Does anyone else get tired of labels?

Political, Prosaic, Pulpit

I’m thinking ideologies and religions and politics and genders and all that stuff, but maybe some shopping labels too. I mean we wouldn’t need traffic light nutritional guidelines if all the food was in its freshly farmed or slaughtered form, or prepared by a trustworthy authority that’s not trying to pump us full of tasty tasty fats and sizzling stimulating sugars. Bastards.

I’ve been spending some time trying to work out what femininity is, and I’ve mostly been avoiding the masculine. I know enough already, I figure. But really, all you learn in research is that both terms are unhelpful. They’re social groupings that just don’t matter. I mean, grand scheme don’t matter. Like sure walking down the street right now reading this on your phone, or maybe sat at home listening to a loved one do something in the next room, or lying in bed listening to some filthy Lou Reed…then maybe it matters a little bit. But still not really. It’s not an important part of who you are, it’s just a filter that other people will try and feed you through, if and when they can. It’s not something you have to participate in.

I do it for fun, sometimes. I make myself a science experiment, probably way too obviously. I become the shy girl or boy walking into that club, that bar, that coffee place for the first time. That lecture hall, that fashion outlet, that library. I make myself look ‘interesting’ and do ‘interesting’ things, and I wait for people to respond. Sometimes I get real chats – people who find and love the opportunity to sincerely be themselves with another individual. Sometimes I get fake come-ons, brusque and lustful slurps of kisses or coffees, raised eyebrows, scowls, or timid and tender requests for books to borrow, seats to steal.

The identities I put on are not identities, they’re labels, uniforms. And I find it really…sad, that we have to act this way, or that we choose to act this way. That we get lost in posturing.

So much of what I read about masculine and feminine identity, for example, comes down to physical features and behaviours. But it’s like trying to say someone is bald – that semi-famous philosophical problem – how many hairs does it take? Because clearly you can be called bald even if you have some hair. It’s a vaguery of quantity and presentation that seems to defy conventional logic: the point at which someone becomes bald is relative to who’s looking, or who’s wearing or not wearing the hair. But mainly who’s looking I guess. It’s not so important to the one with the hair, they just feel more or less of a breeze. They probably don’t have much need for a name for how they look. They have other words, pictures, sounds, for their experience, what they think, how they feel.

So with masculinity and femininity – it’s a vague labelling to help other people understand who you are, and how they see you. It matters to them whether you walk how they want or have the curves they want, or the muscles they need you to have, the job they want you to work. In a sense, therefore, it’s not something you need to worry about at all. It doesn’t matter to you, you just have to be yourself and, hey, why not enjoy being yourself while you’re there? So what if someone else doesn’t like it? If they’re not involved in your life in any meaningful way, it shouldn’t matter. If they are involved in your life seriously…then why aren’t they taking you seriously?

Okay, sometimes being yourself will get you into trouble with the onlookers. They can imprison you, harm you, bully you. Sometimes. Basic line of defence there is the same: fuck them. You’ve got one life being you, so don’t let anyone shit that up. Being yourself can hurt but unselving is worse. The middle ground is, I guess, hiding in the labels people like without adopting them. The safe place, maybe, mostly, is that. Understanding the labels other people use, that you probably also have to use, remembering that a label is just that. Remember the you behind that peelable sticker. Behind that loose dust jacket.

Identity is something far more personal, and so far more nebulous than label. No name can fully describe, no traits, no long videos, books, audio recordings, nothing can quite encapsulate it fully except you having yours, you being you. And heck it’s something you can’t avoid. Unselving just hurts worst, it doesn’t actually break you. You continue being you, and having been you.

Sometimes I think labels are a way of people escaping their own totality. I’ve done a lot over the years I’m unhappy about, and that stuff doesn’t go away with time. Forgetting it for a while doesn’t wash it out of history. But hey, that doesn’t determine who I have to be, what I have to do, how I have to feel. It’s stuff I have to come to terms with, and carry on in spite of. And hiding, pretending, putting it off…that’s just running away from creaks in the floorboards, rustles in hedgerows, the call of the Moon. Life is something you have to live, you know. It’s weirdly self-fulfilling like that. All it asks is that you get properly involved in being…and being you.

