I want to breach a question with all of you.
I was riding backseat on a road trip recently, resting my eyes and combating moderate carsickness, when I overheard two friends carrying on a discussion up front. The driver is a life coach and often helps clients who box themselves in constraining labels like “stupid” and “failure,” or broad labels/neutral assertions such as “aggressive,” “shy,” “academic,” “artistic,” “bad at math,” etc. The passenger is our mutual friend. Both are cis and–to my understanding–straight. These are contextual.
The driver was saying that she didn’t understand “gay” individuals (this was one example of many) that “bring up their gayness” at all intervals, or otherwise “make everything” about their gayness. She went on to say, “Don’t they know they’re complex people and so much more than just their gay identity? It’s great that they embrace being gay, but I have such issue with people limiting themselves with labels.” I’m paraphrasing.
I understand the misunderstanding she made and the leap she attempted to make–more on that in a second.
The passenger agreed. He went on to draw a comparison between gay people (in his example) working their identity into topics of conversation and other aspects of their life, to individuals who incessantly bring up a topic of interest, any interest, at any opportunity. He finished his opinion by expressing that he was aggravated by people who seemed to purely embody “only stereotypes” of one label or another.
Now, I was warding off a migraine at the time and couldn’t chime in vocally, but I had a lot of internal responses to their topic.
First, in my view, they were confusing restrictive labels (a very specific subset of label) with liberating identities. Speaking purely from the asexual perspective, I know that finding the term “asexual,” both as a definable term and a complex way of being, rescued me from feeling othered by society and otherwise deemed by my own outlook as “wrong” or “weird.” The term doesn’t lock me into a state of being, as asexuality–and gayness and other forms of queer identity, for that matter–is a spectrum. Then, if individuals still find me weird? That’s their problem. I’m more myself on the other side of my self-discovery.
Second, I don’t think they realize that, for most queer individuals, being queer and having this identity does permeate every part of their lives. Literally. For example, I’m “straight passing,” but this doesn’t mean I get a “free pass” from being reminded of my queerness or asexuality. If I held hands with my former partner at the grocery store, I would still get double-takes from passerby because, say, she doesn’t “look” queer! As well, I’m that much more unprepared for the random assertions that I am sexually active when asked which guy (I’m only asked about guys) I find hot, as I mention early on here. I don’t ask for my identity to come up in conversation with peers or strangers in these instances, but boom, there it is–as much a part of me as my limbs and no less difficult to ignore.
Here is my question: What is your take on identities versus labels, and do you feel that labels such as these are restrictive or liberating? I don’t think labels/identities must be mandatory, but I don’t believe they should be admonished, either. I would love to know your feelings about this interaction and your thoughts on the choice to call yourself “asexual,” or “queer”…or not.