Are labels a useful way to identify, or an archaic way of preventing people to really explore their sexuality and gender identity? Having discomfort in your sexuality or experiencing gender dysphoria can be significantly damaging to an individual’s mental health. Labels can potentially provoke this if they force someone to try and find an identity when they are not yet ready or sure of what this identity could be.
It is important to consider that sexuality and gender identity is a lot more fluid than people traditionally thought it to be. People are becoming ever more aware of this and more open about the fact that no one remains fixed in one spot on the spectrum of sexuality and gender identity. This generational realisation makes it all the more important that people can be given the freedom to explore their sexuality or gender identity without the constraints that labels inevitably cause.
But in a discussion of labels, we should be aware of how their removal would affect different members of the LGBTQ+ community. Whereas, to some, labels are just an easy way to explain themselves when societal pressures expect them to, to others this is an expression of their own identity, and to remove it would mean to remove a part of how they express themselves. As well as this, many LGBTQ+ people feel attached to labels because of their historical significance. The fact is that LGBTQ+ people do still face discrimination, and to say that an LGBTQ+ person cannot identify as such, implies that all people have the same experience of hatred, and devalues the experiences that LGBTQ+ people have faced, and still do face.
Perhaps, then, the solution is to have some kind of label that encompasses all non-straight sexualities, and one which does the same for gender identity. The increased use of the word “queer” to express non-straightness goes some way towards this, but the historical uses of this word in a discriminatory fashion makes it controversial, and something that some people are reluctant to identify as.
The main thing for now then, is that we ensure people are free to choose labels or not to. But in being free to do so, we need to be far more conscious of the harm that they can create, and of the pressure caused for young people only just discovering their sexuality and gender identity. In the future we should work towards a way of removing labels, but whilst remembering too the historical significance that they have.