do labels have value?

Recently, on the forum of websites I frequent (which, incidentally, is for buying and selling second hand clothes and so really doesn’t have that much to do with LGBTQIA+ issues, but so be it. People are gonna post where people wanna post) an anonymous user posed a question: ‘What am I?’ They then described how they experienced attraction, stating that they were attracted to multiple genders but more in an aesthetic way than necessarily a sexual one, and was this normal and were they broken and did other people feel this way?

Trying to be helpful, I suggested they might take a look into asexuality or demisexuality or something of the like, but my comment was buried beneath dozens of others stating, in no uncertain terms, that labels are for soup cans. That labels, applied to people, are superfluous and divisive, and it shouldn’t matter how they identified because we’re all just human.

And I mean, yeah, to an extent, I can totally see this point of view. I get it. We are all human and we should all just get along, and etc. There are people out there who claim to not see sexuality or gender or race or religion, who claim that those things don’t matter, but, um… they kind of do. All those things are functional parts of a person’s identity, and I don’t feel that they should be ignored. This ‘I see you as a fellow human being, not as [insert marginalized identity here] person’ just reeks of privilege and erasure to me. I find that disregarding and invalidating labels is overwhelmingly something that privileged people do.

It’s something that’s pretty insidious too. You can find it everywhere. Even as we see more queer representation in the world around us. Look at Piper in Orange is the New Black, who despite being undeniably bisexual/pansexual, shies away from the label and insists instead that she just “likes hot people.” Look at CeCe Drake from Pretty Little Liars who (spoiler alert!) is revealed in the latest mid-season finale to be transgender, but who never actually says the word and dances around the topic of her identity as if it’s something that can’t be explicitly talked about. Apparently queerness is somehow more acceptable if you don’t give it a name.

I suppose if you’re straight, labels don’t actually mean anything to you. Why would they? You’re the default. You, and everyone else, is assumed straight until proven otherwise. You don’t have to worry about people automatically thinking you’re something you’re not, so you don’t need labels to define yourself against the norm.

But to those of us who aren’t straight, labels can mean everything. They are polarizing, yes, but so what? We are different, and acknowledging it out loud doesn’t make us any more so. We need labels to help define us against the heteronormative majority.

We need them to empower us. Labels can help us find our community, and figure out our place in it. I know I’ve been so much happier since I stopped thinking of myself as a vague human thing with vague desires, and started outright calling myself queer.

I hope the anon I briefly encountered figures that out. That they find some name to claim, and realize that they aren’t wrong or broken or the only one who feels the way they do. After all, there’s a whole wide world of queer people out there, and it’s much easier to find us if we wear our labels with pride.

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Poppy is a queer person from Britain. She currently studies English at university and likes to talk at length about literary theory, sexuality and gender, body positivity, mental health, and her cats. She’s no fun at parties.