Why Labels Matter – Priscus Godonou

  "jiroe-b9kh72kOcdM-unsplash" by @iamjiroe on Unsplash.

If sexuality is considered to be fluid or on a spectrum, isn’t there a certain pointlessness in labels, in man-made classifications that intend to generalize when each of us is unique? 

I hear, that it helps. Studies in cognitive psychology such as Janice Gross Stein’s study on rational, psychological and neurological models do claim that we classify, we rigidify, we simplify the world, to make sense of it. And some find comfort in labels because those labels come with groups. People with similar experiences group together in ways that make one feel seen, represented, or more simply, less alone. It makes sense, for people to congregate and embrace a community. But similarity, isn’t, sameness. Whilst there is nothing wrong with organizing around our similarities, thereby embracing what Aristotle calls our political nature, we do sometimes need to walk alone, in our own unique way.   

It is the binarity nature of it all that is bothersome to me. We’re told that you either belong to a group, or you don’t. You’re either straight or LGBT+. Don’t get me wrong, the political nature and importance of Pride is clear, and in particular, I respect the work of black trans activists and understand that they started a path to equality that will be long but worth travelling. Indeed, I consider myself an ally. But does that make me ‘straight’? I don’t believe I am, but I am no more drawn to the label of ‘queer’. May I not, wander peacefully on the shores of the island of Lesbos and profess, with Sappho, my adoration for my female lovers before sailing again, wherever the seas will lead me next. Which could very well be, towards a man, whose soul I could love, but body I hardly enjoy. And here, we add another layer of subtlety to sexuality: does sharing a platonic love with a male lover mean it won’t grow carnal with another? Can a label, truly encompass the subtlety of my sexuality?  

While members of the LGBTQIA+ community often struggle with recognition and acceptance of certain sexualities within hetero cultures, there are also struggles within the community itself that replay binary thinking. We can consider bisexuality, for example. Some assert, that when a bisexual man is dating a woman, he is straight and that when he dates a man, he is gay. Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is often considered the best/right one. And as stated prior, we humans tend to use simplified categories to make sense of the world. But that man, for himself, remains bisexual and will claim this identity. Is the label therefore attached to the person or to their lover? Does a bisexual man who marries a man and lives his whole life with the same partner become by default gay? Does he have to be with a woman, to remain, bisexual? Should one, to be truly bisexual be constantly involved in a throuple with both a man and, a woman or would being with someone non-binary/gender fluid be enough? Perhaps these are pointless conundrums born from searching for simple labels when how one feels about one’s sexuality may be rather complex? Not to mention, these narratives continue to invalidate bisexual individuals and their identities.  

If there are risks associated with identifying in groups and if sexuality is a constant ebbing flow that escapes simple categories then what is the purpose of labels? In short, there is a great deal of importance in the politics of identification. It can engender the overcoming of alienation. What was once considered ‘deviant, odd, abnormal, queer’, in becoming generalized, has set a course toward validity and recognition. And this is why, for me, Pride Month is worth celebrating. It’s about a community, claiming its existence and demanding an acceptance of it. Because all of those people have found a banner to fall under, they know who will stand beside them, in their quest for greater equality, whether as an ally, or a fellow member of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is about having their voice heard, not speaking alone, but by being amplifying one another to deliver a simple message: We exist. And we deserve, to be accepted as who we are. Indeed, let me set the records STRAIGHT: ultimately, there is nothing abnormal, about being QUEER. So Happy Pride Month and may we strive for a future where all of us are equal! ️‍🌈🏳️‍🌈 


If you would like to contact the School of Politics and International Relations, you can find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!