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”.






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