I’ve been examining the concept of labels this week – why we need them, why I resist them so much. No denying labels play an important role in the human experience.
A name is a label & it’s the first building block of our identity. Therein lie some answers. Labels are given to us when we are very young – gender, religion, race, ethnicity. They’re maps to help us navigate living & grow into our bodies, our minds, our feelings, our purpose.
We know labels become cages, notably the gender label that has been my biggest prison. So how does something that’s meant to help human life become something that poisons it?
Naming a thing is powerful. For instance, recognising an experience as a trauma can help you breathe because pretending it didn’t happen is suffocation. But any source of power can be turned into a shield, a crutch or a weapon.
We hide behind some labels. If the label is a shield, then anyone with a different flag (also a label) looks like an enemy.
It’s hard work figuring out who you are & terrifying to realise this is constantly changing. Labeling feels reassuring, like life can be understood & predicted with a formula that names everything neatly. People who are difficult to label are intimidating because they force us to face the fact that life moves beyond & with or without labels.
Each time, I’m attacked for this, I sustain damage. Labels like patriarchy, feminism, microaggression, harassment, consent violation have helped me proceed. Labels of feelings like betrayal, jealousy, rage, fear, hunger, discomfort have helped me find ways to address them. Now, when I’ve had time to process & heal, I find myself thinking about the sources of those hurts.
Who are people when their labels fall away? There’s a pristine authenticity in that moment. You cannot touch without also being touched. Living beyond labels necessarily makes everyone around you have to live like that, even if only for a few moments. Not everyone likes that but that’s okay, I guess.
This is part of my Instagram series titled #UnlabeledLives that has posts, questions & polls, conversations & an Instagram Live with Quateel Ahmad saved as an IGTV video. If you liked this post, check it out!