Labels are a way for a person to put language into their understanding of who they are and a way to communicate it to others. But are they important and do we need so many?
You may have noticed that GLB (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual) evolves into LGBTQQIP2SAA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, Two-Spirited, Androgynous, Asexual). This transformation is a demonstration of how the Queer community has grown by recognizing and including many different sexual orientations and gender identities, of which there are well over two each. These have always existed, but now in the name of inclusion and equality, we use language to create space for other identities that exist within an already marginalized group.
We all have roles in life that give us meaning and direction and we use labels to describe them. Labels such as Christian, Husband or Disabled inform us about another person’s lived experience. Many of the labels we use have been given to us and feel authentic. However, some do not accurately describe our most authentic selves and we use labels to describe and honor who we truly are and communicate it.
Having labels creates community and connection, but above all it creates validation for all the people who have felt different from the identities that were assumed or assigned to them. For some, this journey translates into recognizing that they don’t want to use labels for themselves, but it is still a tool for identifying who they are not and practicing understanding and accepting others. This process can be messy and filled with doubts and fears when you explore a world that you know might reject you. That label, knowing that there is a word to describe how you feel or who you are, is a message that you are not alone, wrong or weird and there is always room for the real you, label or not.
The empowerment that comes with recognition and validation improves self-esteem and the way a person interacts with the world. Trust and support like this has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, self-harm, and general symptoms that can impair a person’s daily functioning. When we don’t respect and recognize who others are, we harm them. We are telling them that the comfortable words that come out of my mouth are more important than they are. When faced with this everyday, it is the trauma that destroys you, which is why LGBTQIA + teens have some of the highest suicide rates. Our children feel so unloved that they begin to believe that not existing is the best option and they will no longer be a burden to others. But when you accept a person for who they are, you help improve their existence and the mental health of your community. You help keep people alive by letting them know that it is no better to die than in this society.
Acceptance doesn’t always mean you completely understand. It doesn’t mean that you know all the definitions and vocabulary of each group. It doesn’t mean that you have to be an expert or that you can’t go wrong when interacting with people other than yourself. It does not change your labels or identities. Acceptance is just a demonstration of your values. It means that you don’t presume or speculate about another person’s being, you don’t check identity by asking for proof or explanation, and you acknowledge that your approval is unnecessary because identity is a fact, not an opinion. Acceptance means that you value respect for your neighbor. Acceptance means that you value your child’s life and well-being more than the image you have created of who he or she will be.
If you are exploring any part of your identity, know that self-discovery is not linear and can be a liberating adventure. You are not running out of time because there is no age limit. You can change the language of how you identify as you discover new parts of yourself, and you can live authentically regardless of anyone’s understanding or acceptance. Surrounding yourself with love and acceptance certainly makes life better and you are allowed to set boundaries with those who knowingly hurt you. Whether you are pansexual, non-binary, Christian or Native American, you decide how to express any part of your identity. You don’t have to earn the right to use a label. Above all, you are your own expert. No one will ever know you exactly, not the way you know yourself.
We have many labels because people are different wonderful creatures that are not supposed to be identical, we don’t have just one role and we don’t have to have all the answers. The next time you venture online taking a quiz to see what your personality tastes like, remember that identity exploration can sometimes be much more difficult and the only expectation from you is respect. Your kindness to yourself and others improves your mental health.
So, for the well-being of the children in your life, your neighbors, and your mental health, abandon judgments and rejection to practice acceptance and kindness instead.
Be proud of all your many labels and, if you have them, your Queer identification labels too.