by Maloy Moore
BUY BUY BUY! NEW AND IMPROVED! RE-IMAGINED, SYSTEMATIC, HYDROMATIC, DIET, EXTA-ORDINARILY-OUT-OF-THE-USUAL-AMAZINZOGLORIFICATIONACALIDOCIOUS!
If you’ve ever been to a supermarket, these kinds of labels should look familiar. Our culture slaps neon stickers onto products to let a consumer know what they’re buying, and to advertise exactly how special and important certain products are. We’re so used to this kind of marketing, sometimes labeling exists beyond just the super-market shelves. Whether or not these labels on objects are effective, using this kind of labeling practice as a model for human interactions is dangerous.
What exactly does labeling look like when it comes to people?
Beyond just derogatory slurs, labeling can crop up uncomfortable situations. When people try to figure out my sexuality, sometimes it seems like they’re trying to place a sale sticker on my forehead, or like they’re trying to pin the most accurate price tag to me in order to quantify my experience. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.
I have friends who think that I’m a lesbian, pretending to be straight so that I’m not demonized. I have friends who think that I’m just straight looking for attention by being special for being attracted to women. The truth is that I’m neither straight nor a lesbian, but something entirely different. The labels that people place on me squeeze me out of my already minuscule place in society.
When you feel the need to pin someone under the Queer umbrella to a specific label, it is a form of objectification that dehumanizes the person. This doesn’t just extend to Queer people, of course, but it is a trend that runs rampant when media tries to understand the Queer community. Take, for example, the movie Brokeback Mountain. Often denoted THE gay movie (and if you think it’s the only gay movie, you need to love yourself) it is actually a movie about sheep herders who are attracted to both men and women. While there are a lot of other inherent issues with the plot, labeling something and enforcing strict boundaries upon sexuality can not only limit conversation, but expression as well.
It is an unfortunate side effect of living in a culture that worships capitalism: people will be placed in easy-to-define groups that are the most efficient way to shovel advertisements down their throat. Take, for example, the surge of corporate acceptance after gay marriage was legalized last summer. While this was ultimately a joyous day for many Queer people, it was also a victory for many companies showing their support with rainbows and proclamations of love. There will be no doubt a corporate-inspired movement encouraging coming out, but supported through the intention to construct more accurate focus groups. Being Queer has become another way for corporations to make profits, and I advise all consumers to be wary of attempts to market love when they propagate a system based on hate.
This discussion is not to say that a label cannot bring comfort, only that it is dangerous when it is not introduced by the Queer person themselves. When I learned that there were other people like me and they called themselves bisexuals, it was a freeing experience like no other. The overarching problem arises when people do not respect those who are questioning, those who change their label frequently, or even those who choose not to have a label at all. People under any of those categories are still valid, and still very Queer. Above all else, it comes down to the basic quality of respect. Whatever someone tells you about their identity, respect it but realize that it is not their responsibility to explain it to you. We are not products to be labeled, we are not selling ourselves; we are people, trying to understand ourselves, trying to love, and trying to live.