Ottawa
2 min

Label me, I don’t care

'We said fuck it, and we started using the words anyway'

We honour lust and seek a world where sex is valued as a human trait, no more no less than any other, and all are free and equal, no matter whom they love.

A few years ago, I found myself at an out-of-town gala fundraiser for a local gay charity, pounding through the rubber chicken dinner. I was preparing for the silent auction and the inevitably kitschy after-dinner gala dance party.

Before we could bust a move to Bust-A-Move (“If you want it, baby, you got it!”), there was the keynote. She was young, articulate and her subject left me floored.

As in, I was literally digging my fingernails into my date’s thigh.

Her theme was “don’t label me” and, as a contrapuntal theme, “don’t put me into boxes.”

It’s a familiar refrain in some circles — one I’ve heard before and since.

My date was a volunteer with the organization, so I told him what I thought, politely. I was especially aware of the irony of asking people to donate to a gay cause while listening to someone denounce the whole category of “gay.”

So, what’s the big deal?

We once had a world without labels for same-sex love. This was especially true of love and lust between women. Women of a certain age often tell their coming-of-age stories in a way that highlights the conundrum of labels.
 
“I thought I had invented lesbianism, although of course I had no word for it at the time,” they say. “I thought I was literally the only woman in the world who had ever thought to make love to another woman.”

And for a long time, knowing the word “lesbian” didn’t make it any safer. There was a time when labelling yourself could get you kicked out of your apartment. It could get you fired. It can still get you disowned.

At some point, we said fuck it, and we started using the words anyway. Naming one’s desire is part of the process of normalizing it, taking the fear and the venom out of our outsider status. Living out, proud, public lives is inevitably political. And you know what? It’s working.

But here’s the kicker: if our desires are really as good, and normal, and healthy as we say they are, then why not label ourselves?

Sexuality is a part of who we are. As the mission statement of Capital Xtra’s parent company says, it’s no more or no less important than any other part. Shrouding our sexuality in an amorphous cloud sends the wrong message: that it should be kept secret, that it’s a source of shame. It shouldn’t, and it’s not.

At the root of the “don’t label me” paradigm is a legitimate concern: bigots who see gay people one-dimensionally. I understand how frustrating that can be. But the solution isn’t dissolving “gay”, it’s educating the bigots. And resisting them. And sometimes, simply ignoring them.

Capital Xtra recently came across this problem with a handsome young media personality. He approached us several times about an interview. We eventually dispatched a reporter and a photographer to cover his work.

Once in the hot seat, the fellow declined to discuss his sexuality. He doesn’t believe in labels, he says. Fine. By longstanding editorial policy, we don’t out people against their will. Obviously, it’s a gay newspaper, so it’s an important issue for us, but straight, gay or bi — if he wants to keep his sexuality private, that’s up to him. All the same, it’s an important part of the work he’s doing, and he doesn’t want to talk about it, so I canned the piece.

I was recently reminded of a phrase from the old days. Gay is good. So is bi. So is trans. So is straight, for that matter (you’ll notice that there are straight allies interviewed in these pages from time to time).

We’re proud to be gay. So label me, I don’t care.