By Star Schneider ‘16Copy Editor
Many times in my life, I have felt the need to define myself. But the world doesn’t seem to want to make that easy. Just think about the last time you registered for a website, or filled out a form, or the last time you updated your Facebook info section. Facebook only gives you the option of choosing “Male” and “Female” for gender, and if you don’t identify as either of those: tough. You can choose to hide your gender on your profile, but the symbolism in hiding your gender is strong enough to make that option seem sketchy at best. Google has one more option in its drop-down menu: Other. While some people do identify with that term, the implication is that if you don’t identify as Male or Female, obviously you must identify yourself as Other.
But is the solution to just continuously add more terms, more terms for people to pick and choose from, hoping that there’s one that describes them? What’s the point of even including labels if inevitably they will exclude people who don’t identify with them?
Who are you? Think about it. Now try to answer that question without relying on signifiers of gender, class, culture, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. We tend to fall back on these terms. “I am Jewish.” “I’m Greek Orthodox.” “I am a woman.” “I’m pansexual.” “I’m aromantic.” “I’m Californian.” “I’m Hawaiian.” Though they might not come up at first (a friend of mine, when asked, first responded “I don’t see the forest for the trees,” which I thought was pretty keen), eventually we do fall back on these terms.
And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with identifying with them—not inherently. But when I—using a personal example here—identify as aromantic, what does that say about me? To be honest, it says very little. For one, it doesn’t tell people that, like my friend, I sometimes don’t “see the forest for the trees,” or that, despite my aromantism, one of my favorite books is “Pride and Prejudice”— I’m a sucker for Mr. Darcy. More importantly, it only places you in the ballpark of my romantic identity. My major gripe with labels—specifically labels of gender, gender identity, sexuality, and romantic identity—is that that’s all they really do: place us in a ballpark, but people tend to make them into so much more. Terms like “genderqueer,” “pansexual,” “gray-A” and “male” help us signify to others points about our identity, but we often forget that when a friend tells us they’re queer, their definition might be very different from ours.
AVENWiki, a Wiki resource for asexuality and the asexual community, defines an aromantic as “a person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others.” To its credit—and it is a very good Wiki—it does go on to add qualifications, but oftentimes our shared understanding of labels ends there. The qualifications are something we have to add, and we shouldn’t take it at face value that two people identifying with the same term mean to identify with the same qualities that term refers to.
Once again, I’m not arguing against labels. They’re useful. I like them, but I can understand why some people don’t. I don’t think people who don’t want to use labels are worng. They can be homogenizing, even if a great diversity of labels mitigates it somewhat. But I personally use them because they DO tell people something. It might not be exactly what I’m trying to say, but it gives me a point of reference to bounce off of and work with.
Here’s an idea: Facebook allows you to fill in blank boxes with your religious views, political views, etc. Why can’t we do the same other things like gender? Instead of offering us a list of terms, often limited by a website or organization’s discretion, why can’t we have a blank box to write in?
But remember that giving me the option to identify as something can’t be the end of the conversation. Let me define who I am, but don’t assume that’s all there is to me.