Are labels in the gay community acceptable?

17 Nov

Labels within the gay community are acceptable. Although that is something which generally is not very popular to say, labeling something or someone is not always a bad thing. It is the manner in which labels are assigned and/or used which can be problematic, but not necessarily the label itself. If labeling wasn’t an effective means of conveying identity then the practice wouldn’t exist and the world would be a far more confusing place.

One way labels are acceptable and effective in the gay community, or straight community for that fact, is that they give us an immediate way to describe to someone. Consider for a moment you have a single friend whom is a lesbian and you have decided that it is time for her to get back into the dating world. You begin scoping out single candidates for her and have several in mind. What is the most effective way to describe them to her? You could say “She is about 5’6” and looks good. Maybe a little a bit tough looking, but not really. She’s a brunette with short hair, but not too short.” or you could say she is a “boi” or a semi-butch, and right away she is going to know whether that general type of person appeals to her. She may tell you to skip them all and just give you a list of lipsticks as that is all she is interested in.

That is a prime example of using labels and it works. It cuts the confusion and in all honesty it is not saying anything negative about a person. All it is doing is describing their physical presentation which often enough coincides with certain personality traits. Anyone that would take offense to being called a lipstick, “boi”, butch, or any of those labels is quite honestly being overly sensitive.

When labeling goes bad which is the only angle many people think of is when it used as a slur. The tough thing is that you have to in most cases actually hear how someone uses a word so you can judge the tone and the context a word is being used. Personally I’ve had no problem being called a dyke, some take that as an offensive label, but why? Well, some 8o years ago it was considered a crude base vulgarity synonymous with the word “ditch” which was used to reference the vagina. By the 1970’s the word was being reclaimed by the organization Dykes on Bikes, and thus transformed in the manner we view and use the word as a label. Just as the word ass can be viewed in many ways depending on how it is used, so too can dyke, fag, queer, or any other label used within or referencing the gay community.

If labels were really that awful and unacceptable to the gay community would we internally promote events by describing them as “Homopalooza” for instance? Would we have the Dykes on Bikes? Would we have the Stonewall Queens, Digital Queers, Lesbian Avengers, Pink Pistols, or the Queer Nation to name a few? Of course we wouldn’t if we as a whole found labels in our community unacceptable. Labels are here to stay not just in the gay community but in every community. It is up to each person to decide what is or is not acceptable to them and to monitor the manner in which labels are used. Labels are only words and they only have the power to hurt us if we give them that power.

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