When asked who you are, how do you respond? How is it that you choose to define yourself? Many unconscious humans use labels to define themselves, labels that are nothing more than superficial characteristics. “I’m white” or “I’m gay” or “I’m 23 years old” – take any single one of these statements and ask yourself, does being white define who I am? The fact that I’m “gay”, is that all there is to me? Does knowing my age have anything to do with the person that I am? The answer is a definite no. The human language is too simplistic to sufficiently articulate the complexity of all that you are.
So why do we use labels then? We believe that labels simplify life. But I believe the opposite; I believe labels actually complicate life. Labels are used to categorise people and to create separation. Look at religion for instance. The premise for most religions is essentially the same: to love, yet why is it that there is so much disdain between one religion and the next? Why do Baptists seemingly dislike Catholics when they essentially all believe in the same thing? And it’s because of what they identify with. It’s their ego. The ego is what exists when we are unconscious and it feeds off of negativity. So when individuals label themselves, that’s merely the ego creating separation between others which ultimately leads to negativity, suffering, conflict, and the demise of the human race.
I think that a great deal of suffering stems from people trying to figure out “who they are” in regards to what they identify as. Imagine a world where people didn’t identify as anything and just lived. Imagine a world where children didn’t have to “come out” to their parents. I know for myself that I struggled immensely with my identity and sexuality; I couldn’t figure out if I was gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, or just plain bloody crazy. I tormented over this for years. Any time I would settle on an identity, there was no relief. Or if there was, it was very temporary and superficial. Why? Because I realised that I was not defined by any single word or label. And labelling myself as anything did nothing more than confine myself to the ways of that stereotypical lifestyle. Being “gay” meant that I couldn’t look at guys or get with a guy because then what would that mean? Would that mean I was bisexual? But I defined myself as a lesbian, how does that work? Can you see how detrimental it could be to identify yourself as one meagre “thing”?
To this date, I do not identify as anything. And it is extremely liberating. Last weekend I was out with my soccer teammates and I was talking to a guy the entire night. I recall one of my teammates coming up and asking me, “So are you bisexual or what? You seem to be flirting a lot with that guy?” To which I responded, “I absolutely have a preference for women, but I’m open to all experiences and all people. Right now, I’m enjoying this guy’s company. Does that mean I’m bisexual? Does that mean I’m “straight” in this moment? Not any more than you flirting with a girl makes you “gay”. I’m merely a human living in this moment and enjoying the company that surrounds me.”
Throughout my life, I have developed a few crushes on “straight” girls and it invariably (to no surprise) hasn’t worked out. It wasn’t because of a lack of feelings towards one another that things didn’t work out, rather because the “straight” girl struggled with just that, being “straight”. When you define yourself by a label you are then immediately confined to fulfilling that particular, stereotyped lifestyle. If you are straight, it is presumed that you do not and will not develop feelings towards the same sex, if you do, well, are you really straight then? Firstly, let me clarify by stating that no one is entirely straight, much like no one is entirely gay. Everyone falls somewhere along the continuum between the two and at any given point, an individual might be more “gay” than “straight” depending on who they find attractive. So these girls that I had feelings for were very attached to the mentality that they were “straight” and could not comprehend nor explain their attraction towards me, a human of the same sex. Because of their attachment to this label, it prevented either of us from capitalising on a potentially beautiful and intimate experience. One in which two humans who are bonded by an attraction and admiration for one another could act freely without judgement or reservation.
The concern for these individuals was larger than just them though. Not only were they trying to comprehend their own sexuality, but there were concerns on how they would be perceived by others. Would they be seen as a hypocrite? A liar? A betrayer to the heterosexual community? Or would they be respected, revered, and adored for acting true to themselves and just being one with the present moment? Chances are, most would presume the former statements in their judgements and that is because of their preconceived attachment to how certain individuals labelled as “straight” are supposed to act. In other words, because of people’s unconscious egos.
I also think that labels can do more harm than good in regards to how it marginalises individuals. Take for instance the race issue in America at the moment. Some (but not all) of the conflict surrounding this “black lives matter” movement stems from individuals’ attachment to their identity with their race. Being attached to their identity creates conflict and separation from others; it creates an “us” versus “them” mentality, rather than an inclusive one of “we”. Those that heavily identify as being “black” are unconsciously encouraged then to adopt a victim mentality, especially given the treatment of black individuals in the past. As I mentioned before, the ego thrives on negativity and suffering. So long as individuals label themselves and remain attached to these labels, they will continue to be identified with this pain and suffering, albeit unconsciously.
My cousin messaged me shortly after the Orlando shooting and asked me how I felt about it given the media’s emphasis on it being an attack against the LGBT community. To which I responded that I did not take it as a personal attack against the LGBT community. I proposed instead that the media’s stance was doing nothing other than perpetuating this victim mentality and marginalising an already marginalised group. Having said all of this, I also understand and acknowledge that labels have certainly helped within society. It has allowed certain suppressed groups to come together and make big changes within society and has also offered others a sense of “belongingness”. For instance, with this whole feminist movement, so many amazing things have stemmed from women identifying as women and fighting to obtain equality. Having said that though, it’s the failure to see all humans as equal regardless of race, sex, age, gender, sexuality, etc., that created the differences in the beginning.
I think the key to "labels" is not being so heavily attached to whatever it is you're labelling yourself as. It is the attachment towards the label that causes suffering. For example, I occasionally call myself gay or lesbian for conversational purposes, but I have absolutely no attachment to that label. So if someone were to call me a “dyke” or some other discriminatory term, I wouldn't take offense to it because I have no attachment to that label which means that my ego cannot take it personally.
In light of all of the conflicts surrounding us with regards to race, sexuality, politics, religion, etc., I challenge you to not identify with anything. Or, if you do happen to label yourself, I challenge you to practice non-attachment to that identity. Because no single word or characteristic will ever define you. You are a beautiful human who surpasses the simplistic limitations of the human language. Labelling yourself is restrictive and encourages separation. It promotes conflict and prolongs suffering. To define yourself simply as “I am” allows you all the liberating freedom to act your authentic self without the expectations of behaving in congruence with others’ preconceived narratives. You don’t need to figure out who you are, because you are already you. And as Dr. Seuss says, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” So embrace all that you are in this moment. Embrace whatever opportunities present themselves with complete disregard to how it might define you. And when someone asks who are you? Say: I am.