Thots & Thoughts: In Defense of Labels

There is a time and a place for a label.

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

"Thots & Thoughts" is a column in which musings on dating, sex, race, religion, and politics all come together—from a bird's-eye view.

When I hear someone say “I don’t believe in labels,” I roll my eyes all the way down to the nail on my big toe.

Before you roll your eyes back at me, let me make a few things clear. I respect everyone’s right to identify however they choose and I will accept that choice accordingly. Likewise, I understand why many object to labels. Labels can feel restrictive because they come packaged with preconceived notions and stereotypes. However, I find the premise that avoiding a label—particularly with respect to one’s sexuality—will spare one from whatever prejudices people may harbor to be flawed—at best. You need an almost a Disney-like level of naïveté to believe such a fairy tale.

There’s a certain hubris that comes with an announcement that you don’t believe in labels. Like, you’re somehow more evolved than others who succumb to the bait of a word like “gay” or “bisexual.” More often than not, this sort of announcement is just a grab for some shred of individuality—a typically masturbatory practice popular with many millennials.

I could call myself Purple, but my melanin count could not stop the biases of an idiot. 

I tend to look at labels as more of a productive tool than a hindrance because, in many ways, labels are part of what allows for community. If you're a part of a marginalized group, a label can help foster a supportive, loving environment. (Label recognition and membership in a group are often the first steps to political change.) And really, labels like gay, lesbian, bi, pansexual, and so on, are broader than many give them credit for.

To be gay is to have a predominant sexual attraction to someone of the same sex. That literally is the beginning and end of that label. Anything else someone wants to attach to that is by their own invention (and at their own peril). There are mores and customs that can be associated with the label—that is, gay culture—but to be gay does not necessarily mean identifying with gay culture. I blame education policies like No Child Left Behind for so many folks not being able to reach what feels like a very natural conclusion.

I am a gay, but would happily fuck Rihanna, given the opportunity. After we finished, though, I’d probably ask her to hook me up with her male background dancer. I’m sure she’d be down for that.

And while some people rather ignorantly don’t believe in bisexuality—notably among men—calling yourself something else won’t protect you from whatever biases another person has the minute you make it known that you are sexually attracted to someone of the same sex. The same goes for anyone who identifies as pansexual.

It’s not that different from people believing certain things about me simply because I am Black. I could call myself Purple, but my melanin count could not stop the biases of an idiot. And while there are women on The Real Housewives of Potomac who pretend they’re not “Black-Black,” should their high-saddity asses get pulled over, a gun-toting, prejudice-crippled police officer may very well steer them right on back to reality.

Again, I understand why people don’t want to be subjected to the simple-mindedness of the masses. Still, unless you live on Sesame Street or in an old Celine Dion ballad, chances are avoiding a category name alone will not serve as an effective escape route from any of that. All you can do is be yourself and proudly identify with who you are. Sure, some will try to define you solely by that, but as Mariah Carey once said, “Ain’t gon’ feed ya, I’mma let ya starve.”

You need to follow the words of Mimi, beloveds. The sentiment goes a lot further in the battle against stigmas than pretending a name change will solve it does.

Latest in Life