In defense of labels

untitledI’m keenly aware that these days, there is a resistance to–and rejection of–the idea of labels as applied to one’s personal characteristics.  (I’m also just as keenly aware that many of those who eschew labels have prided themselves on going against the grain–almost contrarian–and are secretly, subconsciously, freaked out that other people might share their oh-so-unique position, or that society is somehow onto them, having discovered their secrets.)

In truth, I understand the objection to labeling.  A person is complex, and not as simple as their bisexuality, ADHD condition, ENTJ (Myers-Briggs personality type), female gender, bodybuilder status, or their Libertarian party affiliation.  I know that I can’t stand being lumped in with many other Wiccans, independent-conservatives, females, “preppers”, conspiracy theorists, rednecks, chiropractors, etc, even though every single one of those labels applies to me.

Labels can indeed be simplistic, failing to address the variance and depth of an individual person.  They can also be restricting, in that people looking to adopt a label or fit in with a certain group may feel pressured to take on characteristics that don’t necessarily apply to them.  Labels can conjure up negative stereotypes or connotations.

I get all that.

I also can’t ignore the plethora of labels all around us, seeking to describe practically anything in a concise term (or perhaps acronym).  I inherently know that labels exist for a reason.  Some of it is the desire for brevity, whether due to laziness or time constraints.  For example, it’s much easier to say “I’m Wiccan”, rather than “I believe that the Supreme Being contains a duality of male and female energies and that s/he flows through everything in existence.  I pay special attention to seasons and various characteristics or aspects of the God(dess) and plan many major events according to seasons and astrological positions.”

Labels also serve another purpose, and this one may be more important.  While it is risky, or maybe even dangerous, to discover a label, decide it “sounds cool” and attempt to mold your lifestyle and personality around the label, it can be extremely comforting to discover that a label does indeed exist for a blend of characteristics you’ve always thought you were weird for having and alone in experiencing.

Such an experience happened to me last night.  I’ve always felt a little strange about both my gender identity and my sexual orientation.  Sure, I’m female, and I live a heterosexual lifestyle, but there’s always been something a little more, a little different.  Sex isn’t particularly appealing to me; I can take it or leave it.  I prefer not to swap spit, sweat, or other fluids, or smell carnal smells.  Very rarely do I get excited about the idea of experiencing sexual intimacy, and I’m not sexually attracted to either gender.  At no point do I look at someone, not even my own partner, and think, “Man, I could jump them right now.”  Sex is a chore, and I do it because it’s expected.  I do it for my partner, whose libido and primal needs are much greater than my own.  But it’s still a chore, and I can think of 50 other things I’d rather be doing.

That does not mean that I don’t desire a romantic or emotional supra-platonic connection, however.  I feel the need to touch, hug, cuddle, or lay next to someone without any sex involved.  I love it when someone rubs my back or my shoulders, strokes my head, plays with my hair, or calls me pet names; that’s pure heaven to me.  And, I could do this equally with either gender.  Plumbing absolutely does not matter.  A hug is a hug, and the arm is an arm, no matter what the anatomical case is about 1-2 feet away.

For the past several years, these realizations have gradually come to light, leaving me with more questions than answers.  Although living as a heterosexual female, these other currents welled up inside me, building to a point at which they could no longer be ignored or go unacknowledged.  But Jesus–someone who wants to be romantic with either sex but bang no one?  How the hell do you describe that?

Surfing the internet late last night, I somehow wandered onto a website that talked about “biromantic”, a label that describes someone who seeks and is capable of a deeper emotional relationship with either gender, as opposed to “monoromantic”, or one who can only fathom such a connection with one gender.

What’s more is, these “-romantic” terms often further modify “-sexual” terms, (hetero-, homo-, bi-, or even asexual).  One’s very sexual (or non-) identity can now be summed up in a brief game of mix-‘n’-match!  Among the first of Google’s related search suggestions for “biromantic” was indeed the search string “biromantic asexual”.

I was stunned.  Very happily stunned.

I had a sudden flashback of the music video to the song “No Rain” by Blind Melon, in which this outcast nerdy girl in a bumblebee costume was derided, excluded, and laughed at by everyone else, until the very end, in which she found a whole group of bumblebee people exactly like her.  The transformation was immediate, from  utter misery to pure joy.  I knew that feeling well.  It was a sense of belonging and relief.

And I felt it again last night.  Although I don’t know a single fellow biromantic asexual, I inexplicably fell asleep last night with a feeling of contentment and peace.  Yes, I had found a label.  Yes, they can be confining.  Yes, they can be simplistic.  Yes, it’s just a label.  No, nothing else changed.

Or did it?

I might venture to say that something did change, even if it was a subtle stir deep inside me.  Suddenly, I was no longer this weird amalgam of my own instinctual desires, constantly juxtaposed with society’s expectations.  Because the glaring truth is, if there’s a label for it, there must be a big enough population in order to justify the creation of that label.

Which means I’m not alone.

To make a sudden transition from “weird” and “miscellaneous” to feelings of vindication and validation is a powerful experience.  I never did feel much shame, per se, since I was doing nothing wrong, but I felt the kind of mild shame or self-doubt that comes from the belief that you’re weird and indescribable and that you’re the only person in the world who thinks or feels the way you do.  It’s very lonely and alienating.  And although I haven’t yet met anyone else with my orientation, it was odd…

…I realized that regardless, I felt a lot less alone in the world.

Labels can be good; labels can be bad.  They’re double-edged swords.  But in our quick tendency to dismiss societal constructs (sometimes for good reasons and other times out of sheer obstinance), we need to keep in mind that labels can be comforting, vindicating, and validating–which brings us bumblebee outcasts what we want most: peace, empowerment, and self-acceptance.

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