I’ve always had a problem with labels.
I’m just not a fan of the oversimplification of something as complex as human beings.
I’ve always been drawn towards the type of people who reject narrow cultural norms and dismiss limiting definitions. They exude such a sense of freedom.
These days, the labeling of individuals is so entrenched in society that we are assaulted with standardized belief systems and expectations from the day we are born.
A friend and I recently grappled with describing a sexually uninhibited character in a show we were watching.
“She’s the slutty one,” he explained to me. “Well, not slutty… just open,” he corrected.
“Free-spirited,” I offered. “Liberated!”
A few adjectives later, we decided she was just “her.”
Why were we trying to categorize this character? Why must she have any connotations or definitions attached to her behavior?
This issue became increasingly apparent as I binge-watched the series that follows a group of lesbian friends trying to navigate their sexuality.
“Is that one bisexual?” “She’s definitely a lesbian. Maybe just a little bicurious.” “She’s so straight, she doesn’t even seem like a lesbian.”
I stopped as I recognized how ridiculous it is to label and catalogue someone’s sexuality as if it’s completely black and white. Why must these women fit into a neat box of acceptable norms and identities? Why should they be confined and compartmentalized, when they were just fluidly traversing an infinite scale of human emotion?
We repeatedly make this mistake because familiarity is comfortable.
It’s easier to accept and understand human beings if we lump them into archetypes and standardized ideals.
Definitions are safe. Sameness is secure. Difference and “otherness” is harder to digest and control, so we cower from it.
But it’s a dangerous road we humans have embarked on.
One of our greatest flaws is our ignorant belief that we must understand and rationalize everything and everyone in order to validate them. The “outliers” are left worrying about fitting into a particular way of being, just so we are more palatable to the rest of society.
How can anyone believe that the unique intricacies of each individual could be outlined and explained by definitive labels?
We spend far too much of our energy fighting who we are because we fear the labels that will be associated with our own truths.
In hindsight, I can see just how severely the act of labeling and the subsequent fear and conformity influenced me growing up.
For instance, I spent years believing that my “oversensitivity” was a negative trait that I should work against because it was an “undesirable” “weakness.”
The word oversensitive alone drips with negative connotations, implying that you are too much of something, straying from the expected norm.
After trying to justify and rationalize the nature of my deep emotions, I landed on the realization that I was just…me.
I wasn’t overly anything. I care a lot. I give a shit. I value the opinions of others. I feel and absorb the world and the emotions of those around me strongly. And none of this is good or bad, it just is. Letting go of my own labels and accepting myself without judgment was a liberating step of self-love.
I’ve watched our tendency to categorize everything around us creep its way into every aspect of how we live.
From body image and gender expectations (Am I too fat? Scrawny? Macho? Too sensitive for a guy? Too girly? Too sexual?), to intelligence (Am I a nerd? Should I dumb myself down?), to lifestyle choices we may adopt (Are you a hippy? A yuppie? Into that “new-agey” bullshit?) to the kinds of parents, children, and lovers we become.
Bruce Jenner is a brave champion of breaking free from crippling labels and identities. After decades of suffering in a body and gender Bruce could not identify with, we now have a game-changing leader who has finally freed himself from gender expectations and misaligned identities.
The public will try to peg Bruce with numerous definitions in an attempt to understand and control this transition: transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, lesbian.
But the world will soon have to accept that this individual will not fit perfectly into the norms and models they’ll try to assign. Because Bruce Jenner is unequivocally Bruce Jenner, a constantly evolving unique individual, and no definition can possibly capture that.
When we lift the labels from each other and ourselves we will find something much greater and deeper than understanding or standardization.
We will find acceptance and love.
We will celebrate uniqueness, priding ourselves on wherever we fall on this infinite scale of humanity.
It’s not easy to retrain our minds in a new way of thinking, but our brains are a powerful miracle capable of anything we set out to do.
Let’s remove the boxes we’ve been forcing ourselves into. Let’s lift these limiting ways of labeling, and embrace our indescribable, indefinable individuality.
Author: Gillian Berner
Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Renee Picard