Labels Are for Bottles, Not People

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I am tired of labels. I am sick of labels. I am sick of categories, subcategories, subsubcategories. It seems like it is spiralling out of control, that if somebody somewhere suddenly has a particular “feeling,” then they get to declare yet a new label, a new category to place themselves in and thereby be “validated” — whatever “validated” really means, and I don’t even pretend to understand. But I have this sneaking gut instinct that whispers to me it is not a good thing to so obsessively pursue “validation.” As a “nerd” (there, that is one of the multitude of labels assigned to me, as though I even really care) I looked up the definition of validation: “recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile.” The immediate question that came to my mind: Valid and worthwhile recognized according to who? It seems to inherently imply that what other people think about you, opinion-wise, matters and you are seeking their “recognition” to be validated. It seems to me, on the day I was born, that was my validation, and your birthday was yours too, nothing further needed from anybody else — no further recognition, acknowledgement, nod or any other gesture of approval required, wanted or needed — because on the day you were born, you came into existence as a beautiful, special, unique and wonderful person, just as you are, in all your unique complexity, and all that really matters is that you believe in yourself. So why is some category, some label plastered over you necessary to “validate” you? I don’t understand the value in it. And, frankly, I don’t really want to understand. Because my gut instinct tells me that the moment I set out to seek “validation” as something important to me, is the day I set off down a path not very good for my peace of mind or mental health. After all, that would be the path where I give a damn how many “likes” or “claps” I get, as though my sense of self-worth depended upon that. No, I don’t want or need to go down that path. But there is more to this issue of labels than harm done to mental health. There is a bigger harm, the obvious problem nobody even seems to talk that much about. The problem that it is not good to keep chopping us all up into finer and finer subgroups. Does no one remember the saying “divided we fall”?

Doing some research, I came across this: LGBTQQIP2SAA. I sighed, took a deep breath, and plowed ahead to try to understand. Since obviously this is important to some people. And it is important to me to respect their views — I will always respect views that are respectfully expressed — so I set out to drag myself up out of my small-town ignorance, and learn all the letters, learn all the labels, learn the sub groups of sub groups of sub groups. But, I must confess, I honestly did feel a very powerful urge to throw my keyboard against the wall. Why? Because. Divided we fall. In our grand, well-intentioned quest to see that every single conceivable category gets its own individual label in order to “feel validated,” we are collectively shooting ourselves in the foot as each label battles for legal protections against what they perceive as disrespect to them, but then end up stepping on somebody else’s legimate foot in the process. Well, actually, that phrase “shooting ourselves in the foot” is not the exact right phrase for it. When I first learned of the conflict between some lesbians and feminists versus some trans, I was stunned, flabbergasted, shocked by this fight. And trust me, I was enough of a small-town rube (yes, another label placed upon me, “rube,” and I still don’t care) to have had a real struggle to wrap my head around the fact that threats of violence — violence? — were actually happening in this quarrel, trans being violent against women for nothing other than those women voicing an opinion? Really? Was this an episode of the Twilight Zone? In pondering this, I realized what the right phrase is for this expansion of labels and the infighting it triggers as the needs of different groups are quite different and each label category does not necessarily need or want the same thing as what some other category wants, the phrase for what is really happening with our neverending expanding list of labels is not “shooting ourselves in the foot” but rather, it is a circular firing squad. How pathetic. (See this article for a more nuanced intellectual discussion about some of the convoluted issues concealed beneath the far too convenient labels that don’t even begin to address the real issues at stake for each category member of the LGBTQ community.)

Let me take a hard detour, but please follow me, as I think you will appreciate where I am going with this: I am a big fan of the TV show The Walking Dead. Sometimes I remark to people how I fantasize that I lived in that world. If they only have a cursory knowledge of the show — they vaguely understand it is about zombies — their reaction usually is to stare at me with a little frown and a look in their eyes that says they are wondering if I may need to see a psychiatrist. But if I express this wish to live in that world to someone who is also a rabid fan, their eyes light up with a peculiar intense glitter, and they gush, “Me too! I wish I lived in that world!” And then maybe they quickly blush a little, realizing what they just said — as they probably have had the experience I have had, of people looking at them with a wary “are you okay?” look.

