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Labels Are The Worst

 As humans we have this compulsion to label everything around us. And once we have everything labeled we feel the need to make up new categories so that we can apply more labels. And while I understand this need to understand things and categorize them, I also think it's breaking our society in some significant ways.

I think that more than anything the biggest problem we face is in how to bring people together. How do we make everyone recognize that we are all one big family trying our damnedest to get by as we hurtle together through space on a relatively (cosmically speaking) small clump of dirt? I tell you how we don't do that. By labelling things. Let's look at some of the more seemingly inconsequential things we label and how they impact us.

I love music. Full stop. But when I say this to people they demand to know what KIND of music. It doesn't make sense to them that if I like country music I can also be a heavy metal fan. But it's true. And then there are people who like to get niche, and only listen to psychobilly, or jazz/bluegrass fusion. Anyone who likes a genre of music you do not is "other". We don't feel we can fully understand them because their taste in music is suspect. And this is the biggest unintended consequence of labels. Labelling music is supposed to help make it easier for you to find more music that you like. But instead it can lead to clannishness.

I saw it in high school where the kids who listened to country music had nothing to do with the kids who listened to heavy metal and both those groups looked with contempt on the kids who listened to pop music.  If you listened to jazz or blues you were regarded as some kind of alien. I've seen the same thing happen with movies, books and t.v. shows. People who appreciate one genre of art remove themselves from those who like a different genre. At best it leads to people potentially missing out on some great art because it didn't have the label attached to it. At worst it leads to clannishness.

And then there are the label that divide even more deeply that music genre. Labels like white, black, gay, trans, cis, even male and female. And this is where it becomes thornier. Because as much as seeing a human being as their label instead of as a person, i.e. seeing a white gay cis woman instead of seeing Lydia, is problematic, there are reasons it is hard for minority communities to give up their labels. One is the danger of them being erased once they quit being visible. The danger of the white hetero-normative once again becoming the status quo is quite real. The other is that especially in the lgbtq community many have had to hide what they are for years, even decades. That's why they expend so much energy telling people who they are. Straight white people get to just be ourselves walking down the street, but they have often spent a lifetime playing a role and are relishing the chance to show their true selves at last.

That's what make it a difficult argument to say, we shouldn't label ourselves or each other. I don't want to erase your gay identity, I just don't want it to become the only identity you have. Instead of being Julia, trans woman attracted to men, I want you to be Julia, who likes nerds and enjoys clam chowder and likes to listen to Bach sonatas while doing a crossword puzzle. I want a society where we are more concerned with who you are than with what you are. And the thing that kills me is I feel like this is the only way our species moves forward, yet I and people who think like me will take shit from the left and the right for having this opinion. And once we get rid of the labels, we get rid of anyone being the "other". Once we're all just people, I'm sure we'll come up with some other reason to hate. But I like to think we can get past all of it and just learn to enjoy the people around us. And maybe learn to enjoy the ways they are different from us the most.


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