We label to get ourselves through life, but are we causing more trouble by doing so?
They say words can kill ... but I say it's words turned into labels that do the most damage!
We thrive in a society of labels. I'm not talking about Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Tiffany's, and so on. Those kinds of labels evoke feelings of belonging, wealth, privilege, and ownership, but can also cause feelings of competition and not feeling good enough.
In other realms, we have labels like Democrat, Republican, Graduate, Undergraduate, Hispanic, African American, CEO, and Associate, all of which help our feeble human minds classify where people fit in, in the grand scheme of our planet.
Most disturbing, in the grand pursuit of peace on the planet, is our sad human predisposition toward one-mindedness. Trust me, this differs from mindfulness.
Yet, the point I'm making is how important it is to become mindful of the damage caused by thrusting labels upon one another—especially regarding sexuality and sexual orientation.
However, before we address the damages done by casting destructive labels upon one another in that arena specifically, let's quickly explore the strong influence labeling one another imparts on our perceptions and judgments.
One study suggests that even without labels, or having labels challenged, human judgments still persist. This study quickly put a damper on my thoughts of potentially living without labels, but I still have hope for humanity and my proposal is the following ...
I know we're all human and need certain labels to help us get through life, identify what we like and don't like, and discern if we belong in certain social constructs (big words for 'social circle'). I'm not going to deny that labels help us "keep on keepin' on".
Yet, when we clarify the social, psychological, and analytical reasons for why we rely on labels to categorize one another, we discover that labels basically keep us from being:
Yet, in the same breath, labels often cause us to feel:
I'm gay; therefore, I'm confused, embarrassed, misunderstood, rejected, and ostracized. In your own life, perhaps you're obese, analytical, blonde, short, blind as a bat, overly sensitive, enamored with monster trucks, attracted to bald-headed Asian women, in love with people with tattoos on their foreheads, loyal to your faith, or a parent to an autistic child.
And to you, my fellow humans, I wonder how many times (because of who you are) you've felt:
Yes, you've felt the pain, sting, or scorn of not quite fitting into someone's label—designer or not. In that moment, you wore the skin of all us gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, and queers, if only for a moment.
How does it feel? Did it really make you anything less than the person you are at your core?
Does the label someone else chooses fit you like a glove or sting you like a slap in the face?
What I've learned in my journey out of the closet, through the woods of divorce, and down the walk of shame of being laid off, is that being gay, divorced, and unemployed are just labels.
These labels help others try to figure out if they're comfortable with me. Labels help them gain clarity in conversations but those labels are only snapshot pieces of my life puzzle.
Yet, at the end of the day, regardless of studies that explain why we label and how we perceive and judge, labels are just human mechanisms to help us navigate this human experience we call life.
Personally, I have to eat my own dog food on this labeling thing daily. It's not easy trying to un-label, especially when we've become accustomed to it as part of our daily routine. But, when we stay mindful of our thoughts, actions, emotions, and feelings as we label someone, the only question that bears asking is ..."If that were me, would I want to wear that label?"
A person who's gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, or gender non-conforming, is just a person—a living, breathing human person made up of blood, cells, bones, muscle, skin, thoughts, emotions, and feelings; they're just trying to make it through life on this planet—just like you and me.
Can we maybe just let them take their journey in peace ... and maybe even with a little bit of support by saying, "I get you. I may not completely understand you, but I get that you're human just like me."
If you're struggling with finding your stride in label-meet-label world, wishing you could find a simpler way to just be you in your skin, maybe it's time to explore Coming Out Your Way! This simple, self-guided program leads you through the basics of starting your journey towards your true self.