The Dangers of Label Stealing

This is a very quick post about the dangers of label stealing, because I’ve written a fair bit about how great/uncomfortable it is but not very much about why it’s uncomfortable and why sometimes you’ve gotta hold it back to just yourself and your own internal life.

1.Diluting the Label

Labels are precious. They mark out often the rare spaces and people who do not belong to the status quo, they give them legitimacy and they protect them from standardised judgements. They mean you can expect certain things, and the most famous example of dilution of the label and a harmful effect is part of rape culture (as is everything really). It’s as follows:

Lesbians are not, by definition, into men. So in theory, telling a man that you are a lesbian should tell him one of two things; first, that you are legitimately not into men ever and therefore are not into him so he should stop, or second, that you are legitimately not into him and are therefore lying about being into men ever in order to get him to stop, in which case, he should stop.

Unfortunately, that went backwards. Instead of making more men stop, it just means more men stop even seeing lesbianism as a legitimate thing, not helped by endless bisexual erasure and fetishistic porn selections.

*End of example*

So don’t borrow labels when they don’t fit, because they ruin it for the people they genuinely do fit.

2. Invading the Label
So now you’ve got everyone’s favourite label problem; the interloper. You’re a faker, a trick, someone dressed as something they’re not. Now this can be a biased or even bigoted fake fear, most notoriously the fear of trans women for not being women, a topic for another day. But it can also be a genuine thing. Who doesn’t remember Rachel Dolezal, infamous black lady impersonator?

rachel-dolezal

You don’t wanna do that. No, you’re not diluting the label, it still means the same thing for everyone else, only you’re on the wrong side of it. In Rachel’s case, it meant having a heritage of white-ness (though she’s adopted), an upbringing free of racism, but the treatment by her adult peers as someone without any of these things. It’s all of the “perks” of belonging to the club, but without any of the membership fees. Relating to me and my feelings of fringe-belonging personally, it’s using the word stimming but being bought up with expectations of sucess suitable to a neurotypical, for example.

3. Ruining the Label

This goes far beyond borrowing it, or slumming in it, this is completely wreaking havoc on the label. This is a dodgy area for a lot of labels we don’t want to get into just yet, often no one can decide how to do it or whether it’s a good thing or not; do we want to destroy the meaning of race and gender already, or do we still need those things in order to look after ourselves; define ourselves in the face of prejudiced society; and ultimately break down these prejudices whilst still maintaining a use for them as constructs and concepts? This can be in the form of slumming in labels and borrowing labels, but it’s a bigger onslaught, it’s what happens when everyone is doing it.

(I was going to stop at 3 but then I ironically remembered the last hazard around labels)
4. Erasing the Label
Not using the label, like bisexuality, means it starts to sound weird and clunky. It coincides with the dilution of other labels, like gay, and it leaves people left largely underdefined. This happens when there’s not enough knowledge around the label, or there’s a lot of stigma around, so essentially an entire community of an identity becomes closeted by language. There’s no way to express it in language, thus the identity doesn’t exist. This could theoretically also happen in a positive way, like the use of the word bastard falling into misuse because there is no need to describe a difference, however people worry about using the wrong labels mainly when there’s still a need for said labels in some form, normally in the form of bigotry.

Thank you for reading, and that concludes my short three part series about labels. Thank you, and please subscribe if you liked what you read! 😀

 

 

 

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Take the Red Pill: The Truth Behind the Biology of Sex

Fantastic guide to the construct of “biological sex”.

Disrupting Dinner Parties

Morpheus offers the pills in the MatrixThis is the first part of a series about the complex biological realities of sex. Though the posts build on one another, each can be understood alone.

Content note: this post contains images and language that may not be safe for work.

1. Introduction

I first learned about the social construction of sex from a lovely trans woman named Kiki.

She said, “You may have heard before that gender is socially constructed, while sex is biological. But I’m here to tell you that what you’ve heard isn’t true. Sex is socially constructed too. So are you ready for the truth? Are you going to take the red pill or the blue pill?”

