I admit it: I like labels.
I do. It’s become a taboo thing to say, I know, but labels make the world make sense to me.
Ever more increasingly I hear people saying that they “don’t like to put a label on it”, that things don’t need to be classified, because it’s unnecessary and prejudicial. People no longer like to define relationships, nationalities, neurodiversities, disabilities, even genders; that these are all social constructs and should be eliminated from our vocabulary. That we all need to change our way of thinking to move past these antiquated belief systems of putting people into these little black and white boxes.
Yes, we do need to change our way of thinking, but not in a way that makes us blind or ignorant.
We just need to add more words to our vocabulary. We need to expand our way of thinking. Start accepting all of the different cultures and races, the sexualities and genders, the different types of relationships, whether platonic or romantic. Stop telling people that their burger isn’t a burger because it doesn’t use ground beef, that their cheese isn’t cheese because it’s non-dairy, that their gender doesn’t count because it doesn’t fall into the category of ‘man’ or ‘woman’, or that their version of sex isn’t actually sex because it’s not between a man and a woman. We need to add more categories. Ask people what their pronouns are and actually be open to the answer. (For an extensive list of genders and pronouns, click this link.) It’s up to each individual on how they want to identify.
Plus, refusing to name all of these things that make us who we are is silencing people and their stories. It’s as bad as claiming to be ‘colorblind’. We need to stop being so afraid of things that make us uncomfortable and instead work to understand them. Labels are a great way to do that. For me, certain concepts with which I’m unfamiliar make more sense. Even non-label labels such as ‘gender non-binary’ makes a little lightbulb turn on in my brain and gives me an insight into how a person lives their life.
I once got into a debate with a girl at work.
She had a second job at a site that worked with LGBTQ+ members, educating them about STDs, forms of birth control, and providing them with resources to practice safe sex. She said that working with this community made her realize that gender is contrived, that it doesn’t actually exist. It is an idea that society made up. And, she’s not entirely wrong. Doctors assign genders to people at birth based on their sexual organs.
However, just because something is contrived doesn’t mean that it’s inherently bad.
There are many people who base a lot of their identity in their gender. There are people who go to seemingly impossible lengths to live inside a body that reflects what they feel on the inside. And, to take that away from them is a very damaging and invalidating thing.
Using labels gives a name to peoples’ experiences so that they are able to identify themselves and talk about it to others. Labels gives them validation, a connection to others, and answers about what they are dealing with. It allows them to see that they are not alone, that other people are going through the same thing. It brings unity among different communities and, in the right context, destigmatizes and aerates experiences that are viewed as taboo.
Plus, assigning labels doesn’t just mean that you can be only one thing.
Labels shouldn’t be confining. They should be opening up different possibilities of what you could be. Just because you’re a theatre kid doesn’t mean you can’t also be a football player. Humans are more dynamic than what we see at face value.
When I’m able to put a label on something that’s going on with me or anyone else, it makes things more understandable for me. I’m able to sort of untangle the many threads that go into the complicated elements that make a person human and see the world in a more organized way.
I guess the moral here is that words are what you make them.
If you decide to look at something in a negative way, then that’s what that word will start to mean to you. But, they don’t need to be that way. The human brain is wired to make sense of things using compartmentalization, sort of like a puzzle – and that’s not a bad thing. So, let’s stop thinking of ‘labels’ like they are what is wrong with humanity and instead look at intent.
And, seriously, we all need to start using intent for good these days.
There’s no need to be criticizing everyone at every turn. After all, the label that everyone should strive to be under is the one called “respectful”.
My name is Andrea and I live in Los Angeles, California. By day, I am an actor and by night I am working towards a degree in nutritional science.