Why Are Labels So Important In The L.G.B.T.Q. Community?
Is There A Purpose?
Labeling myself hasn’t been something I’ve given much thought of until a few years ago. Years ago, when it came to my sexuality, I considered myself a lesbian. However, in the last few years, getting into the relationship I’ve been, looking back, and the relationship I’m in right now, I can say without hesitation that I am pansexual. The reason being I don’t think much about the gender of the person I’m attracted to. I’ve been attracted to men, women, transgender women, and transgender men. I’m not leaving out non binary people; I just haven’t been romantically attracted to someone who identifies with this term. If I did meet someone who, they would just fall in with those I’ve been attracted to over the years. My point being, if there was a label I would go with, it would be pansexual because it’s a label that fits me the best. This all being said though, why are labels almost a mandatory thing in the LGBTQ community? Is it even mandatory? All of this comes from my person experiences, along with a little bit of research, so I’m putting that out there now. That being said, lets chat about labels.
Labels in the LGBTQ community are very interesting to me as well as how people often use them. For the longest time, many concerns I had for acceptance has been the fear of what my family and friends will think of me if I fall under a certain label. While it’s still something I struggle with and I’ll cover that shortly, the flip side is how many people within the community tend to turn their backs on people who don’t fall under their own personal label. This isn’t the case with everyone, but it does happen and it’s something that still doesn’t make much sense at all.
Lets start with the family.
Growing up was very interesting for me, in the way that there was never much of a dialogue about the LGBTQ community one way or the other; at least in my very early years. I remember we had a neighbor with the most beautiful Dalmatians. Me being a Disney fan as a little girl, I of course was in love with them, and enjoyed the company of their owner, who was a familiar face at the house. I remember as a little girl thinking “He’s very different from my Daddy”, my Dad being a very masculine musician, almost on the edge of being macho. With this family friend, who’s name I won’t be sharing here, it wasn’t in any negative way that I thought this about him. It was mostly being intrigue. He was funny, he was interesting, he loved to talk to my sister and I about things we liked and he was genuinely interested. He was just a beautiful human being. I bring him up because there were people in the LGBTQ community who came around the house, but it wasn’t something that was shouted from the roof tops, while also not being something that was being completely hidden from my childhood.
Where that shifted was when I became a teenager. When I started puberty, things I had already been feeling seemed to go into overdrive. For example, I can remember being somewhere around ten or eleven years old, lying in bed, wish I was a boy so I could lie naked with a woman (I began watching R rated movies around this time, without my parents really knowing how much I was watching; sorry Mom and Dad). Now I’m a cis gender female. I’ve always known and felt comfortable that I was and am a girl. This moment of hoping for something that I wasn’t, came from not knowing that there were women who loved women, and men who loved men. It was very confusing for a long time, that was until the conversation began to open.
More talk shows talked about people with different sexual orientations, people who came out to their loved ones, women who were marrying women and men who were marrying men, transgender women coming out and telling their stories; it wasn’t all at once, but there did feel like there was a point where more and more stories came out. This led to intrigue, which was followed quickly with despair.
Our Dad took us to church when we young kids until we were in well into high school. It wasn’t a strict church like you might see in the south, but there was a common feeling of not accepting those with any kind of attraction that wasn’t a man or a woman. My Dad would often say “Well, I don’t approve of that life style. No one should be hurt or harassed, but I don’t approve of that life style”. Hearing him and others say this gave me the feeling of “You don’t approve of me?”. I knew I wasn’t like other people for many different reasons, and I knew what I was attracted to and what I wasn’t when I was very young. Hearing these harsh sentiments, were very painful. Not only because it felt like I was being attacked, but because I was getting more involved in theatre and meeting more and more different people from different walks of life, so I felt attacked for the friends and allies I was building as my extended family. It was actually theatre where I started to feel safer to be myself, and share it with more and more people.
Fast forward to today. I’ve experienced and have been through a great deal since I slowly came out to those I love and feel close to. Gay marriage is now legal. The LGBTQ community is not hidden like it used to be. While I still struggle with feeling accepted by those I love, I do feel much safer to be myself, even if people don’t understand. I don’t love labels; to me they can be binding when I consider my sexuality is much more fluid than a label, but to if people ask I say “I’m pansexual”, which DOESN’T mean I will sleep with anyone at any time, that’s not how it works, despite what people who don’t understand might think. It doesn’t mean I’m more likely to cheat than anyone else. I am in a committed relationship, with someone I tell everything to, being open with everything. Polyamory is something I practice from time to time, I don’t represent every single person, I just represent myself. As far as my sexuality, I know what I am, what I want, who I want, and how I want to live my life. Who I love isn’t a “lifestyle” as many love to throw around, though I can agree being happy and whole is its own lifestyle to a degree. What I find interesting along this journey of my life leading me to this point, is how much those within the LGBTQ community, have a habit of picking on the other labels of the community, despite us ALL wanting the same thing; equality.
In the lesbian community, it’s almost a common occurrence for a woman who later comes out as bisexual or pansexual to be in a way excommunicated by their friends in the lesbian community. Again, this doesn’t happen with everyone and not everyone in the community behaves like this, but it does happen. It happened with me and a former coworker, who is a lesbian, whom I’d become friends with. When I started my current relationship, who happens to be a cis gender man, she began acting different towards me. She became cold, and almost standoffish, especially if he came by the store where we worked to come visit me.
On social media, you see all the letters of the LGBTQ community going at each other, pointing fingers for what’s wrong with the community, when we should be at a point where we should realize how far we’ve come, while not forgetting how much more needs to be done.
The labels of the community I think fit more in the ways of what does the person using the label feel comfortable with? What makes them feel they’re finally whole and happy? That’s what we need to be asking, rather than critical questions about a person’s relationships. My own disregard for any label is a more personal thing for me. When I met my current boyfriend, I knew many people in my family (my Dad included) would be happy that my phase of loving women was over, when that isn’t the case. Just because I’m in love with a man and am committed to this man I’m with, doesn’t make me any less into women, or trans women, trans men, and no binary people who might catch my eye. Sexuality is like a scale. Some people are all the way at the far end of the scale. Some are at the other side of the scale. Some might be in the middle. The thing to remember is there’s still a whole lot of scale left when you remove those three places on the scale. That’s what everyone should think hard about before making jabs about a person’s sexual orientation. At the end of the day, it’s nobody’s business but our own. If we want to share it, we will, and should be allowed to share it without being shamed for not picking the right label.