On Sunday I went out with some friends. We were supposed to go to the gay club in Charlotte, but we got nearly there when we were informed that it is now 21+. Not wanting to waste the night, we tried to go to other clubs, but they were all 21+. Immediately I felt anxious. I am living in North Carolina, an hour from South Carolina. And while I do have friends, and I’ve come to enjoy where I am living, when I expect to go out for the evening in a safe place, and then I find out that where I am at is not as safe, I get nervous. I feel comfortable at gay clubs because I don’t have to worry about who knows about my trans* status, or what bathrooms to use. I don’t have to worry about people reacting violently. Which has happened, by the way.
We went to a cafe a queer friend works at. She wasn’t working, but I knew that it was a safe place and I would feel comfortable there. It was two in the morning. We sat talking until about four. Queer things came up. My mother has noticed that when I am with queer people, queer conversations come up. I said that I think it’s because we can talk freely without fear of retribution. I don’t do it to have a contest with other queers on who is the most queer. Anyway, my friends were asking me about what I identify as.
And I said I’m queer and I’m a trans* man. I am attracted to all genders. I fit under the bi umbrella. And then we were talking about the expanding acronym of LGBT+ and how labels change and one of my friends, who is not a member of the queer community said, why do we even need labels? I’ve heard this a lot. And she looked at me and said I’m not trying to be offending. And I wasn’t, but I started thinking about labels and how we all need labels. Maybe it was the chai tea and the fact that it was four in the morning and I didn’t get home until six and I didn’t sleep until seven. I tend to get really philosophical in the middle of the night.
I’m technically also demisexual-half-way between asexual and sexual. I don’t think this has anything to do with being trans*, but finding a safe partner is a challenge some of us go through. Again, I won’t speak for every trans* person. It just takes a LOT for me to be sexually attracted to anyone. Yes, I am capable of it, but it takes a lot of time and circumstances and some people I have had very strong romantic feelings for, but I never felt like I had to jump into bed with any of them.
But that had me thinking about labels, because my friend said, well that’s not very special, you don’t need that label. But I politely disagree. It’s easy to say you don’t need a label when you’ve always been in the default. When you are straight and cis and you fit that, you don’t have to think about your sexuality or your gender, it’s easy to say, you guys don’t need labels. But for me, a confused teenager growing up thinking I was the only one, and you find a term that fits you, it’s like saying, there is a place for me in the world. There is a group of people that I fit into. As a member of the default, you already know that feeling. Now we get to experience it also.
Labels can be harmful. A few months ago, I wrote about the bisexual verses pansexual debate. I think in some ways, that is a case that labels can be harmful. When labels are used to alienate, or police someone else, that’s harmful. I used to label myself as pansexual because I felt capable of attraction to all genders. I still do. I have a preference, but I don’t think gender is a factor in who I am attracted to. But the bisexual verses pansexual debate can be harmful, and I’ve seen it go there. I now just say I fall under the bi umbrella, and most of the time I just say I’m queer, because it does cover everything. When people try to split people into the two categories, bi, pan, that’s harmful. It’s like when people tell my non-binary friends to identify in the binary. They can’t do that. Just like a straight person would have a very hard time being attracted to someone of the same gender. It’s innate. It’s who we are. But by fighting over a label, we are trying to kick people out of the place we all should share. No one should be told, don’t use this label, use this one instead, or get out of the club and go back to being alone in the world. Note: I’m not talking about using slurs, that’s another topic for another day.
I’ve touched on this before, but I’ve seen the bi vs. pan debate happen like this. Why don’t we come together as a group and say we are all attracted to more than one gender and fight the phobias that come at us, instead of bickering over what label we all should use? Why don’t we say that we have found our place in the group, and not kick each other out? But again, it’s easy to say we don’t need labels when you fit into one already.
Someone asked me recently if I thought labels were a good thing. I think they definitely can be. Again, it’s like, you want to hang out with people that like the same music as you, which can be seen as a label, or people that do the same sport as you. It’s not saying that you will have everything in common with that person, and you’ll all get along. But you’ll have a place that you all share a common interest, or goal. You feel a little at home, don’t you?
To say we don’t need them, look at how gendered, how labeled our society is. If you’ve ever challenged that, you know first hand what I’m talking about. We have toys for babies that are already gendered. We are taught as kids the hetero narrative. I used to joke that the day I was taught how to be cis and straight in school, that I must have had a dentist appointment that day. We are taught about people with different skin colours. We are taught about nationalism and my country can be better than yours. Not everyone thinks that way, but my point is, it’s not just sexuality or gender that people feel the need to label. Throwing all the labels out would be a bad thing. Fighting over labels can be a bad thing. But we all deserve a place in the world to feel at home and to feel safe there. Labels can help you find that.