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?
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! 😀