Saturday, January 24, 2009

So Why Do We Need Labels, Anyway?

My recent post on my progression from a pansexual to a queer identity got me thinking about this topic. What does it matter so much if I’m pansexual or queer? Obviously the need to define myself is there, otherwise… well, otherwise I wouldn’t worry about it. But I’ve devoted thought and blog posts to the topic, so… where does this need come from?

I have two thoughts regarding this. One is self-validation. Yes, it’s human nature to compartmentalize, to define and label and file away. But I think that instinct goes beyond pigeonholing our surroundings to self-definition as well. To understand ourselves we need definitions, limits, cubbies. It helps us process what might otherwise remain purely instinctual, subconscious knowledge.

My other thought is that we compartmentalize ourselves in order to make ourselves more easily identifiable to others, which falls into the idea that people need to compartmentalize their surroundings. We want to help others put us in a category so we will be understood by them. We crave understanding and sympathy, so we will expedite that process for our peers. Much like the “Hello, My Name Is…” stickers at a meet ‘n’ greet function, we want to make ourselves easily identifiable, so we fill out those stickers in our minds for easy access when needed in the future. Peel and slap.

This is all so subjective, though. I’ve struggled with these thoughts in the past and they were real downers because I was so discouraged by the idea of hard limits. None of this has to be rigid and closed to change. Identity, sexual/gender or otherwise is such a fluid thing. It can change by the day; it can change with the weather, with a mood, with an outfit. Yes, it seems the need for labels is ever-present, but the thing that makes labels bearable (however reluctantly they are utilized) is that much like the aforementioned outfits, they can be changed, shrugged off and stepped into on a whim.

So, heels or flats today?