I have a given a lot of thought to why I feel this way. Why would I fantasize and wish that I lived in a post-apocalyptic world that has been overrun by zombies? A world where every day is an intense and desperate struggle to survive, and at any moment you, or someone you love, could die a terrible tortuous death? A world where you never have quite enough food, where you and everyone around you probably stink because hot showers are a luxury, where you have had to get used to there being no more Crest Extra-Whitening toothpaste? I mean, really, why would I want to live in that world? I thought about it, and then I realized what it was. There is only one label in that post-apocalypse world: Human Being. Whether you are “male” or “female,” whether you are “black” or “white,” whether you were once upon a time “Liberal” or “Conservative,” and whether you are Straight/Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual etc etc etc on down that whole alphabet soup list does not matter. It is completely unimportant. It is utterly irrelevant. And nobody cares. A pack of zombies is descending upon you, and by your side are your family, your friends, your community, or even just some strangers you happened upon, you don’t ask “what is your pronoun?” because that sure as hell doesn’t matter in front of that pack of zombies. What matters is can you fight? To defend yourself, and to defend and protect everyone else around you. Can you fight? Who gives a damn if you are straight, lesbian, bi, whatever? Can you — will you — fight to defend and protect other people from the threat posed by zombies? Answer yes, then you are a Human Being. The only label that matters. Some people in the world of The Walking Dead choose to survive by killing other people, by stealing what they have, choose to survive by putting themselves first and everyone else be damned. And these are not Human Beings. So, you have a choice in the post apocalypse world: You choose to be a Human Being, and work as hard as you can to help, and protect, and defend, and care for your fellow human beings, or you choose to not be a Human Being. Just two categories. Choose one.

So, that is why I wish I lived in the world of The Walking Dead. It is a simpler world. It is a world where you are reminded every single day what really matters versus what doesn’t really matter and is rather trivial. In a world of a daily life-and-death struggle to survive against zombies that never stop coming at you and survive against people who gave up on being Human Beings and chose to be Monsters instead, then prejudice, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, not to mention all the sub-categories of sexual orientation/gender identity/whatever, those are all luxuries nobody can afford. Those labels/categories have all fallen away and disappeared, nothing that anybody even thinks about anymore, just like they don’t think about Dove Deodorant and Crest Extra-Whitening toothpaste. You have a priest, standing beside a Muslim, standing beside a redneck, standing beside a lesbian, all of them fighting for each other. Caught up in the drama, and all the terrible events and tragedies of the show, I still cannot help but smile, with quiet happiness, seeing Human Beings behave like human beings.

And the show made me ask a question: How much time, energy and effort do I want to expend upon things that don’t really matter? Not when held up against life and death. Not when held up against the question of whether you are going to be good and kind to your fellow human beings. Held up against that, the Label Wars look rather asinine, don’t they? A circular firing squad. I mean really, stop, look around you, at the people closest to you who you love, but also at everybody else, all the human beings in this world who just need and want to be treated like human beings, with love and kindness and respect, so that they can afford to be Human Beings. In our comfortable modern world, with all sorts of luxuries surrounding us, and with social media to take up our time and waste our time on searching for our validating category, it seems like things are inverted. It seems like in this world, being a Human Being is the one luxury too many people can’t seem to afford. Well, I’m a Human Being. I think you are too. Lets have all of us start acting like it. And lets stop with the circular firing squad okay? Lets remember who the real enemy is. The real enemy is anyone who practices hate, violence, threats. Something so obvious, I wonder at the fact I feel like I need to point this out. But when I watch the circular firing squad at work, I feel like I really do need to point this out. Remember who the real enemies are. Please.

Now, as an addendum, for those who do think labels are so very critically important (I don’t, but I know some people just die of curiosity without them) here are the labels of me that I accept, and don’t really mind too much, if simply used as a matter of convenience for shorthand explanation of my thought processes and feelings, but not as my defining characteristics: Liberal, Bisexual, Autistic, Female, Radical Feminist. But in the end, I am really just a Human Being, and in the apocalypse, if a zombie is threatening you — whoever you are — I’ll be running up to help you out. Count on it. Because labels are for bottles, not people.

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