Social Question

prolificus's avatar

When it comes to gender and sexuality, why are labels necessary?

Asked by prolificus (6583points) May 1st, 2010

The older I get and the more experiences I have, the less I feel compelled to use labels to express my gender and sexuality (because labels feel confining, not freeing, to me). This doesn’t mean that I’ve eliminated labels from my vocabulary. In some situations, they are necessary in order to carry on a conversation with others.

Besides the need to convey meaning in a conversation, why are labels necessary? Do they do more harm than good, or do they empower those using the labels (whether one is labeling or being labeled)?

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25 Answers

Randy's avatar

Labels are for making something easy to explain. As long as things need explaining, there will always be labels.

hug_of_war's avatar

I love labels. They give you a concise, though not perfectly accurate, way to understand the world. I don’t want to go into a long spiel on who I’m attracted to – I love saying “I’m bisexual”. I don’t want to explain how I define myself in gender terms. I don’t care to know everything about everyone. Long live labels.

loser's avatar

So we know which parade to march in?

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

One simple example I can think of for labels on gender, is for public bathrooms. One door is labeled Men, the other, Woman. And actually, (I’ll post the news article if I find it) there is a school that wants to add another bathroom for transgendered students. Which, I think is a good idea. But obviously, some folks are having a hard time dealing with this & they are the ones who usually get the most air time on the news.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

Labels are necessary for this day and age because people still haven’t accepted that not everyone fits the stereotypes “what is male” and “what is female.” It’s hard for everyone to be completely open and take each person as they are, so it’s easier to distinguish people with a label.

I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a time when the human population will not need labels for gender and sexuality.

Parrappa's avatar

@rpmpseudonym, I kind of think those people have a point. I have absolutely no problem with transgendered people, but it isn’t exactly cheap to put in a bathroom, especially since there are probably only a small handful of transgendered folks at this school. I think they should suck it up and just go to whatever bathroom it looks like they belong in.

rpm_pseud0name's avatar

@Parrappa I suppose so, but neither of us are transgendered, so choosing a bathroom to go in is like choosing which toothpick to pick our teeth with. We don’t think about it, we just grab & know we are good. Imagine what its like for a transgendered person when they are standing before the bathroom doors. Choosing something so simple & mundane as a bathroom stall to go in, should not be a complicated choice.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

@rpmpseudonym and @Parrappa My elementary school had some generic, one-stall bathrooms scattered around… I don’t think they were for transgendered kids. I don’t see why more schools couldn’t do that.

DominicX's avatar

@hug_of_war GA. I agree completely.

Labels do not have to be perfect. Labels are used to categorize, define, and make sense of the world. Without them, there would be no way to refer to anything. Or at least it would take a long time to do so. No one has to use labels and if you don’t want to, fine by me. But other people can still use them and this is why it bothers me that the anti-label crowd seems to be all about “never use labels! They’re evil! You’re not homosexual, you’re a human!”. It’s a bit hypocritical and silly, to be honest.

The label describes one aspect of a person. In this case, gender and sexuality. I label my sexuality as “homosexual” because that’s what it is. It is an entirely accurate label. Most people will choose the label that is the most accurate to them, even if it is not 100% accurate.

prolificus's avatar

I needed some comedic relief, so I looked up Margaret Cho clips on youtube [NSFW / warning – explicit language and sexual content]. I think this quote fits this thread:

“And I went through this whole thing, you know. I was like: Am I gay? Am I straight? And I realized I’m just slutty. ... Where’s my parade? What about Slut Pride?” (source).

Nullo's avatar

All in all, I’d say that labels are a good thing.

Draconess25's avatar

We’re not cans of soup on a shelf. We don’t need labels.

SeventhSense's avatar

Like what male and female? Because I am..God I’m so sick of this shit.

DominicX's avatar


Some of us like to use them.

downtide's avatar

I find labels helpful because it’s far easier to use a single word that others will understand, instead of talking at them for an hour to explain myself.

MacBean's avatar

I’m with those who said labels make explaining things easier. There aren’t really many labels that I feel truly comfortable with, but there are some that are close enough for me and are helpful to others.

roundsquare's avatar

Its not just gender. In general, we use labels where they aren’t fully descriptive. They are necessary for communication and understanding. If a particular set of labels covers 99% of the truth 99% of the time, its useful.

That being said, I think the solution is for people to learn that 1) whatever set of labels you use is going to be incomplete 2) there is overlap across labels 3) there is variation within labels.

In making decisions, labels are helpful but sometimes harmful. They allow us to make decisions based on rules of thumb (apologies to anyone who dislikes this phrase, if you have another convenient one to use I’ll use it) which allows us to focus on important things. Our brains can only do so much, so labels are useful.

SeventhSense's avatar

A: “Ask him for the vegetables”.
B: “Please ask the gender non specific individual to pass me the peas.”
I don’t know maybe its’ me. One kind of rolls off the tongue

roundsquare's avatar

@SeventhSense Surely that’s just from conditioning. In any event, I assume we could work up a non gender-specific third person pronoun and without using the word “it.”

SeventhSense's avatar

I hope we never do. I like that I’m a he and Jennifer Lopez is a she.

roundsquare's avatar

@SeventhSense But those would remain as well. The new pronoun would be for a) when we’re not sure of the gender (when the first customer comes in, tell <new word> that there is a special deal or b) when neither he nor she fits.

Even if we get to the point that we use this word all the time, I have a feeling it would take time and by then we’d be used to it.

Nullo's avatar

@roundsquare Believe it or not, man used to be gender-neutral. That was back when it was a suffix for werman (man) and wifman (woman).

roundsquare's avatar

@Nullo I’ve never heard that. How did the usage change?

Nullo's avatar

@roundsquare My money’s on abbreviation. The link mentions that werman was gradually replaced with just the -man suffix, leading me to believe that man held, for a time, the status of slang. Then, like Google, it was eventually adopted into common usage.
I suspect that wifman mutated into woman. :D

The link mentions that the universal usage of man still exists in terms like mankind and manslaughter. Inference suggests that Shakespeare was trying to be edgy by using the bulkier humankind.
The etymology for human suggests that the hu suffix is lifted from humus, or perhaps adapted from the Latin homo.

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