Some musings on labels

Let’s talk a bit about labels.

Anyone whose ever spent any time listening to non-asexuals encountering asexuality (or other minority orientations) has probably heard this argument before:

“But why do you need to make up all these new words label yourself?”

Many, many, many very eloquent arguments have been made to explain why labels are actually important – finding identity, finding communities, self confidence, and many other reasons.

However, I’m not going to focus on why we need labels. Instead, I ask, why should we not have more labels?

Despite their much maligned nature, labels are essentially just adjectives. Although they can harmful when forcibly applied without a person’s consent, on their own they are not harmful, and can even be beneficial.

Things like gender and sexuality far from the only field in which we use labels – in fact we use labels for all kinds of things! Some of the obvious categories in which we have labels are things like race, class, etc. But what about occupations? When you say you “I’m a teacher” or “I’m an accountant” or “I’m an independent contractor,” those are also labels. When you say  “I’m a Dr. Who fan” or “I’m a swimmer” or “I’m a neat-freak”, those are labels too. Vegetarian. Homemaker. Brony. Sister. Coworker. Tall. Atheist. Sleepy. All labels.

And as a culture, we love labeling things and giving them categories. As an example, let’s look at color:

Overall, we have the most famous set of color labels: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet

But then what about teal? What about pink, lavender, grey, beige, goldenrod, magenta? Obviously we like having more nuanced labels for specific subsets, in order to differentiate and avoid confusion.

And in addition to colors, we even have subsets of colors (moss green, leaf green, sea green) and modifiers (light, dark, bright, pastel,dull,pale,bold etc.)

And we even have different methods of classifying and organizing them: We have the classic ROYGBIV, but then sometimes we leave out indigo or just lump it into “purple”. We have RGB. Or sometimes people explain it as CMYK. There’s color wheels and crayon sets and spectrums.

So when people object to new labels because they’re too “difficult” to understand, that’s really not the issue. If people can handle dozens of words for color, I think that having a small handful for sexuality is not asking much. And when you consider that we have so many words for a relatively simple and well understood subject like color, the tiny number we have for something as complex and nuanced as human sexuality seems rather insufficient!

Instead, I think “label” arguments are not about having labels, but about people being uncomfortable with ideas they aren’t used to – when people say “Why do you have to make up all these labels”, what it really means is “why do you have to be different?”

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About Sennkestra

I'm an aromantic asexual and a bit of an [a]sexuality nerd, recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in linguistics. When I'm not reading stuff on the internet I like to cook fancy food, watch anime, and make costumes and other arts and crafts projects.
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2 Responses to Some musings on labels

  1. Pingback: Linkspam: October 19th, 2012 | The Asexual Agenda

  2. I think you are absolutely correct and that there is nothing I could add to this post.

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