By A. Faulkner
This isn’t so much an imminent issue in the news as it is an ongoing conversation for the past few years now. I want to talk about labels. I’m not so much concerned with the issue of who labels us and arguing that the only labels that matter are the ones we apply to ourselves. Frankly, I think this argument has been had and won for the most part. Perhaps you will tell me differently. Do we all agree?
The only labels that matter are the ones we apply to ourselves.
Of course, it’s one thing to say that and an entirely different matter to try to really live it. The labels others apply to us throughout our lives no doubt shape our self-identification to a greater or lesser degree. Labels others apply to identities we’re considering owning, but haven’t yet, these can make us eager or reluctant to own our true identities . My traditionalist town applied the label of “abomination” to non-heterosexual orientations. This made me rather reluctant to own any of the labels attached to their label.
Even once we own an identity and the labels attached to it, it’s hard to really remain unaffected by the other labels people throw at us. I think everyone can relate to being called an unkind name and the struggle not to let that word sink beneath your skin. We know, objectively, that it’s not true just because someone else said it, but it’s usually enough to plant a little seed of doubt: Am I a_______?
I think most of us would agree that the labels others apply to us shouldn’t have an impact on our identities. I’m not saying the labels applied to us by others don’t have a social or political impact. In fact, I think humans have a long, long history of dehumanizing “others” through this use of labels. But I’m saying the labels applied to us by others shouldn’t have a personal impact. They shouldn’t affect us. The only labels that should hold power over us are the ones we apply to ourselves.
For the sake of argument, I’m going to take that part of the labels debate as a given. The only labels that should matter to me are the ones I give myself…
So can we talk about the labels we, as a movement, as a group, as a collection of individuals, have been giving ourselves?
There was an article about this issue in the New York Times a couple of years ago (It was a great article. You should go read it here) “Generation LGBTQIA” discussed how LGBT was too few letters now to encompass the many experiences and identities in the new-adult generation. As one student pointed out, even the term “L.G.B.T.Q. plus” doesn’t solve the problem because, “Why do only certain letters get to be in the full acronym?”
Last I knew, the full acronym most popularly in use is LGBTQIA. But this doesn’t cover the whole spectrum of identities left out of the heteronormative mainstream, does it? So I start to wonder, how many more letters should we add? Can we possible add enough that we cover the full spectrum of human experience? I’m worried that we can’t. I’m worried that no matter how unwieldy our acronym becomes (and it’s pretty unwieldy already) there’s simply no way to make an acronym truly inclusive.
So, it’s still not exactly ‘news’, but I just finished reading Maria Bello’s Whatever… Love is Love: Questioning The Labels We Give Ourselves (published this past April). It comes a couple of years after her startling New York Times article “Coming Out as a Modern Family.” (You should really read this one too.) The article and her book are based on her son’s response when she revealed to him that she had begun to see a female friend romantically: “Whatever, Mom… love is love” or “Mom, love is love, whatever you are” depending on which text you’re reading.
At the end of the article and book, Bello comes out as a “whatever”
<blockquote>“…I consider myself a W, a whatever, I am lucky enough to have found another W to love. I also take the label of LGBT and whatever other letter you want to add. But I will especially take P. Or we can just get rid of all the letters and instead use the phrase ‘Pay It No Mind.’ Because it’s no one’s business anyway” (160). </blockquote>
This idea resonated with me in light of our ongoing acronym issues. I don’t think any acronym will ever be truly inclusive. You can string letters from one end of the Earth to the other and there will still be experiences, lives, identities left unspoken. So, I’m leaning towards the idea of being a whatever, embracing the single letter in place of the string of them, because we can all be a whatever. We can all just be a W.
I can see where there are problems with W, too. In a world where not everyone is as enlightened as Jackson Blue Bello, there are politics involved in being visible. We define ourselves as existing outside of heteronormativity because we need people to know that we exist; as much as we want it understood that we are just Ws, just human beings like any other, we also need to define our difference to make a case against oppression.
However, I like to imagine an ideal world where we recognize that the planet is simply populated by several billion Whatevers. And until that time, the adoption of such an inclusive term might be just the way to both distinguish our identities without the divisive issue of an acronym that never has enough letters. By adopting a term that is inclusive, we will distinguish ourselves as people who believe in the inclusion of all identities. And as long as we believe that, do we really care what our sexual identity is?
While it might not be P for ‘perfect’, I can see a lot of value in ‘Pay It No Mind.’ It is really no one’s business what anyone’s sexual or gender identity is, unless they’re sharing pillows.
As long as you believe in “love is love,” whatever form that may take for you, for me, for anyone: we want you on the team.
I think W might be as close to a perfect solution as we’re likely to find.