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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Labels are Bad, Mmmkay?

Hello, darlings.

Let’s talk about labels.

Let’s talk about why some people love them, why others can’t stand them. Talk about why we need them in today’s society – and then let’s ball the damn things up and fling them right out the window.

Why are we so into labels? There’s a name for everything nowadays, and it seems like it’s getting trendier and trendier to come up with more of them every day.  We rattle off a string of labels for everything in our lives – from our sexuality to our issues, and definitely about each other – and we do it under the guise of clarity. Labels help us identify and see ‘truth’ – which helps us face unpleasant facts and become better people or some other kind of New Age crap that makes us feel better about reducing people to a sum of what we perceive to be the sum of their positive and negative qualities and slapping a big old label on them in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, darlings – I love yoga and pan flutes as much as the next Unicorn. Maybe more, actually – I’m all about positive thinking and harm no one and especially about kindness. But from where I’m standing, I’m not feeling the label love. I can see some of the attraction – more on that below – but for the most part, I think they stink. I think they do way more harm than good, and I think they’re a symptom of something ugly inside ourselves that we may not even know is there. So why are they so ‘in’ right now?

First, there’s a widely held belief that labels are a GOOD thing. You know, like at the supermarket: read the label, and you know exactly what you’re getting. Same with people: (We’ll start with sexuality, because who doesn’t love to talk about sex? And there’s a lot to work with here.)

Straight. Gay. Lesbian. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Downright helpful! There you are shopping; now you’re in no danger of bringing home the wrong can.

Here’s the problem with that. Labels are very simplistic. In some instances, at a very basic level, they may even work – but they’re not really scratching the surface. Kind of like going into your supermarket and picking up a can marked ‘FOOD’ in big block letters. Probably accurate, as far as it goes, but it stops short of providing any information that’s actually meaningful

Packaging is important, too – we can get the same concept across with a few other words – Breeder. Fag. Dyke. “Whoa, there, Unicorn!” you yelp. I just heard the mental sound of a whole lot of sand invading a myriad of unwilling orifices. “Don’t be vulgar. We don’t use those words!” Forgive me, darlings, but some people (and I use the term loosely) do. They’re normally referring to themselves, which in today’s world makes it OK. Because apparently it’s normal or desirable to use a derogatory label on yourself – it’s only naughty if you say it about someone else. (There’s something inherently wrong about that sentiment in and of itself, but we’ll leave that for another day.) So, the basic slur label – still not very meaningful, and way less appealing. Like a can that’s been on the shelf way too long, shoved to the back, dented and covered with dust. Most people probably wouldn’t pick it off the shelf deliberately, unless they’ve been drinking heavily and can’t handle anything more challenging than the picture on the side.

That’s why these labels are attractive: because most people have mental image of what they think they mean. Let’s take a swing at it, just for giggles, shall we? (Get ready: We’re going to go at things from a frankly insulting level.)

GAY: a guy who’s into guys. Identified by a limp wrist and a mating cry of, “Oh, girl, are those shoes on sale?!?’ Probably singing show tunes.

Lesbian: a girl who’s into girls. Often found in Home Depot wearing flannel and a brutally short haircut, and a button that says ‘Men can suck my dick’.

Straight: This one may be trickier, as most people realize that straight folk come in many shapes and sizes. We could always go with, “A man or woman who is boring.” (Oh my stars and diamonds, I’m joking! Un-bunch your panties. I just had to throw it out there.)

::ahem:: Seriously, though. STRAIGHT: A man who’s into women or a woman who’s into men. (Notice how gay folks are guys or girls, but straights get to be grownups? I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. In drawing on stereotypes, did I just prove that straight people are more ‘mature’? Or maybe LGBTQ folks tend more towards frolicsomeness.) Question: Based on the [simplistic and flawed] criteria we’ve been using thus far, how do you recognize a straight person? Answer: You don’t – you just automatically assume everyone else is straight.

Ok, glad we worked that out. Now, as someone somewhere undoubtedly said, let’s take it a little deeper. Let’s go beyond the common, garden-variety of ‘gay labels’ and add a few nuances. After all, going strictly what we’ve said so far, we could be missing a few! There could be a gay drinking coffee at the table next to you right now. So how can you tell?

Like ice cream or Pringles (and Unicorns looooove Pringles!), people come in MANY flavors. Gay isn’t just gay. Here are a few of the more common varieties, and we’ll keep using the offensive stereotypes to describe them, because – again - that’s what labels are for: to help us recognize someone who is different. ::shudder::

A gay could be a ‘top’ (wears leather) or a ‘bottom’ (assless chaps, anyone?) - or just plain ‘versatile’ – (assless leather chaps, perhaps?) And it doesn’t end there! There are twinks and twunks (sparkly), bears and cubs (furry), and even straight-seeming gays, who act like ‘normal’ men.

How do we spot our gay now? Simple! Look for a limp-wristed, shoe-shopping, show-tune-singing, sparkling (and straight-arrow), slender (and brawny), overly-groomed (and hairy) guy, wearing leather, assless chaps, blue jeans, and a Brooks Brothers suit and tie.

