In Defence of Labels

They’re empowering. Stop complaining about them.


Complaining about “the alphabet soup” is about as annoying as making “triggered” jokes – and about as mature. A few years back, at a local Green Party meeting (a party of which I am no longer a member), one member complained that International Day Against Homophobia had changed from “IDAHO” to “IDAHOBIT” to be inclusive towards trans, intersex and bi people, stating that it was getting “ridiculous”. It’s funny though how people can demand us to know all the names of top actors, all of the weird character names on Star Wars and other generally useless information but then complain about marginalised people getting recognition.

It all comes down to one thing: selfishness. People expect their identities to be served but they don’t want to serve others. So allocishets don’t want to acknowledge their own privileges, and then within the queer community there is a fight about what letters are included (after their own are recognised, of course). Labels aren’t useless, and they aren’t giving people new categories which divide. Those divisions in society are already in place. Structural racism/queerphobia/ableism are all present and at work.

“People expect their identities to be served but they don’t want to serve others”

Labels are essentially creating words. It’s about utilising language to describe our experiences. Words are created all of the time. They’re supposed to be made because language is supposed to evolve. It’s a constant journey, and language shapes our understanding. If we got rid of being able to describe our experiences then our sentences would halt. It would be “I am…” and then nothing would follow. We use labels to describe ourselves all of the time, such as happy, sad, ambitious, etc. but these are accepted as they are seen as politically neutral.

There may be a lot of new words at once. That’s okay. You’re not going to get a quiz on them. This isn’t primary school where you get a new words test every week. It’s also okay to forget specific words or pronounce them wrong. The issue is trying to widen our understanding of human identities and human experiences. Giving words to differences allows people to talk about who they are, and to inform others. It also helps people feel connected because they might finally think “oh hey, that – that describes me; I’m not the only one like this”.

It might be new to you, it might be strange at first but it isn’t actually about you. For those who the labels don’t fit, just listen and be respectful. It’s because we have a society that divides people and makes issues out of gender, sexuality, race and disability why people need words at all to talk about their experiences, because oppressors decided to split society by who are and who aren’t certain things. The least we can do is listen respectfully. If our reactions are to dismiss the words or talk about how it’s hard for us to accept then this is wrong. What we should do is offer support, solidarity and respect. Labels help give people words to reflect their experiences and talk about their lives. If you support freedom of speech, then support the freedom to use language that represents us.

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