Three years later, I was diagnosed by my gynecologist with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which means that my body produces hormones intermediate between “typical men” and “typical women.” What I learned from Kiki gave me context in which to understand…

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Facebook Bogs And Uncomfortable Conversations: The “End Goal” Paradox

The end goal of these disgusting conversations, filled with anxiety sweat and wasted adeneline and furious typing and screenshots and links and speedy-reedits, is normally something really worthy and important to everyone involved.

Normally everyone just wants everyone to get along, normally about something like demographic differences. However, even in this very conversation, we’ll then fail to get along, and that’s when we’re all meant to be conciously thinking about it! Instead we battle about our sides, exhaust ourselves, exhaust everyone involved, and all go away feel unsatisfied, misheard and misrepresented.

The solution, as I wrote before, is to fight for a better goal, without egos and with a tangible end goal. Act like you what you want has already been achieved, like the radical new idea that you’re posting is already accepted and you’re helpfully sharing the word. Because you have accepted it for a reason, and it’s proven itself to you, so why wouldn’t it prove itself to others?

Ideally, with everyone being aware of their own humanity and weakenesses, we’d have far shorter conversations. No fights to the discourse-related death, no petty-back-and-forths and blockings and private messages and frantic damage control apologies before slamming the laptop screen shut, sitting back in a now-darkened room and wondering what your life has become.

It’s important to note that not everyone can take part in these conversations. Some people don’t know anyone who vocally has a different opinion to them. Some people don’t have time. In fact, most people don’t have time. Some people don’t think it will really make a difference, and there’s some people who think it will make the world of difference. I fall somewhere on the second half. I don’t think I’ll convince anyone in a single conversation, but I know that I’m not the only person who believes in my brand of solution. I know that there are other crazy feminists out there who will repeat my philosophy, who understand it, and over time, when you see enough of them, you have the chance to understand it yourself. Same way we all did.

So be patient. Give people time. Don’t take the responsibility to change the world all at once on your shoulders. Allow yourself to be part of a larger scheme of things, or else you’re going to burn out your keyboard and all your energy.

This doesn’t mean it’s not okay to be impatient sometimes, you’re only human. But sometimes, you can choose to be different to human. You can choose to be a wheel of change, to provide another opinion, another way. Human’s are very social creatures, we learn from the people around us what is acceptable. If everyone who says they think something is unacceptable states this, and doesn’t try to defend it or argue about it but solidly states it as an unconditional fact of their viewpoint, that’s far stronger than one person taking on a crusade against people who think it’s a fight. It’s not a fight. We don’t need or want to “beat” any one, because that’s not helpful. All that does is force racism and sexism to be more hidden and stealthy. We want people to be convinced. And that’s not something you can force or rush. You can only encourage, and the strongest form of endorsement you’ve got is your own steadfast belief.

That probably doesn’t sound very strong. That’s right, it’s not. But it’s the strongest thing you’ve got, and once you realise this, you’ll find everything a lot easier to handle. It doesn’t convince anyone overnight. All it does is provide another way; the rest is up to people to choose for themselves. All you can do is trust that they are rational, just like you are.

And if they are not convinced?

Then you don’t need everyone. You only need enough people. And if you don’t even get enough people, then perhaps it’s not that great an option you’re offering. That’s something everyone has to decide for themselves, whether their hill is worth dying on or if it’s better to join someone else’s idea.

My Life As A Potential Label Stealer (Autism)

So I’ve written previously about how I use labels that I don’t necessarily feel fit me because I find them helpful nonetheless. I didn’t get round to talking about autism and me.

My most controversial self-label flirtation is the one with autism*. It’s the one I’ve had the most pushback on, in the form of potentially rather ignorant statements like “everyone is a little bit on the spectrum” and a GP simply shaking her head at the suggestion, despite my 3 siblings being definitively on the spectrum since young ages. Now, I’m not claiming to be the epitomy of autism. Not at all. I’m clearly a very social person, with at least a temporary ability to communicate well and use body language, and I can see this, I’m not surprised when people see this and reject “autism” as a label for me.

