Warning: this post is bristling with identity politics.
Postmodernism eschews labels and I endorse them, but only on my own behalf. As far as your description etc goes, you define your own labels, or lack thereof, and I respect them. If you tell me you’re a teapot, then that is what you are (plus I’d be grateful for the tea). And imho that is just basic good manners and decency, nothing more.
My labels are human, woman, cis woman, queer, dyke, butch, bipolar, house owner, dog walker, bad swimmer, feminist, witty, clever, driver, clumsy, sister, cousin, friend, pervert, odd … the list could go on indefinitely and all of it is tied together by my name and nickname, and out here – my username. The way I look and walk and talk and think and everything else, those are all labels too. And sometimes labels wear out and peel off, and sometimes they are replaced by new ones.
Now, it is very (understandably) important to some people that other people get their labels – and by extension, their pronouns right. I get gendered and misgendered multiple times throughout the day and I don’t even correct it. I simply don’t give a damn whether I get called sir or whatever. However, all of that is easy for me to say, because I have no gender dysphoria or respect for the binary gender system. I’ve never had to fight for my true identity, or align my biology to it. I’m fortunate. I’m fluid about my labels in general; some things bugged me 3-4 decades ago, but that’s long forgotten now.
Labels applied by others can be deeply offensive and damaging. Again, most of mine stem from my gender and sexuality. And again, I am fortunate never to have needed to defend those things with my safety and/or life.
Things along the lines of …
What the fuck are you, male of female?
Faggoty assed bitch!
… have been hurled my way, oddly enough far more in the UK than SA – and I’ve been in SA for most of my life. What even is a faggoty ass? It sounds nice.
Those labels can be reclaimed or ignored. I was only ever worried once and that was by a crowd of English teenagers mouthing off at me about my gender.
You wanna use my labels to insult me?
Fuck off, why would I be insulted by my own labels? It’s your shit, not mine.
You wanna beat me up?
Even if you killed me, I’d still be a better human being than you.
You wanna throw insults at my tribe?
I’m standing here in plain sight using my voice, because if you fuck with them you fuck with me.
You wanna start a flame war?
I will never join you in that exercise in futility. May as well bypass a whole lot of ire and quote Godwin’s Law right now.
You wanna have a go at me because I have a disorder?
Blatant logic fail. I’m gonna have to go and startle your sheep now. Twat.
My clearest (and somehow most interactive) labels have clearly been the sex, gender and sexuality ones. And they’ve all sauntered through a progressive metamorphosis over the years. For example: undefined and sort of heterosexual, gay, lesbian, queer, butch. It reflects my gender performance from androgynous to blatantly masculine of centre. (The word dyke has been firmly with me from the start.)
Language = labels (in my mind). You know the lager with the label Carling Black Label? How do you recognise or order it without that label? How do you get the right treatment if you shun the label of a diagnosis? How do you get laid if you don’t either look queer or be open about the fact? (Heterosexuals please don’t be upset by your exclusion from that sentence. You’re an estimated 90% of the population, you don’t have the same issues in that respect.) Are some labels labels while other labels are not labels? If so, it’s woefully inaccurate use of words. Please explain the logic behind all this loathing of labels. Unless labels cause the possibility of your death, I do not understand it. Is it about the assumptions people make? Surely we should be a) getting over our insecurities about others’ opinions and b) being out, proud and loud in order to combat the bs?
By refusing to be labelled, you are automatically labelled “unlabelled”. There is no existence without the identification of the things in it. Language is labels. Write your own labels.
But it is possible that I am wrong about it.
But more than all of that, being “labelled” bipolar can be positive and meaningful to the individual. So many people struggle for so many years with symptoms and have no idea why. Then, suddenly, when they are properly diagnosed, the label “bipolar” is a huge relief because then they know what is wrong and they can finally work to address it.