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labels

I find myself discovering more of the ever-widening sphere of kink,  LGBT, and alternative lifestyle communities as I talk to more people and reveal my own burgeoning proclivities to friends.  Yet there is a certain hesitancy to leap head-on into the full discourse of current topics and issues within that sphere, especially as related to gender.  Gender has become such an academic subject, and even now I am hesitant to reveal my thoughts on the admittedly limited reading I’ve done into it.  But, honestly, I cannot begin to breach the onslaught of terms I’ve found, from heteronormativity to cisgender.

Labels.  All of these labels!  It makes my head spin.

Before going further, I should note that this is neither a bash nor a rant on queer/gender theory, but the meandering thoughts of a confused but curious girl.  I should also take a moment to explain where I am coming from.  After all, I suppose it is my own partial suspicions and biases against pure academics after submitting to it for the past dozen years at work here.

As an example, when I was first exposed (fairly early in my life) to the Linnaeus system of organism classification – binomial nomenclature – I thought it was the perfect categorization system.  Every organism belonged in its proper place, everything clean and tidy.  Throughout middle and high school I lauded scientific thought and methodology.  My knowable world was rational and explainable.

Later on and several biology courses in, I learned that the classification tree underwent massive structural changes.  Domains were introduced, a new branch inserted for a class of primitive bacteria unlike other prokaryotes.  All organisms with nuclei became grouped under the heading of “Eukaryota.”  I also learned of the two classes of scientists who specialized in organizing species: splitters, who wanted to split organisms into their smallest common denominator (which is becoming increasingly anal-retentive with DNA capabilities), and groupers, who’d rather combine organisms with “enough similarities” together.

And the human element of all of this finally hit me.  Human priorities, human error, human decisions.  Human need for order.  The world as I understood it shattered.  There was no perfect system.  While at the larger scale, these categorizations still make sense to me, the level of arbitrariness increases the closer you get to the species, sub-species, sub-sub-species, etc.

So this long and way-too-much-information-filled anecdote was to get me to this: while I do understand the need for labels and still believe in the power of categorization, I’ve also realized that placing a label onto a thing necessarily reshapes how you think of that thing and places limits on the flexibility of those thoughts.  Labeling is natural and necessary, on the one hand, but can be powerfully blinding (and binding), on the other.  I look back on how I used to view the world in absolutes and cringe at my narrow-mindedness.  Yet we all begin our understanding of the world like this, I imagine.  We learn about all the differences between cats and dogs long before we are taught that they are related groups within the animal kingdom.

As I’ve continued to have beliefs stripped away and new ones built up in what I can only imagine will be a lifelong process, I’ve become increasingly frustrated by the limitations of labels for describing myself.  On Fetlife, for instance, I no longer know what best to put under role, where the choices are Dominant, switch, submissive, Master, Mistress, slave, Top, bottom, fetishist, kinkster, sadist, masochist, sadomasochist, vanilla, not applicable, and not sure.  I suppose the last option is most accurate, as I’ve been discovering my masochistic, sadistic, vanilla, kinkster, Top, bottom, switch, and submissive sides.

Of course, it is simply not possible to create enough unique labels for every unique combination that makes up a person.  And I still love learning the scientific names of the organisms I read about.  I understand that the nature of every human’s personal evolution and fluidity can never be fully described, that stereotypes are founded on truth but almost always stigmatized and exaggerated, that prejudices will always arise, and that new words can help to expand and build upon the vocabulary we use to understand what is around and within us.

I understand it all in theory, anyway.  After all, I am still only 23 years old, and a newly-minted 23 at that.  I’m only thankful to now be more open-minded and willing to broaden my scope of understanding than maintaining the rigid, unforgiving mindset of my teenage self.

On a related note, I recently had an absorbing conversation with a friend on how important racial heritage should be/is in influencing one’s life.  As an Asian-American, I grew up expected to relate school projects and assignments with my heritage.  In my AP Studio Art class, my teacher insisted that I make Asian-based artwork.  As one of maybe three or four Asians in my graduating class, I attained a status symbol and felt myself being molded to fit the characteristics of the quiet, studious Chinese girl.

Since then, it has been a constant, almost subconscious struggle of fitting my racial identity somewhere within the whole of my being.  Perhaps it is why I’ve begun to think about sexual identity more now as well, since it adds yet another layer of complexity to all of this.  However, and this really is the crux of the matter, I have never felt the desire or need to advocate on behalf of either of these, race or sexuality.  Which is an interesting thought, considering that I know I will never be accepted as anything other than heterosexual by my family.  Having fought for so long to simply be accepted as a sexual being (though I’m still not sure that has even been accepted – it is simply not discussed now), I have no desire to take the fight any further.

I wonder if these terms of academic discourse ultimately help or hinder the understanding of queer/sexual/kink/race identity for those who need it most, or, for that matter, if it makes it any easier to reach those communities that need the education the most.  I know how strongly people become attached to certain labels, identities, and ideals: passionate advocates for their cause.  But should we be splitting our race and society further into tinier, more specific boxes, or can we find “enough similarities” with which to fundamentally understand and support each other?

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.
I am human, therefore nothing human is strange to me.

I am:

Taiwanese-American, a female, submissive, kinky, sadomasochistic, a top, a bottom, a tech geek, a web designer, a college graduate, an artist, a biologist, a tinkerer, shy, quiet, tentative, anti-social, curious, sexual, thin, round-faced, a tomboy, feminine, crazy, moody, introverted, reflective, thoughtful, selfish, fickle, independent, hungry, anal, obsessive, detail-oriented, spacey, near-sighted, funny, a bookworm, a science fiction/fantasy lover, a lover, a dork, realistic, idealistic, a homebody, hypersexual, young, a rope nut, a naturalist, a friend, a listener, a billiards player, a board game lover, a romantic, naive, solitary, intelligent, optimistic, amiable, hedonistic.

Questionnaire:

  1. What do the terms queer, cisgender, cissexism, heteronormative, heteroflexible, genderqueer, pansexual (whatever applies) mean to you?
  2. Is it important for you to identify as one or more of these, or as another sexual/kink/LGBT-term?  How are they relevant to your identity?
  3. How do you describe yourself?
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Categories: reflection, writing
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