But it is so useful for me. It fits so well into the words and the concepts that I need to describe my life and experiences and behaviours. Stimming fits with my pretty-much constant need to be fidgeting, mainly typical behaviours like picking at my hair or nail polish, but even writing it feels like a half-assed excuse and justification. Listing that I flap when I’m excited sounds like I’ve copied it out of a symptoms list, and only remembering that another close friend pointed out that I’m very “flappy” when I’m really happy about something makes me realise that this is actually accurate.

I don’t really need other people to find my labels valid, that is my point as a potential label stealer. I can get use out of the label and the language without needing other people to get it or to understand it, it’s a deeply personal thing. I find it useful to describe my obsessions to myself as “special interests” and to allow myself my physical quirks like clicking my fingers repeatedly or clicking my tongue on the roof of my mouth; I find largely that it helps with my sense of shame for those behaviours, to give them a name and a reason and a legitimate purpose as a neurodivergent person. (And I do believe I’m neurodivergent, as far as anyone who can pass as neurotypical can be, in fact, I often question whether everyone who’s supposedly “neurotypical” is like me, only hides it better, and then I realise how ridiculous that would be.)

Giving myself a label allows me to legitimately occupy a space I’m already living in; it makes my quirky weirdness and constant struggle to fit in a fact of my life, instead of aseries of challenges that I’m failing at simply because I’m inadequate. It makes my awkward responses to schoolmates/bullies logical, my gravitation to autistic peers more inevitable, my incessant fidgeting and fight to stop it more sympathetic (I don’t stop myself from clicking my mouth anymore, like I did when I was very little and in infant school, and can remember myself doing).  It means I can be kinder to myself and believe that I am in fact, doing alright as I am. I can give myself permission to be me with all my “flaws” because they’ve in fact got a name, and they are a valid form of existance.

*Actually, my more recent aquisition of the label dyspraxia is more controversial, having had a direct rejection from someone who has been tested for dyspraxia, because “her mother apparently also felt she had it once hearing that her daughter did, but her mother is just a very over-exuberant person and thus does not have it”. Yes, that story doesn’t make sense, because it’s possible to be over-exuberant and also dyspraxic, but nonetheless, it’s the seed of doubt that means I’m going to continue blaming myself for having my movement volume too loud instead of getting myself tested, at least for another few months. But this label is newer, so I’ve had less feedback. And with this kind of feedback, that trend isn’t likely to change.

Facebook Bogs And Uncomfortable Conversations

People are simple social creatures. We like to communicate with eachother, and we’re not very good at understanding nuance; we often have to simplify stuff just to fit it all into our heads. However, this does mean that we’re pretty inaccurate a lot of the time, as anyone who’s spent any time in Social justice circles will know all too well.

Different factions of the internet believe enormous simplifications about each other, like we’re all disgusting caricatures who exist purely to antagonise each other, in a horrifying ugly yet elegant relationship of mutually assured destruction, many people wasting days of their lives (literally, if you add it up, you’d be surprised how many hours those trash conversations on facebook stole from you) both contesting these caricatures and simultaneously re-inforcing them.

  • “Feminists aren’t angry! but actually I am angry about this issue for a legitimate reason though”
  • “4chan users aren’t obnoxious! but actually I do find this offensive thing funny though but”
  • “Fat people aren’t lazy! but actually people should be allowed to be lazy though”

These examples are far from perfect, but you get the idea.

The problem comes from the combined problems of ego and communication.

Ego

When we talk about anything that stems facebook messes (those conversations that go on for far too long, and you either love the drama TOO MUCH or you despair of it, but either way, it’s still be hours since you left the screen), we’re normally talking about stuff that’s really close to people’s hearts, that’s close to their identity and understanding of who they are as a person.

