Opinion: Labels are good

milkboys Articles 35 Comments

Opinions like “Labels are bad” and advice á la “Stop trying to put people into boxes” are widespread, especially among queer folks. And many people probably think they’re doing us a service by spreading that gospel.

The truth is more complicated. By trying to get rid of labels you actually end up risking to disenfranchise the marginalised groups within the queer community who are glad to have a small point of representation.

It might not be convenient to end up with seemingly infinite acronyms like LGBTQQIP2SAA (extreme example, to be fair) but guess what? Sometimes convenience is not the priority when it comes to treating people right and making sure no one feels like an outcast.

Finding out that there is actually a term for your orientation or your preferences can mean the world to someone, it can help you establish an identity and make you feel like you belong, that you’re not just some weirdo who’s different from everyone else in the world. Labels can literally save lives.

I often personally opt for the term “queer” when I talk about my own sexuality just because I can’t be bothered to explain the mess that are my preferences to people who likely don’t even care about the details (and how do you explain in one word that you prefer sex with girls, love a boy but don’t seek relationships with either not to mention anything that goes beyond binary genders…).

And I believe that queer is a great umbrella term for our community but that doesn’t mean that we have to take more nuanced labels away from the people who rely on them for representation. So let’s not.

Slate has more on the topic.

Comments 35

  1. Except the problem with labels isn’t convenience??? Nobody is fucking complaining about “oh well I don’t wanna have to say this long acronym.”

    The point is that there are people out there genuinely agonizing and hating themselves over liking guys who look like girls. There are people out there who genuinely hate people over what they like.

    That’s why labels are bad. Not fucking how long the acronym is.

    1. Acronyms are a bunch of letters which stand for words which, when mashed together in order, themselves spell a word.

      If the result doesn’t spell anything, it’s just an initialism.

  2. “Finding out that there is actually a term for your orientation or your preferences can mean the world to someone, it can help you establish an identity…”

    The idea of establishing an identity based around my sexual orientation is utterly alien to me. Who and or what I find sexual attraction/gratification with is such a minute part of who I am. I suppose I’m just not wired to care that much at all? My personal identity is centered around other things – things to me that are much more important.

    Are people really defining who they are based on whether or not they enjoy playing with a penis that isn’t theirs?

    1. You see, the problem is that you only see it from a gay guy’s perspective.

      But imagine for example you’re asexual. You grow up in a world that shouts at you every chance it gets that sex is everything, that your first sex is the most important moment of your youth, that sex makes the world go round, that sex is what brings humans together et cetera.

      And you just sit there and think “What’s wrong with me? I must be the only person in the world who doesn’t care about sex at all.”

      Then you find out that being asexual is actually something you share with others, that there’s a name for that, that there’s a community and whatnot. That you’re not alone.

      That can literally change your life for the better. And yes, that can be a huge part of your identity.

      1. I never said I was gay. There go those labels again, eh?

        As I said, the idea of sexual orientation playing any part in my personal identity is a very foreign idea to me. It’s no a part of my internal “identity” that is the fact that I’m 5’9 or brown haired. It’s certainly part of who I am, but only on the most superficial of levels. I’d be the same person (all other things being equal of course) if I were 5’8 or 5’10. My favorite color is blue. Should I be any different were I to have an affinity for green? Why should I be any different of a person if who or what I found attractive was any different.

        None of this is to say that I see no value in the scenario you’ve mentioned – the idea of finding commonality. Of course there is tremendous value in knowing you’re not alone in your particular tastes or situation, but that can be said of essentially everything in life, not just sexual orientation. It’s comforting to know that every one deals with similar day to day challenges whether they be sexual or more simple daily frustrations. But to define my personal identity based on it?

        Again – alien to me.

  3. Because this is something to be angry about? I don’t like seeing people ACTUALLY LOSE FRIENDS over something as stupid as whether liking traps is gay. People should like what they like and not try to label it.

    1. I feel like that wasn’t really the point of the argument? I think it was more about everything that comes after “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual” in the acronym, the parts many people feel are not really necessary.

