“Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” -Hermione Granger
There are some people out there who don’t like to put labels on themselves, and that’s totally valid. However, I do have a problem with people saying that we all need to do away with labels entirely — not that they can enforce such an ideology anyway. In my experience, labels have been extremely helpful and even necessary for helping me and others understand me and my experiences.
The first example is my parents’ marriage. They divorced five years ago (wow, I got really excited when I typed that!) Yes, I’m happy they’re not together. Why? Because my dad was very abusive. What he did was considered domestic abuse. I learned in early high school that the term applied. Being able to type those two words into Google and reading what was fed back to me was an important first step in understanding and then healing from what I saw as a child. It helped me find articles and stories of people much like my mom and me. It helped me understand the effects on children so I could try to prevent them. Most importantly, it’s given me the tools to make my biggest fears irrational: either becoming my dad or marrying someone like him.
I’m still learning all the ins and outs of this term, but it was a big deal when I found out about it less than a year ago. I came across a list of things that are considered gaslighting. As soon as I was done reading it, I sent it to my mom. Finally there was a word to describe the way my dad could always twist an argument so that it was impossible to win against him.
As you probably know by now, I am a survivor of sexual assault. It’s happened to me more times than I care to count and has had a strong effect on me. It took me years to realize that this label applies to my experiences. But when that happened, it marked the beginning of my recovery. I joined an activist group, spent at least an hour each day reading articles about the topic, went to therapy, confided in people close to me, spoke at public events, started a blog and more. Without this word and the information it’s led me to, I would have no framework for understanding what happened to me. I would have no resources. I wouldn’t know that I’m not alone. I wouldn’t heal much if at all.
For a long time I have, let’s say, noticed the beauty in people of all genders. However, I have never had a crush on a girl and am not very sexually attracted to them. Calling myself heterosexual still felt wrong though, like I was ignoring a part of myself, because I am constantly in awe of female beauty in much the same way that I’m physically attracted to men. Because of all that, I never saw myself as bisexual. Then I came across the word heteroflexible. It’s essentially a type of bisexuality where the person heavily favors people on the opposite side of the gender spectrum (the “opposite sex”). That’s when it clicked. And at that point I learned about the different types of attraction (physical, sexual, romantic) and that they don’t have to coexist.
Finding feminist articles and spaces on the internet has helped me learn about many issues facing people: sexism, racism, homophobia, ablism, etc. and even how those issues overlap. People of many backgrounds and opinions can unite in the awesomeness that is feminism. Without the name, it would be a lot harder for us to find each other and compile all of our insights.
The common thread here: Finding words that describe my experiences and identities has given me a way to learn more and (even though I didn’t explicitly state it) convey those experiences and identities to others. While labels aren’t perfect, and can contribute to harmful stereotypes, they do have their uses. And we would do well to remember that a world without labels would be very confusing indeed.