There’s a lot of defensiveness here, and it really gets in the way of actual communication, and what’s worse, is that it’s normally really unoriginal, like “I’m not racist, I have a black friend” which even typing out felt bad, because it’s been said so many times in the exact same way in so many of the exact same conversations about racism with someone who only has a basic level of understanding of the word.

This unoriginality begins eventually to grate so hard that it becomes its own meme, and illicits hostility from the moment it’s uttered, like “Not all men” has become its own red flag for a man who knows nothing about how structural sexism and rape culture operates. But predictably, being met with sudden hostility doesn’t exactly decrease someone’s defensiveness, and they still don’t understand what you’re talking about, just because you do and you’re bored of having the same conversation.

Now I’m not saying humour them and say, no, it’s okay, you’re one of the good ones and do not worry! But we’ll get to communication in a bit.

Another specific instance I’ve noticed is with autism, perhaps because it is a more hidden or private trait, often when it’s spoken about on the internet in casual circles it will be with relatives of autistic people. Not only is this uncomfortable because leaving someone out of a discussion about them is inherently dehumanising, whether on purpose or not, it also greatly increases the levels of defensiveness involved. Now it’s not only about being potentially seen as a bigot (a big part of most people’s lives revolving around not being that blatantly unpleasant) but also about their worth as a parent/sibling/cousin etc. It’s a particular brand of nightmare fuel.

Communication

We get a bit lost with all the understandable human ego messes flying around these topics, there’s the warrior in each of us that wants what’s right, and a scared little person who wants to look good too, and part of us that doesn’t want to fight at all. No wonder we miss the point sometimes, we get waylaid with insults, or pedantry, survival tactics, damage control, or simply soapboxing our own beliefs.

There’s actually not a lot of talk left inbetween about how best to communicate across these issues, and that’s not surprising. Who wants to spend the little energy they have left at the end of the fray on working on communication with the “other side”? Tribalism is deep in our bones, and when stuff doesn’t work out, it makes sense that our instinct is to blame each other and flee the scene. And there are times when that is simply the best thing you can do; remember those people who love the mess too much? Definitely a running-away situtation.

But the answer is actually pretty clear with the benefit of hindsight; it’s in stepping away from our egos. Now this is hard, and it feels dangerous, because our egos are what fuel most normal interactions just fine, they are what help us to know if we’re going over the line, being offensive, or if we’re improving our relationship. But it’s not normal communication at all when we’re talking about social injustice, which is why it trips up so many of our ego defences.

Communicating without Ego but with Respect/Dignity

Thinking of egos like trip wires, we can see how to avoid them. We can avoid a lot just by focusing on statements and facts, on sources written by other people about people in general of a certain social demographic, or even sources written by people who belong to that demographic; it takes the sting out of any perceived insult and it reduces the degree to which you personally are part of inflicting said insult.

Another handy way to get out alive is to remember your own relationship to your ego. You will want to be right, and you will want to be understood. The other party probably won’t be trying to avoid tripping you up, especially if they think this is a personal conversation, so you have to be the one with the perspective to step away from the ego in order to communicate what you need. And then get out; because you cannot make up people’s minds for them, and people need time and the (illusion of) choice to change their worldview.

This doesn’t mean just be a doormat. You still have an ego, you’re just putting it away temporarily in order to achieve a realistic goal, like providing an alternative view point. It doesn’t mean that when someone insults all feminists for example that it is okay for them to do, and that you always have to shrug it off, and that it isn’t structually harmful to discredit marginalised voices that speak out. But what is structurally harmful and what is personally constructive are not always the same thing; letting a bit of ignorance slide is the only way to change that ignorance into potential knowledge and another agent of change in the world.

naiosedolan.PNG
Source:  http://www.naoisedolan.com/racial-discourse-on-facebook/

 

 

 

 

 

On “Stealing” labels

Labels are bad, labels are useful, labels are divisive, labels are fair. There’s a lot of fuss around labels, around who can use them, around whether people should use them at all, around whether they are helpful. A lot of this centres around a belief that labels are something that should be accurate to some kind of truth about one’s identity, and a lot of fuss is made particularly around difficult to determine labels, like white-passing people of colour, or the rarer sexualities like demi-sexual and grey-sexual (attraction only after a platonic bond has formed, and falling between allosexual/”typical” sexual attraction and none, respectively.)

