Author Jody Klaire asks what’s with all the labels, and do we really need them to define ourselves?
Life is full of labels, asking us to define ourselves, but do you ever feel like you’re a multiple-choice questionnaire? I was filling out a recent form and I was asked everything from gender, nationality, sexuality, marital status, ethnic origin, languages spoken, to whether or not I had a faith.
I wasn’t sure why having a hearing test would need that amount of questioning. Was the audiologist looking for a suitable partner? Or had a I taken a wrong turn and gone speed dating?.
Back to the tick-box interrogation. I was very open and honest. I was completely honest about my Welshness, being female, and my language abilities by stating: I am now Portuguese, speak Dutch, am a co-habiting, gay male, and a Buddhist.
No one in the audiology department batted an eyelid at this. But before you worry, it’s okay, my doctor knows I can’t speak Dutch.
Finding a label that fits
The one label I realised fit me perfectly was “hates to tick boxes” and this reinforced how much I hate labels. I know that, for some, they are a badge of pride. They are something to show how proud you are of being you. I’m cheering for you. Sometimes they divide generations, for example “queer.” Some hate it because it has derogatory roots, and some love it because it says “not heterosexual.”
But if gender and sexuality are both on spectrums, then how do we define ourselves? And why does it matter? Other than for the purpose of fighting for equality, why should you have to be anything?
And what if you’re dithery like me? Maybe it’s just me, but I find labels demanding. I’m not really a tin of beans on a shelf and I can’t guarantee I am a genuine product. I mean, if you pick me off the shelf, thinking I’m going to be one thing, what happens if I don’t live up to it? What does each label mean anyway and does it come with rules? Is my definition the same as yours? So who decides the boundaries of the labels… and why do I have to pick one?
Forget labels, can’t I just be me?
I’m not bad at being me, sometimes. There are days when I think I’ve got being “me” nailed…and others when I’d rather pick another label and hide. I’m also not good at keeping up with the amount of labels introduced. I get asked questions on the LGBTQ+ community by kind folk who are writing characters and they expect me to be an expert. I will quite happily say that I’m not. I can’t get my own labels and cans right let alone have any authority to talk about someone else’s.
It’s one of the reasons why I write characters that are people first. People are unique works of art—living art, fascinating and beautiful. When I look at people, I see just that. A person to talk to. I see someone to make smile or laugh or learn about. I want them to feel that I’m fun to talk to and I’m a good person. I love that they’re them. I’d like them to love that I’m me. Full stop.
Choosing how we define ourselves
Maybe the only label I want then is “good person,” even if I can’t fulfil it as often as I’d like. And, although I know labels can be useful and great for lots of people, I’m just me. That label sort of fits. How we define ourselves is ultimately a personal choice.
I’d like you to note that about me, should you ever meet me on the page or off it. I think you’re a work of art and unique. To me, if you’re any label, you’re a designer one. A glorious, one-off, designer person… and I am too. Hey, we have something in common. Who knew?
Jody Klaire lives in South Wales with Fergus, her golden retriever. She is an award-winning, best-selling author of eleven books and has many more short stories in anthologies. When Jody isn’t writing, mentoring, teaching creative writing, or talking about writing, she is partial to a spot of cake. In Fashion is her first book with Ylva.
I have no problem identifying as a woman, a lesbian, cisgender, Jewish, and butch. These are identities I claim myself, as opposed to labels that others impose. There’s a difference.
The fact that racism, sexism, transphobia, anti-Semitism and homophobia exist means we’re not at a point where we can just all say “we’re humans; we’re all the same.” If I do that, I am not acknowledging oppression, both of myself and of others.
I entirely agree with Cindy T. Rizzo. Though I do not qualify for some of her labels, I believe it is important to resist the hate and diviseveness that give rise to the phobias she references.
I think this is a bad hot take. If the post had been framed solely as “labels are bad for me,” I think it might have made good food for thought, but the title frames it in the collective and post itself carries an air of condescension about the concept of labelling generally. Looking down on labels like this disparages those for whom labels can be life-saving, because they can help people understand themselves and can help them find community so they feel less alone.
I entirely agree that labels can be life-saving, especially if you choose them yourself. Of course, this is not as simple as it might seem from my short sentence. For instance, there are vast tracts of silence in which you could get lost were it not for your choice of label.
I seem to remember (years ago, and I’m too zonked to go hunting for this – anyone got a link?) the wonderful author Toni Morrison being asked by an interviewer if it wasn’t terribly limiting being a writer who was so known for being Black, female, from a poor Southern background etc. She replied that those were the things that gave her strength and fueled her (unique) writing. That resonates with me (although I’m hardly Nobel Prize material!) because my own life experiences – especially coming out and living as a lesbian, and growing up in Australia – have definitely been the things that made me a writer. Not the least because both those groups grow up not hearing their own stories told very often. Maybe it’s good for everyone to reflect on which life experiences put fuel in our tanks, so to speak – what are the things we have experienced in life that drive us to do what we do?
Again, I agree. I definitely know what puts fuel in my tank!