Monday, December 13, 2010

Labeling Oneself

Recently, I have published excerpts from a very interesting post titled "What's Radical About the Poly-Pushers?" and received some interesting responses. The main reason why I brought this post to my blog is that the very idea of labeling sexuality seems very bizarre to me. Any collective identity takes away a lot more than it offers, but placing one's sexuality within the purview of a collective, especially when no political action is to be taken by that collective, looks like the main goal here is pursuing identity for its own sake.

If anybody were to ask me whether I am monogamous, polygamous, polyamorous, monoamorous, or any other variation thereof, my answer would be that I am none of  these things. I'm me, and my personal life belongs to nobody but me. I don't see how boxing myself into any collective identity, placing any kind of label upon myself would enrich my life. Sure, it will make things easier for other people because they would simply be able to dismiss my entire existence by packaging it into a single - mostly meaningless - word. Of course, if there were some significant political gains to be made there, I might have agreed to suspend my individuality for a brief period of time and would have donned the collective label while hating every second of the process.

Many people seem to think that learning to apply as many labels as possible to themselves is somehow invariably good. When I first saw bloggers present themselves as "I'm a heterosexual, cisgendered, traditionally abled, polyamorous, white, Jewish woman", I thought it was supposed to be a joke making fun of identity. When I understood, however, that people were doing this completely in earnest, I got kind of terrified. There is such a desperate yearning to dilute any kind of individuality with this accumulation of labels that it begs the question of why this person is so scared of leaving any part of herself uncategorized, unlabelled, not belonging to a group.


Pagan Topologist said...

I think useful information is useful information, somehow. If I know a woman is monogamous, I will not flirt with her seriously, if at all. If I do not know that, I might.

fairykarma said...

Hmmm.. I'm single. I prefer to be single. I heavily identify as single, as in single for life. Now, I don't think the term constrains me. I certainly feel free to do a lot of things I could not do were I attached to another soul. Autoamory is the best mode of existence. I don't actively push for everyone to be single. If you found a cave full of gold hidden in the woods, would you go around telling everyone? Most likely not. To be less base. If you found a secret idyllic garden with amplitudes of beauty and serenity, would you tell anyone? Not just regular beauty, I'm talking about the kind of beauty that floods your synapses with dopamine so much that heroin seems like childplay. The catch is with everyone you share this beauty with, the less beautiful the garden becomes. This garden you think is so beautiful, the person you share it with might think it's just a regular garden.

Sometimes I'm glad sexual drive clouds everyone's vision so they don't see my garden. Even the asexual folks apparently prefer companionship. Not me. People make me nervous.

I'm fine with identities, but if one finds they need to recruit members to their identities or advertise their identities loudly, then perhaps they have a pseudoidentity. Similar to the conclusion of your previous post of people not being comfortable with disagreeing viewpoints.

I find a lot of people pressuring me to get married or get into a relationship. But I've never once said to a happy couple, "you two... you should break up. I know everything is working out but you two need to settle down in your own separate homes and finally begin living your lives."

There's a lot more to be said about this but "blogger" is one too many identities on top of the only identity I hold close to my heart.

Denny said...

The problem with labeling people, or even oneself, is precisely a failure to present truly useful information. What does it really mean when people call themselves "monogamous?" Monogamous because they'll dump their current partner if they like the way you flirt, so they can be monogamous with 5 different individuals in the course of a week? Monogamous because they won't even smile at someone who's not their partner? Monogamous because they will only have vaginally penetrative sex with their partner, but are open to other sexual activities with casual acquaintances? I'm being a bit facetious, but people's actions and beliefs often change due to the circumstances they find themselves, hence I find other's self-labeling useful only in terms of discovering how they wish to be perceived.

Clarissa said...

Denny: I agree completely. These labels are ultimately meaningless, yet instead of realizing that and giving up on them, many people struggle hard to find new and even more convoluted definitions for each label. I guess it makes the world easier to comprehend and less lonely.

Izgad said...

This was the reason that Foucault rejected the label "homosexual."

For some reason the modern left fails to understand that only people of reason can have rights. The moment you define people by anything else you lose all grounds for rights. Thus rights for any group, wether Jews, women or gays, is a contridiction in terms. There are only human rights. All discussions of rights have to be framed in these terms.

geo said...

I think that labels can be useful to the degree that one feels marginalized/oppressed in a culture, whether others accept and honor this or not.

Being labeled "Black" by my partner is very, very important to her self-identity, more so than being labeled: "Female", though that also can be important. (other identities for her such as: "bi", "lesbian identified", large bodied (important) have varying importance to her depending upon the context)

For me being labeled: "White" is less important because it's "normal" though sometimes it's important to recognize more about being "White". Being "Jewish" is important to me - related to Palestine-Israel and is a part of my identity, but isn't critical in that I feel no isolation/oppression most of the time related to this part of me.

Being "male" is in that sense more important to me.

Getting into labels of: "liberal" or "radical", poly/mono, etc. seem less important to me I think because I don't feel isolated/ oppressed in such areas.

Don't know if this makes sense -

el said...

Sometimes labels are necessary. If I put myself on a dating site one day, I'll mention among other things being not religious. In Israel many Jews are religious, so this will save time for both parties.

Another example is if you have Russian sounding name, you better mention you're Jewish on a dating site because most even not religious Israeli-Jewish men won't date not Jewish women. Since they want their children be seen as Jews. See?

I view labels as letting to discover the most basic things about somebody (religious or not, straight or gay, Jewish or not, etc.) At least, while dating on Internet it's extremely helpful & time-saving, unabling you not to spend your limited energy on unsuitable people.

Besides, if 99.99% of society views some label as VERY important, you can't escape this. See second paragraph. See Arab-Jewish conflict. I doubt the few mixed couples and their children can forget the "unimportant" nationality issue: relatives from both sides, society in general, terrorist acts. (During the latest huge fires you could see articles like: "'Israeli Arabs' celebrating massive fire in Haifa".)

There is a difference between a few judgmental old aunts, which you can ignore, and entire society treating some "label" question seriously, often with good reason for it. Without "boxing yourself into any collective identity" from Jews, Israel wouldn't exist. The same about numerous other countries. Unlike Israel, USA's existance isn't threatened, so less labeling is necessary and almost(?) all of it is nowadays of "old aunts" category.

In short, in many times & places one is forced to define, label oneself. Then "just" saying "I don't view this as important" is a dissident act. In the October Revolution people could be "with us" or "against us". No third option. In the Middle Ages religion was important as it fortunately isn't now and one wouldn't be let to say "Why do you ask whether I am Christian? It's a private matter". Don't want to give more Israeli examples. Saying "it isn't important" wouldn't be honest. I hope you'll understand what I mean since I am afraid I couldn't express myself well.

If I may ask, you said once you're religious. Are you Christian or Jewish (in religion, not nationality)? Just curious. Anyway, I hope you'll answer to the rest of my post.

eric said...

I have no problem with labels, keeping in mind that they are fluid and don't communicate anything essential. That said, the notion of human being qua self-legislating individual is itself a label, and just as much a construct as anything else; it's just another strategy for coping with your social milieu, without which the "individual" would have no meaning. If the shoe fits, wear it--as long as you have the option not to without reprisal.

Denny said...

Political self labeling is a completely different animal. The purpose there is as much, if not more, to attain representation and voice in the socio-political arena as it is to individuate oneself. Hence, I bear the labels of socialist libertarian and feminist with few qualms.

Per dating sites/"unsuitable" persons, if you are insecure enough in your identity that you require re-enforcement from similarly situated potential dates, and non-existent offspring, I wish you luck.