However, that’s a bit of a misleading descriptor; what’s hard to define by an outsider with limited knowledge, is massively easier for the person who is living that identity and experience. We’re limited in that these labels are social constructs and thus have to be communicated to each other accurately and somewhat homogeneously in order to have a social meaning (if we can’t agree what “of colour” means then it’s useless as a construct or as a descriptor), but as far as interpreting these constructs and attempting to apply them to our own experiences, we’re always going to be best suited to applying them to ourselves.

On this note, I’ve been experimenting with some labels, as I think most of us with a willingness to explore ourselves do. I currently flirt with the labels of autism, chronically ill, victim of emotional abuse, and polyamory. I’ve got a more committed relationship with bisexuality, but it’s taken me a long long time to get to this point, and the more (arguably) umbrella and more commonly used “gay” is seriously threatening to encroach on even this. For example, when I’m checking out a girl (or am I just objectifying her? that’s a struggle for another day), it feels a lot more comfortable to myself to revel in my “gayness” than it does to revel in my “bisexualness”; probably just because it’s shorter and more commonly used, it feels fun and liberating, as opposed to clinical and dissectingly accurate. As someone who loves to check people out though, I often have days where I’m checking out dudes, and on those days, nothing fits. “I’m so straight” feels invalidating and obnoxious, and again, “I’m so bi” feels just a little uncomfortable still. We’re working on this glitch.

Point is, the labels I’m still experimenting with. I hold them at arms length at the moment, some more than others, because I’m very scared of encroaching on forbidden territory, on territory that isn’t mine and that I have no right too. There’s a very fine line around this area, depending on the Schroedinger’s label: do I fit? If I fit, it’s my land, and I should trample all over it and declare my presence and revel in its existance and my comfort in it. If I don’t, I’m ruining it for everyone who does belong, I’m contributing to the perpetual erasure of the border by people who claim it doesn’t matter in order to only push in on marginalised people’s spaces. I’m cautiously flirting with them because I don’t yet know whether I fit there or not.

My main rationale for this shameless label-flirting instead of staying in what has already been decided to be “my lane” i.e the mainstream lane that everyone is forced into by default and thus marginalises the other lanes is because it’s HELPFUL. It’s overwhelmingly easier to sometimes think of my chronic and oftentimes dehabilitating tension headaches as a lack-of-spoons induced punishment, instead of “thing that just happens sometimes” because it fits better. They come when I change my sleeping pattern or don’t get enough sleep or don’t get enough food or don’t rest enough to make up for the lack of sleep; it’s not really a chronic illness, and if it is then it’s one with a heck-tonne of spoons that would make Real Spoonies jealous, presumably.

It’s helpful to think of my relationship with my mother as one with an emotional abuser, even if she doesn’t quite tick all of the boxes for name-calling and thinking that she is the best, because the posts that come up in the “emotional abuse” tags and in the counselling blogs about abuse and abusers are relatable to me, they help describe my feelings and my situation and thus I feel like this label belongs with me. But at the same time, the label is Very Big and Scary and Important and so I should leave it alone for the people who’ve REALLY earned it. Being on the fringes of these “Other” terrorities is an awkward place in itself, but it fits better than being in the middle or not being there at all.

I’m scared that people won’t understand my fringing position in relation to labels, that they’ll think I’m an imposter, that they’ll judge. It would be nice to say that I wouldn’t do this to people, but it’s an important thing to remember that social problems exist all through society and how we interact, and being honest about it, I would have this impulse too. The most important thing is that this helps me, and if someone else is using a label that I don’t think fits them right, then they are the best judge of what helps them and what therefore fits them best, even if it’s not “perfect”.