Whose Labels?

On a side note to depression I once mentioned the difficulty of a “diagnosis”
The issue that I wanted to highlight centres around the problem with labels. A concept that gender and sexuality politics refuses to let go of. In respect to mental health although a diagnosis offers problems of expectation (which can be especially difficult when that might result in chemical intervention and social restrictions) it is usually [though frighteningly not exclusively] based upon socio-scientifically agreed criteria. That is, although there may be many reasons for suspecting the grounds for proposing rules by which our sanity may be judged (including the involvement of interested parties like enforcers of political norms or profit margins of pharmaceutical giants), there are at least agreed guidelines for professionals to link us together and scientific research to link traits and treatments by statistical analysis. This means, in general, if two diagnosed schizophrenics sit in a room and chat there is a good chance there will be a common experience.

With gender and sexuality, however, the expectation of shared experience seems higher but in practice the actual similarities are lower and the cross-over is unfeasibly complicated.
For example – If homosexual means attracted to the same sex – do we specify sex meaning physically similar genitalia, or do we assume a degree of gender related association?
If (for argument’s sake) an all-american ‘jock’ falls in love with a person who dresses as Audrey Hepburn and prefers baking, shopping and embroidery to contact sports and pornography but also has a penis which s/he is happy with – is that Jock gay? Is Audrey male or female? If Audrey sleeps with a man who wants a vagina and dresses like Ellen de Generes are they straight? If all three live together and never have sex are they polyamorous?
Of course these questions are themselves irrelevant (if emotive) as long as that/those relationship(s) is itself comfortable [please do not message me with answers to these hypothetical questions – I in fact do not care about your answers]
That practical irrelevance doesn’t mean that in daily life we are not constantly encouraged to select shorthand for ourselves. But should we?

Many liberal postmodern commentators urge us to free ourselves from labels – arguing that the prescriptive nature of labels enables society to pigeon-hole, sanitise, stigmatise and stereotype us. Yet in the same dialogue we are reminded of our own discursive power to formulate meaning for the labels we use, to problematise, re-use and reclaim our own labelling.
Most modern scholars would be offended if anyone suggested that when they wrote about women they only referred to the Holly Golightlys or Cinderellas or Mother Goddesses or Miss Havershams of this (anglo-centrically stereotyped) world and nor do most men-on-the-street use such glib shorthands but we choose to still signify people using these words.
I believe we do it because we like to both categorise others and to belong. It is easier to fight for womens rights or gay rights or poly rights than to fight for my rights. I do not have to match a role or force others to fit my idea of a label to see that we share issues, worries and needs. Our commonality allows us to empathise with each others needs and to recognise our insecurities and appreciate our quirks.

Perhaps in the end we have labels because it is nice to have something in common rather than always focusing on what makes us unique. We are individual everyday, we are all in a category of one in our preferences, styles and aspirations perhaps sometimes there is a comfort in appreciating what is similar despite all that difference.
I don’t want to stop being the singular special me and I don’t want you to stop being the utterly unusual you but I do want to notice that we all love and live in this small space.

/hippylovelecture

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