What Did You Call Me?

As a Sociologist and a Professional User of Language, one of the things I’ve always found a tad ironic about the LGBTQ+ community is that, for a group that expresses a wish to reject or defy the labels applied by wider society, we sure do like to invent labels for ourselves and those in our group. I suppose it’s a part of our brains’ natural preference for categorization.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, exactly, check out this artfully and beautifully done rendition of the LGBTQAlphabet:

Naming things reifies them… gives them mental representation, allowing them to exist in our minds. Author Toni Morrison said, “Definitions belong to the definer, not the defined.” Maybe in creating labels for ourselves, we in the LGBTQ+ community are taking the opportunity to be both the definer and the defined.

Perhaps it goes deeper than that. Perhaps, for all of the pushing back against society at large, we haven’t ever paused to try to figure out a way to do it any differently, really. Yes, I’m saying it, queers of every stripe: we need to do better. Because as useful as labels can be for us to identify ourselves and to identify others, just like the rest of society, we all too often use those labels to tell us with whom we are allowed to associate, or to whom we are allowed to be attracted. That’s not ok.

emily steel in stickers by jamie nelson
Emily Steel, shot by Jamie Nelson

It’s not ok, because, who loses? People of color. The femme of us in the crowd. Those of us who are carrying a little more weight than the rest, or those of us who are always a little thinner than everyone else. The trans among us. In a group formed out of a reactionary desire to not be marginalized, we marginalize our own members,      
every day.

If you belong to the LGBTQ+ community, you know this is true. Even if you don’t belong to the LGBTQ+ community, but you do identify as the member of another minority group, you also know this is true.

rainbow label

I hope that I live long enough to see the day when we can just be. I don’t have any answers, no magic potions or spells, to combat this very human tendency of labeling ourselves and others. Until then, if you’re not sure how someone identifies, offer your identity and ask theirs.

Did you learn something new from the LGBTQAlphabet, or this post? Please share below.

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