More on labels and identity

I’m heading to Nine Worlds later today, which means that instead of getting ready I’m procrastinating by thinking about anything other than the fact that I’m about to spend nearly three solid days surrounded by a very large number of near strangers and having to function socially in their presence.

This caused me to think about the you are not your labels post again and reminded me that I had promised a follow up to clarify my position on some things. I still don’t have a total follow up, but some of my thoughts on the subject crystallized while I was thinking about them in the shower (the shower is a wonderful place for composing thoughts), and I thought I’d write them down while they were in my head.

Identities are important

Apparently one of the vibes I gave off in that post was the standard “privileged person complains about identity politics because it’s so divisive“.

Allow me to state categorically: Fuck that. Identity is super important.

Often when something is described as “divisive” what is meant is “I hold this opinion. You hold that opinion. Therefore you are being divisive by holding a different opinion to me”.

Implicit in “Identity politics are so divisive” is “But aren’t we all the same really?”. It’s very easy to think we’re all the same if the dominant narrative of society is that everyone is like you (note: This is true even if you’re not actually in the majority. Witness the “male as default” thing despite the fact that men are a slight minority). Identity politics is only divisive if you hold the opinion that everyone should act like the default.

So, yeah. My point was in no way intended to diminish peoples’ identities. I apologize if it sounded that way. Identities are important and we should talk about them more, not less.

Labels are important

Labels are super useful.

As well as just the basic fact that language is basically our species’ hat – it’s most of how we actually get things done – labels serve a lot of useful functions.

When you’ve named something you’ve acknowledged that it’s a thing that happens reasonably commonly. When there’s a word for something you get to go “Hey! I’m not alone! There are other people like me!”. This can be really helpful – a lot of people think there is something wrong with them because they’re different from everyone else right up until the point where they discover that there are all sorts of other people like them (I don’t necessarily think it’s a good thing that we need other people like us to feel comfortable with our identity, but it’s a thing that happens whether I like it or not and I’m certainly not going to judge people for needing it).

It’s also useful in group formation. Having groups is useful – it gives you more force when fighting for equality because you can share a voice, it surrounds you with people who understand your problems, etc. It’s much easier to form a group around a concept when you have a label for that concept.

I personally don’t feel strongly about any of my labels, but that’s a personal choice which I wouldn’t especially encourage others to follow. It’s just how I work.

So, labels are great. I encourage you to use them freely and happily, should you desire to do so.

Labels are not identities

Hopefully I’ve now convinced you that the reason I think my point that you are not your labels is important is not because I think either labels or identities are unimportant.

In fact, the reason I think this matters is precisely because they both are so important.

The key thing is that they’re important in different ways. They’re highly connected, and both feed into each other, but they are distinct things which are important for distinct reasons. Sometimes the difference is subtle, sometimes it’s really not.

But what happens when you conflate them is that that difference is erased, and the way you treat each is distorted to match the way you treat the other. If you consider a label a part of your identity you may get very angry and judgmental about other peoples’ usage of it. If you consider your identity a part of your labels, you may get a form of impostor syndrome where you have a platonic ideal of what that label looks like and feel terrible about yourself for not matching that platonic ideal.

This is the key point I was trying to get at which I don’t seem to have adequately conveyed last time. It’s not that labels don’t matter or that identities don’t matter, it’s that the difference between the two does matter.

I may have more to say on the subject at some future date, but that’s all I’ve got for now. Hope it helped clarify my position.

This entry was posted in Feminism, life, Open sourcing my brain, rambling nonsense on by .

2 thoughts on “More on labels and identity

  1. Pingback: Missing Identity | janetkwest

  2. Pingback: Best of drmaciver.com | David R. MacIver

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