There is a movement that has been circulating for some time that speaks to moving away from labels. It says that the need for differentiation by them is an outdated concept and we should be moving to a one community mindset. That acceptance can only come if we do not focus on the differences of ourselves and instead strive to be only a human condition. Many of these people feel that we should not be defined by things like sexual orientation or identity. I ask you, though, is that truly the case?
I recently was watching a Ted Talk that sparked some old feelings in me. When I first came out and met Shawn, I quickly was awakened to how LGBT people were treated. It angered me, some because I knew my own family would have issues with who I was. It took me some time to come to terms with it and at that point I decided I could no longer hide who I was and wanted to be the person who instilled the same kind of thoughts and feelings in others.
The Ted Talk is by Fahad Saeed and he speaks on why keeping labels are important. To get to the point of understanding, I will ask you the same question he asks the audience. Pick three identity factors that society puts on you and remember them. For me those would be I am a cisgender, southern man, and I am gay. These are important because they describe parts of who I am and have shaped me into what I am. They are essential, but they are not the only defining characteristics. These labels do not prohibit my growth, they only speak to what ingredients are in the whole of who I am. They also give others insight into the complexity of who I am.
It seems like a great idea to think of us as one big community or people. It leads us to believe that if we are as one, things like racism and classism can be eliminated. It gives us a feeling that we can work to greater strides if we do it a one unit. This one group mind leaves us thinking that being gay or transgender are not limiting factors or a means of segregation. Is this a truth? Is being different from everyone else bad?
As LGBTQ people, we have wanted equality and the rights to live our lives the way that the majority live. So, it would seem that if we were to rally under the heading of humankind that this would eliminate those issues. Whereas using our classifications only works to separate us further apart. As Saeed talks about, it is those differences that make us unique. Where if we strive to be. “Merely human beings would erase a myriad of factors that, all together, make up a full human identity. Merely human being is a category that is often reserved for the majority. One that would entail, whiteness, capability, and heteronormativity.”
So, let us go back to the three identity factors I asked you to think about. Saeed further asked the audience to take those factors and eliminate two of them. He says it to have us rank those things in empirical categories and take away two that we can be okay with. The point is to show that to become part of a collective, you must strip away your identity to become like everyone else. My argument is that those differences are what make us who we are and are just as important to us. You do not have to be driven by the labels but understanding that they are integral to you is a necessity.
Remember that you are a sum of all your parts and each one is vital to who you have become. There is no shame in using those labels to explain who you are, just do not fall into the tramp of letting them be your limit. Also, to strive to be like everyone else is as limiting as only living by your labels. Use those labels to challenge the norms that are set to define us. Make it your experience with your own labels. Use them as your power to create your own story and continue to challenge the Human Condition. Remember that each of us, straight, gay, transgender, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, or whatever label it is you chose, can be freed by those labels as much as limited by them.