“I don’t want to box myself into anything.”
“I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into being something I’m not.”
“I think we should just be who we are and stop trying to force people into categories.”
“I just don’t believe in labels.”
Over the past year, I’ve hear countless iterations of this sentiment, and frankly, I find it quite disconcerting. Here are a few reasons why labels should stick around.
1. Fighting Oppression
Superficially, the no-labels movement makes sense, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t solve any problems; in fact it makes them harder to address. A world where labels are rendered obsolete may be an ideal that we strive for, but as of now, we still need them.
We live in world with racism, sexism, cissexism, heterosexism, and so on and so forth. Even if we don’t call ourselves transgender, even if we write in “human” in the margins of forms asking for our race, even if we say that we believe in equality not feminism, people will continue to be discriminate. The problem isn’t the words themselves, and thus, getting rid of them will only kick the can down the road.
Consider the following scenario: a young woman is brutally attacked for being transgender. Yet in the eyes of the media, the law, and the public, this was not a hate crime. They say, “We don’t need to box ourselves into labels anymore, and she was just human, like the rest of us.” And suddenly, without labels, hate crimes cease to exist.
By removing labels, we remove the vocabulary used to discuss issues of discrimination.
2. Validating Identities
I think a personal example explains this reason best. For the first 13 years of my life, I endured punishment and constant admonishing for being too rude, too shy, and too anti-social. I was called an attention-seeker and disciplined for having panic attacks and meltdowns. Then I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and anxiety disorder, and suddenly, I wasn’t the only one.
My feelings, my actions, my experiences were validated.
I wasn’t broken anymore.
This same relief applies to countless other identities, whether it be mental illnesses, gender identity, sexuality, or something else entirely.
3. Labels Aren’t Limiting — Stigma Is
I think the most common reason to give up on labels is that you don’t want to be boxed in. I understand this. But at the end of the day, labels are just word. When people talk about being boxed in, they feel like labels are an ultimatum, but labels can change; they are just as fluid as identity.
The problem with labels has more to do with how we treat them than their inherent existence. Stereotypes will prevail whether or not we have words to put to them. The key to having a healthy a relationship with labels is understanding that it is just a description. We become to invested and too attached them. If we stop attaching so much weight to these words, then our fear of them disappears.
And as a bit of a side note, labels do not have to be 100% accurate. You are who you are, and there is so much variation from person to person. Labels are a general, basic description, and it is on society to recognize the incredible diversity within them.
4. Timing of the Movement
This final point isn’t so much a reason to keep labels as a reason not to get rid of them. Just as members of the LGBTQ+ community are beginning to find the words to describe themselves, just as millions of people are beginning to find a cornucopia of terms to validate themselves, a push back against labels occur. And this occurred in synchrony with waves of people mocking genderqueer identities and calling non-binary people special snowflakes.
Removing labels also contributes to heteronormativity. The default is already set to straight, white, cis, and neurotypical. Without labels, it will only become easier and more convenient to ignore the lack of diversity in our society.
To conclude, I agree that something needs to change, but it is not the labels that are hurting us. It’s the people who are against what the stand for and the people who treat simple words with toxicity. What we need is a change in attitude–and taking away the tools we use to talk about these issues is not going to help anyone.