.

    • ^^^This. Except I have a three-tier approach:
      -Labels I use to figure out myself and embrace my identities, that don’t really leave my own head, ie. polyaromous
      -Labels I use to make things easier in specific communities/conversations that I wouldn’t necessarily elsewhere, ie. allosexual
      -Labels that are designed for the purpose of making sure people categorise me vaguely right, ie. queer

      And it’s why I don’t mind ridiculously complicated labels. Because almost everyone I know who has them does this kind of tiering in some way.

    • Sciatrix says:

      I completely agree with your last point about introducing concepts before labels. It’s much too easy to get hung up on someone’s preconceptions of what a word might mean in other contexts or the strangeness of a new word if you introduce the label before the concept, and then they’re not paying attention when you explain the concept.

      I like the point about using labels to personally clarify concepts to yourself, because I think that’s one of the things labels do really well: they help you create new frameworks to clarify what you actually want. Personally, I’m currently rejecting some frameworks as not useful for me (mostly romantic orientation), but that doesn’t mean that evaluating what I wanted in the context of those frameworks was a useless exercise. So even though that category of labels doesn’t work for me, I still think it’s a valuable category to have around when I’m thinking about sexuality.

    • “I think if you introduce the label first, sometimes people can get hung up on the word itself rather than the idea behind the word.”
      I agree.

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