Friday, 24 May 2013

Label Maker

Part of feminism and tolerance has shifted from accepting people for who they are and not telling them how to be, into labeling them as X and trying to say that they are just as normal as the current dominant group in said category. This, I argue, is a problem.

First of all, while one person is just as important as another, trait X may be hugely outnumbered by trait Y, and if we always have to mention trait X whenever we mention trait Y, it's going to get to be a real mouthful. I know we're trying to be inclusive, but how many labels are we going to need to add before we've got everybody nicely categorized? LGBTQQIIAA, anyone? Even that label omits fetishes, "pansexual", "monosexual" and several more "trans". Surely, while we can all agree that LGBTQQIIAA people should be treated just like non-LGBTQQIIAA people should be treated, can we not also agree that this acronym is ridiculous?* 

Secondly, isn't this massive labeling effort kind of counter to the idea of inclusiveness and acceptance? No, seriously. If we're concerned with unity why are we forever highlighting our differences? We do not need to come up with a thousand different labels to validate people's existence. Labeling does two things, so far as I can tell.

1. Identifies people with trait X as belonging to a specific group and
2. Draws attention to the fact that people in group X are different from people in group Y

Sometimes this is necessary, but often it is not.

Have you ever tried to organize a closet or a filing cabinet? If you make your labels too specific, you will inevitably find that you don't have a place for everything. Long lists and acronyms don't give the idea of a cohesive group, it gives the idea of a fragmented we-don’t-know-how-to-handle-this thing. And now we’re always frightened that we’ve missed someone and really should be adding in another letter, another option. Are these letters placed in order of acceptability? In order of what's most mainstream? If I'm not on the list, do I have a right to be offended? Am I still a valid member of this community? At what point do we stop making smaller and smaller exclusive groups?
Making labels puts us in a dangerous position where we can "other" anyone not in our group. There is an "us" and a "them". No lines between people have been erased. Rather, more lines have been drawn. This does nothing to promote egalitarianism or equality. The more we focus on labelling everything, the more segregated we become. We don't accept you for who you are, we accept you because we've got a quota to fill. I may recognize your existence, but I don't recognize our fellowship. What belongs to you will have a very limited impact on me.

We are forever trying to paint the world as black or white when most of life is on a continuum. It is not possible to label every discrete point on a line and even if you could manage it, well, a person may slide his or her position up and down the continuum from time to time. People fluctuate in many things. We are not static individuals.

Of course we’re all different. Of course we have similarities. And of course we need names to discuss these differences and similarities. We need some categories and labels so we don’t get completely lost in a directionless sea. We need to have a way to view ourselves and group membership is an important part of our identity. However, we do not need to be pigeon-holed into an easily definable set of characteristics. You can't truly understand a person based on how they're labeled. The only person who fits exactly into my group is me. But I don't want to be partitioned off from everybody else. Fundamentally, we're all the same basic "we", right?

I would like to be able to interact with whomever I like, without having issues of culture/sexuality/gender/ethnicity/status/you-name-it forever hanging between us like an uncrossable boundary. You may be at one end of the beach and I at the other, but how can I meet you where you’re at if you’ve drawn a line in the sand between us? Come crawl out of your box from time to time and come visit me. I do not care to be identified as a straight, white, young, middle-class, educated, Christian Canadian ciswoman of the homo sapiens variety. I’m just me. And you are just you. We can be pals. Be comfortable in that.

Scout Finch says in To Kill a Mockingbird: “No, Jem. I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

I think she has the right idea.

*If nothing else, I maintain that QLIGABITAQ would roll off the tongue a little more smoothly.