  4. Yes it can mean a lot to have a label which allows people of a like mind to find each other.

    However the linked article is tainted by linking Oscar Wilde to the LGBT spectrum. Wilde liked boys, and the LGBT spectrum has nothing to do with that.

    1. I don’t see what that has to do with anything in the article but Wilde’s love interest was 21 when they met, wouldn’t exactly call that a boy at least not by your definition.

      1. “Among the more sordid details are those revealed by Margaret Cotta, a chambermaid at the Savoy Hotel, a favourite rendezvous for Wilde and his series of young male ‘renters’. Describing a prolonged visit to the hotel by Wilde and Alfred Douglas, who was affectionately known as Bosie, Miss Cotta said she found a ‘common boy, rough looking, about 14 years of age’ in Wilde’s bed, the sheets of which ‘were always in a most disgusting state… [with] traces of vaseline, soil and semen’.”


        And more details about boys aged 15, 16, and 17:


        1. Yeah that still doesn’t make him a pedo though? These boys are over the age of consent in most of Europe, saying someone who is into teenage boys doesn’t fall into the LGBT spectrum seems extremely far fetched and pointless. And besides, that attraction was obviously not exclusive so as much as it seems to hurt you, yes Oscar Wilde was a gay dude.

          1. For those of us in the US where Slate is headquartered, it’s illegal and besides that, the international LGBT movement (ILGA especially) in the US violently forced out all lovers of boys in 1990 and cooperated with the right wing to trade off (in back room deals) acceptance of and decriminalization of adult/adult homosexuality by increasing penalties for adult/minor sex crimes. I would be very surprised to see evidence that the LGBT movement accepts men who are attracted to boys, today, even in Germany or other parts of Europe. Everywhere in Europe that I am familiar with, lovers of boys have withdrawn from the public stage.

    2. “the international LGBT movement (ILGA especially) in the US violently forced out all lovers of boys in 1990 and cooperated with right wing to trade off (in back room deals) acceptance of and decriminalization of adult/adult homosexuality by increasing penalties for adult/minor sex crimes.”


      1. You had to be there, paying attention and saving every news article, to retrace the steps. I’d have to dig to find it for you. It is for some future historian to put it all together.

        However the book “The Prison and The Gallows” by Marie Gottschalk gets close, by discussing criminal justice in general – and the women’s groups working back room deals with right wing law enforcement agencies, politicians, and beaurocracies, though she swerves direct discussion of sex crimes or the LGBT movement.

          1. My point was that I can’t point him to a book about this topic because it hasn’t been written. Either you had to be there, or see the news articles after it happened, or know people involved in the process. Penboy doesn’t trust me very much, which is why he always asks me for proof.

    3. “Penboy doesn’t trust me very much, which is why he always asks me for proof.”

      Like, because of …… “I can’t point him to a book about this topic because it hasn’t been written.

      Could that possibly be a reason?

  5. The problem isn’t that there’s any shortage of labels. It’s that they’re becoming excessively narrow and numerous. Having yet another stupid word to call one’s self or new sexuality niche to decipher does no one any good.

    What people really crave is a sense of belonging. Maybe if everyone out there would just cut the crap with this “You’re not really (insert subculture, sexuality, etc here) because (insert stupidity here)” nonsense, we wouldn’t have so many miserable people whining about how marginalized they feel.

    90% of the population think all these extraneous terms are synonymous with either “gay” or “straight” anyway. Adding anything after the “T” in LGBT just makes them roll their eyes.

  6. Weird, I am pretty asexual. Thank you for telling me to imagine being what I fucking am. I really appreciate it.

    Do you know how fucking frustrating it is to explain asexuality to people? It fucking sucks.

    You know what works? “I don’t label nyself.”

    1. Oh right, sorry forgot that you’re the only one that matters and if something does or doesn’t work for you it must automatically apply to everyone else haha

      That other guy was right, you do seem pretty angry, you might wanna have someone look into that? No offense, it just doesn’t sound like you’re in a healthy state of mind. Hope you get better.

    2. “Do you know how fucking frustrating it is to explain asexuality to people? It fucking sucks.”

      As is atheist. Welcome to the club.

