Do Labels Hurt the LGBTQ+ Community?

I am a pansexual transfemale who is homoromatic. The labels define who I am and how I fit into the overall LGBT+ community. Right away, someone who is knowledgeable in such identities will understand how I express myself, who I sleep with, and who I have relationships with and will understand that each part of that undergoes some sort of oppression from society. But, does that person truly understand me? Can they explain my unique human experience?

LGBTQ+ labels may be hurting our cause as a liberation group. It is too easy to build stereotypes to accompany said, vastly encompassing, labels which may then further progress the mission of bigots. Even today I still have to remind my younger brother that using ‘gay’ as a derogatory phrase is rude and harmful. Language isn’t easy to manipulate and I’m not suggesting we do, but we need to shift away from finding solace solely in our nice little boxes. Such a shift may even help in our efforts to educate people outside of the LGBT+ group on the lives and experiences of those who are on the inside. With long lists of labels and definitions, it is daunting for any new ally to learn all of them. It’s even more difficult for children, who may have been unaware of different sexualities, relationships, and gender identities, to comprehend. With education comes understanding, and if we impede on that learning, we only push back our acceptance into society. I believe that we need move away from these all-encompassing terms and stand behind the ideas that people like who they like and are who they are. I know this is easier said than done, but this sort of rhetoric could, and would, support the fluid and personal nature of some people’s identities and sexualities.

There’s also the issue of ‘conforming’ to one’s label. We see a lot of these issues arise around pan and bi people^. A YouTuber I’m very fond of, Melanie Murphy, speaks about a lot of these issues. She speaks about how she’s been harassed and questioned of her ‘bi-ness’, because she’s currently in a monogamous relationship with a cis-man. In the LGBT+ community, many feel pressured that if they are to use a label, they must conform to those stereotypes to be ‘accepted'(or able to call yourself such), and that if they don’t, they’ll be ousted or called an impostor. For example, I’ve read about many different people who felt that they couldn’t call themselves trans* because they didn’t experience dysphoria or they didn’t want to transition. So these people were stuck in limbo, not feeling comfortable enough to call themselves trans, but also questioning themselves so that their assigned gender wasn’t applicable either.

^ This brings about another issue with these labels, there’s lack of consistency. Ask yourself, what’s the difference between bisexual and pansexual? Is there a difference? The usually agreed difference is that bisexual states that you are only attracted to the binary genders, where as pansexual is all genders; however, there are many people who identify as bisexual who are still attracted to non-binary and trans people, they simply prefer the term ‘bi’, as it has a longer history. 

When researching for this post, I came across another issue with our labels: Westernisation. I won’t claim to know much about this topic, but the idea is that by use such broad terms, we may be inadvertently overshadowing the identities of those in other countries. We see this in the trans* community with people who are two-spirit or Fa’afafineBoth of these terms are cultural specific, Native American and Samoan respectively, and don’t exactly follow the traditional definition of non-binary or gender fluid. This page goes into detail about this issue, and is written by people more informed than myself.

Now, I understand that one may find comfort in such labels. It helps us connect with those who are like us and allows us to generally understand the plights of another. So, should we be away with labels all together? No. Should we further educate people that these labels are not definite and all encompassing? Ideally. I’ll continue to tell people that I’m pan tran and like to date wo-man, but will gladly elaborate what that means for me personally and how I’ve been effected by society’s marginalisation.  And if all goes well, the other person may be able to understand me better.

– Athena 🦉

Further Reading

Slate: We Need More Queer Labels, not Fewer

Cosmo: Why I won’t Label my Sexuality

Reddit: Are There Too Many Gender and Orientation Labels?

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