If you’ve ever said “I’m blind to race and gender,” “Why can’t we all just BE?” or “Labels are for soup cans,” you are probably well-intentioned but completely missing the point of the use of labels when it comes to race, sexuality and gender. Labels are not used to separate and seclude people but to define and identify them. I get what you’re saying — it would be a great world if our differences were normalized to the point where no one noticed them — but we still live in a world where people suffer from racism and prejudice every day. You can’t say you, “are blind to sexuality” when people are still fighting for their right to marry and even to donate blood. We are not there yet and probably never will be.
Some labels you are born with. Your race, social status and biological gender are things you cannot help, and it is important to accept them if they provide you with privilege. Privilege isn’t a bad thing, but it can be blinding and therefore can cause an individual to be oppressive. If you are a white, cisgendered male you pretty much have to accept that you have it a lot easier than those who are not. I’m sure it hurts to hear (although I’m not sure why) but it’s the truth. That being said, people can have privileges and be oppressed in other ways, it doesn’t make their privileges disappear.
Other labels are self-identified, and not being “born” with them doesn’t make them any less valid. Sexuality and gender are fluid and are often ever changing (depending on the individual of course) so these labels can also be changed. The acronym LGBT is no longer inclusive and is constantly being added to and altered. A person can add, subtract and have multiple labels at any given time. These labels can be as basic as “gay” or “straight” but can also be as in depth as “demisexual” or “panromantic.”
Some of my personal labels are; white, middle class, feminist, pansexual, gender queer and often just plain queer. When I was younger I identified as bisexual until I learned that the term pansexual existed. A pansexual is someone who experiences sexual attraction regardless of gender and biological sex (as opposed to bisexuality which is attraction limited to cisfemale and cismale genders). I didn’t learn about the term gender queer until a year or two ago while I was taking a women’s studies class and I identified with it immediately. Before then I suffered a lot of anxiety over my personal gender presentation, but now that I know its okay to be “in the middle” of masculinity and femininity, I am a lot more at ease with myself. Learning the labels that identify you personally gives validation to your being, and helps you locate the community that you belong to.
Labels shouldn’t be used to oppress people but to give names to their attributes and provide a definition and greater understanding. Accepting diversity doesn’t mean ignoring it; it means celebrating and embracing it. Dismissing the concept of labels dismisses the oppression of those who identify with them. In an attempt to appear non-judgmental, people who refuse labels both deny their privilege and invalidate the experiences of the people who they are oppressing. To be blunt, the people who claim to be “blind” to things like gender and race are usually coming from a place of privilege and are full of crap anyway.
Kara Passey is the graphics editor of the Manitoban.