Now, maybe I can’t make this properly engage with the debate on “identity issues/politics” but that’s because I don’t like having to be part of that warzone. I’m peaceful, I want happy, functioning folk, not holy corpses. Most of any debate seems to have become people demanding obedience and adherence from people who demanded that from them, because people demanded that from them, because people demanded that from them…ad nauseam. It’s a minefield in which most any opinion is wrong for someone. I just wish we could get back to the reality…you don’t need to have such a strong opinion about someone else’s life. Beyond wanting them not to shit on you, they’re really not your problem. And most people don’t want to shit on you. Scat porn is relatively exclusive like that.

It’s so frustrating as politics descends into nonsensical exchanges of buzzwords that have lost all meaning, discussions of gender, sexuality, patriarchy, identity, dissolve into a mess of offended males and females fighting for their right for other people to call them male or female…and that we seem to be unable to say “rape is wrong” and have everyone understand. We seem unable to say “racism is wrong” and have everyone understand. “War is wrong. Violence is wrong.” Or worse, we know these things are wrong, but in despair we suffer or indulge them anyway, the incomprehensible spewing mess of our existence drowning so many fractured minds…

I think we’re ordering. I think bit by bit humanity is helping itself to calm down and recognise a fair and universal understanding almost beyond description, but well within grasp. And on the one hand it’s so beautiful to feel that hope, more, that knowledge. But on the other, I am human and I am impatient.

3 thoughts on “Does anyone else get tired of labels?

  1. I enjoyed your post, and, yes I’m tired of labels. But…. this is how personal construct theory works (Kelly). The problem is when people make judgements of others and their actions in an abuse of labels.
    “We seem unable to say “racism is wrong” and have everyone understand. “War is wrong. Violence is wrong.” Or worse, we know these things are wrong, but in despair we suffer or indulge them anyway”. We know all of these things, but calling someone a racist when they want to deal with illegal immigration is wrong too, so is calling someone a warmonger when they act to destroy an evil man’s stock of biological weapons etc etc. We seem to live in an era where labels are ascribed to others by someone who feels offended by the most trivial use of language!

    1. Thanks Dr B. I hear you. And I don’t mean to criticise immigration policy or the recent bombing of Syria in my post, well, except in a very distant and philosophical way. You know, ideal worlds, that sort of thing.

      At the same time, I think the potential misuse of a term like “racist” is only the result of our vocabulary being so soaked with common labels that many people struggle to keep faith with more detailed descriptions. Particularly with the rise of blogging, facebook, twitter, Instagram, social media…the public forum has become an all-encompassing and yet still distant place to converse in. A crowded room of strangers all around us that both is and isn’t ‘really there’. People aren’t used to giving lectures off a digital lectern. So, like new and underqualified lecturers they invoke broad strokes, huge sweeps of idea and ideology they don’t fully understand. Soapbox territory. And they want to be part of something in this new world, they want a guidance that they can only really provide for themselves, yet they go hunting for it in the mess of everyone and everything thrown across news screens, internet browsers, casual pub chats. In that context you can surely understand how people come to lazily mislabel. Labels are the only things out there they feel comfortable with, oddly. The only things familiar enough through regular (although incorrect) appearance. And once deliberately incensed by their leaders, politicians, businessfolk, academics…you can’t blame people for trusting those they’re supposed to be able to trust, and thereby following to at least partial stupidity.

      But give them time, Dr B: they’ll learn.

      1. I know you weren’t criticising immigration policy or warmongering etc, far from it, but these were two examples that immediately spring to mind. Such labels as I described are liberally sprinkled around against those who voted to Leave the EU in our recent referendum; racist, fascist, white supremacist are quite common…… but always via twitter, Facebook etc. To someone whose father is a Dunkirk hero with an Asian wife of 50 years this is insulting in the extreme to the extent that these people will NEVER learn because their life experience is short and narrow. However, thanks for your most considered reply 👍🙏

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