If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know I spend a lot of time in my own head, spinning my wheels over little details of labels and boxes – I am a person who needs such things to better understand myself and my relation to others. When people say “labels are meaningless” I feel intense degrees of internal panic.
One personal example, last year in my birthday post I talked about identifying as pansexual and polyamorous. Since then, I have flip-flopped about returning to the use of bisexual, as the meanings of both have continued to evolve. My initial reasoning for moving to pansexual was because I do not believe that gender is binary. This gets even more complex the deeper you dig into politics and emerging research on various aspects of gender expression. For the time being I’ve chosen to simply place myself in both boxes (cross-referenced!) so people are free to consider me either and I will identify as one or the other depending largely on the level of understanding that the person asking has about gender roles and politics.
Another example, my ex and I had an ongoing disagreement over my use of the term middle-aged. I felt it applied once I hit my mid-40s because statistically I didn’t (and don’t) expect to live much past my 90s, therefore I was mid-life and middle-aged. He saw that box as more of a mindset than a temporal boundary which led to our inability to find a common ground.
So why do I bother if it causes me so much anxiety? Because without them there would be so much more. I need to know where the edges are so that I can recognize when I am bumping up against them. Before I sorted out that I was bi, I had been straight and then briefly came out as a lesbian when I fell head over heels for a woman who was not remotely a match for me (that’s another story) — because I didn’t know there was any other option. Once I knew what I was, I knew where I fit. I knew, for example, that this put me in a minority, that some men would fetishize it (because threesomes!), and that I would be mistrusted by both straight and lesbian potential partners. In other words, it helped me prepare myself.
I do this with relationships, too. With poly, I had to try and wrap my head around different types of partners, too. I think I have a grasp now, but my boxes may not be the same as those others use, so YMMV.
I’ve had discussions with some of you over the years who marvel at my level of self-understanding and I would say that this is an integral part of where that comes from: I put myself in boxes, or add labels, as I see fit and I regularly check to see if they still fit or need retiring. I’ve been operating as such as far back as I can remember with no plan on abandoning the practice. So go ahead and ask my labels or boxes, I will tell you – and if I don’t have an answer ready I will take the time to figure it out.