By Shakira Danger
Alongside declaring an allergy to gluten, cutting out dairy or not getting vaccinated, there has been a recent fad of people using the phrase “I don’t like labels” in reference to sexuality. These are all things that are very serious and real issues for a small group of people, but unlike changes in diet or medical care, cisgender heterosexual people saying “I don’t like labels” can devalue queer identity and be complicit in queer oppression.
This is not a critique of queer or questioning people using a term to help them be comfortable with themselves, but instead of dyed-in-the-wool straights. People who will proudly declare that while they have never (ever ever (no homo)) had any attraction to a member of the same sex, but if it happened they would be “okay with it.” And granted, after a history of slurs and offensive labels being forced onto queer people, it might seem like you are committing a kindness by alleviate the burden of being “gay”, “trans”, etc. or saying “why are we gay and straight, aren’t we all really just people?”
But whatever you think you are saying, to a queer person or to society, is not a kindness. Many labels within the queer community have histories of oppression, and while I could list some you should well be aware what they are. But there is a long and storied tradition of taking words used to oppress us and owning them, taking the power away from the oppressors and empowering ourselves. One of the biggest examples is the term ‘Queer’.
Also, labels can give hope, and assurance to queer people who are disenfranchised or isolated in society. Finding a label that fits can be akin to finding a family, a support network and access to necessary resources. For a person who faces no kind of oppression based on their sexuality or gender to say “labels aren’t important” shows ignorance. It erases the effort and hardship that went into reclaiming slurs. It erases the need for community and the importance for queer people to be able to relate shared experiences. Because you never faced any hardship to be heterosexual, because you never had to search desperately for legitimate representation or understanding for being called cisgender, does not give you the right to say my labels aren’t important either.
So, “labels are for jars haha,” you might say light heartedly, but please be aware I feel a little less comfortable around you now.