  7. I believe that the thing that makes sexuality labels so different than the rest is that, unlike cultural, political or ideological identities and preferences, sexual identity and preference are disproportionately influenced by our biology. Unfortunately, this also makes these labels rather mutually exclusive and somewhat rigid.

    Without necessarily being static or determined, a sex label does seem to have stronger social or psychological implications, precisely because they are unlikely to change over a person’s life. Sure, people can conceal their sexual preferences and identity over a long period of time, but those preferences would have still been latent all those years. On the other hand, while one may be born with a given nationality or raised in a conservative or liberal family, he or she could be free to adopt any number of different nationalities or ideological preferences, without even having to totally abandon or reject their previously held ones.

    I’m just thinking that this might be the case why labels related to sex are so controversial, unlike political or cultural labels which, however conflicting, can fluctuate more easily.

  8. The acronym will only be truly complete and inclusive after C and S for Cis and Straight are added to it. Then it can be shortened to a single letter H for Human!

    While labels are important, trying to put all of them, all of what’s not 100% cis and straight into a huge acronym is probably not a great idea. Queer covers it all indeed. We don’t use BYRO+ for Black-Yellow-Red-Olive non-white races or JAM+ for Jew-Atheist-Muslim non-Roman Catholic religions. Diversity is such a well established notion in 2018 for Westerners that we now usually speak inclusively when we mention sex, gender, race or religion without any specific details. Except for Southern Baptists and backwards countries, that is.

    LGBT+ tries to be inclusive but is actually by definition exclusive: non-cis, non-straight and non-every label that’s not yet specifically added to it.

    The important thing is that all people are accepted for who they are, by others and also by themselves. There are millions of different personality and physical traits in our families and friends, sexuality and gender are just a few of them that should not matter anymore than being black or having “only” one leg. Well, not “anymore,” since all traits don’t rank the same, but you get the idea.

    Personally, I don’t need to “define” myself in a great level of details. I know broadly my gender, identity, sexual preference and I am perfectly happy with that state and information. Any further subdivision seems like some form of intellectual masturbation to me, although I readily concede other people might need it (the information, not the masturbation, you perverts!)

    1. “or JAM+ for Jew-Atheist-Muslim non-Roman Catholic religions.

      Atheism is NOT a “religion” (the ‘a’ is your best clue).

      1. It’s a shortcut for “religions and stances about religions” if you want to be picky about my comment on the Internet which I am honored that you mistook for a thesis… ;)

        1. You used those labels as a adjective or description of religions — pure and simple (“shortcut” or not).

          1. And everyone but you understood his point and intended meaning. Understand and accept that you’re being lead by your obsessive hatred of all things religion. Notice you didn’t pick him up on the idea that colors (Red, Yellow, Olive etc) are not races….

            Sometimes it can be tiresome to be so pedantic, don’t you think Penboy?

  9. As identify as an ephebophile, a platonic lover of youth, and a label I’ve never seen in any discussion of the gay spectrum and probably never will, I stick with the blanket label of “gay”. I understand the need for some to have a label for their niche, but being stuck with the opprobrious label of paedophile just don’t get it.
    Paedophile is a misnomer anyhow. Coming from from the Greek Paedi, child and philos, spiritual (non-sexual) love, it should be celebrated, not despised. The negative term should be paederast, i.e. kiddie fucker.
    If more specific labels work for you, more power to you, but in the interest of my own safety, I’ll stick to “gay”.

  10. 😏The problem with labels, any and all is… That they’ll always be someone that doesn’t like them no matter how well thought out they might be.
    Best keep labels to yourself lest your round like minded individuals who will accept you no matter what your ‘perceived’ label may be.

  11. Some of you (and I’ve seen quite a bit around the Internet) are quick to point out the age difference …. as in Call Me By Your Name but fail to understand (for logistic reasons as well) that in Italy, sexual consent age is 14.

    Btw, when I described the older one, I wrongly stated that he was “around 30” when, in fact, the story has him around 24-ish as the actors have said.

    [And I’m sure in the book the “17-y.o.” wasn’t laying a legal trap just so he could profit from a religious-crazed society that pays off everyone for even trivial “problems.”]

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