And – you guessed it! - lesbians aren’t just lesbians. They come in butch (short hair, power tools) or femme (dainty), and can be lipstick (Barbie), sporty (Ken), boi (Ken’s little brother), bulldyke (no makeup, built like a Mack truck, probably chewing the marrow out of some unsuspecting man’s shinbone) – and that’s just a start. So, our lesbians should be easy to spot, right? A manly looking (yet very feminine) girl, with a buzz cut and cascading curls, wearing flannel, jeans, and silk, Birkenstocks and heels, plain (but with a full ‘face’ of makeup on), smiling flirtatiously and wielding a cordless drill. Piece of cake.  

There’s a whole rainbow of flavors here, and these labels are getting a little confused – like someone took a can of VegAll and a fruit cocktail and mixed them together. I don’t know about you, but I’m having trouble figuring out just what’s in here…

I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve left out a whole sweeping demographic here. Bisexuals don’t get off easy, either. (Stop snickering. You should have learned by now, Labels are Serious Business.)

This may shock some of you, but there are people out there who actually like people of both sexes! They’re called bisexuals. And, contrary to popular opinion, apparently bisexuals are not simply ‘confused’ or ‘gigantic whores’! ::Insert giant Unicorn sigh here.:: Some prefer guys to girls or vice versa but will also date the other. Some have sex with the opposite gender when one-to-one, but don’t mind if you add in an additional boy or girl.

What do these bizarre creatures look like? That’s what makes this so challenging – they’re kind of like a combination of the other two, i.e., a limp wrested, brawny, manly-looking, feminine, shoe-shopping, power-tool-wielding, overly-groomed, guy or girl with a curly, cascading buzz cut, wearing assless leather chaps, a cocktail dress and Birkenstocks – probably in full makeup, singing show tunes while doing your taxes and giving an estimate on reworking your plumbing. In our supermarket analogy, this is the can you find on the ‘quick sale’ rack, where they’re hoping it will go – quickly.

Labels, labels, labels – and we’re just getting started. What about our transgender and intersexed brothers and sisters?

Transgender: men and women who were born with the ‘wrong’ parts for what they feel in their brains/souls/wherever the real ‘us’ lives. Some have surgery to help their bodies and minds ‘match’; some keep the parts they started with and just try to ‘pass’. 

Intersexed: born with ‘too many’ parts, or parts that are difficult to determine.

Just to make things fun for us on our quest to label and identify, Trans and intersexed folk can be straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual! So now we’re looking for a limp wrested, muscular, girly, butch, shoe-shopping, power-tool-wielding, assless chaps and cocktail dress-wearing, show-tune singing, tax-preparing guy or girl with a penis, a vagina, a combination of both (and possibly neither), chewing some testicle jerky and calling you ‘girlfriend’.

This one can be a toughie at the supermarket. Not everyone who likes green beans would be happy to open a can expecting beanie goodness and find it filled with cocktail onions or creamed corn instead. Totally different taste treats – but if you really wanted those beans, those other things just aren’t going to work for you. Fortunately, some people can appreciate beans, corn, or onions - or a can of succotash.

Wow. This label thing is more complicated than I thought. I’m getting a little confused myself. So many words, and we’re really no closer to understanding than we were when we started.

What about genderqueers, who don’t identify as male or female? What about polysexuals, who have sex with multiple people? Or pansexuals, who fall in love with the person, regardless of their sex? What about demisexuals, who feel no sexual attraction until they are already in love? Or asexuals, who leave out sex entirely?

Guess what? We can slap these labels onto all the people we’ve already talked about! We could make: A polysexual lesbian. A gay transman. Or even a demisexual genderqueer pansexual.

Ooooh… What do you suppose those would look like, darlings? Nothing special –  just your run-of-the-mill limp wrested, muscular, flamboyant, boring, butchy, flaming guy/girl with two penises and three vaginas, wearing assless chaps over a Vera Wang original and combat boots, having sex with eight people and a slapping a monkey’s ass while simultaneously re-paving your driveway and giving you a Brazilian.

Before anyone gets too indignant, which probably happened roughly twenty-three paragraphs ago, I should point out the possibly-not-obvious: None of this garbage is true. The stereotypes are crap conveniently pedaled as facts to make those who are different from the mainstream seem stranger. 

If we’re going to carry the supermarket theme all the way to the end (and we may as well), imagine not one can, or even a shelf of cans, but the whole damn farmer’s market spread out in front of you: fresh fruit, veggies, meats, seafood, grains, you name it – all with glorious and amazingly varied colors, aromas, and tastes. Yum! Who wouldn’t want to embrace that, instead of some dusty old can?

Because labels don’t work. One size does not fit all. There is no ‘one true way’ to be gay, or to be straight. You don’t even have to choose. Sexuality is fluid, which kind of renders a lot of labels moot right from the get-go, but that’s neither here nor there.

Or is it? What we don’t understand, we fear. And what we fear, we abhor. We use labels to keep those things at a distance. Distance destroys empathy and compassion. Condemnation and oppression are never far behind.

But Unicorn, you may be saying if you’ve stayed with me through this sprawling epic, What are we supposed to do? Without labels, won’t everyone look the same? And therein lies the great secret that They (and by ‘They’ I mean the anonymous, vaguely sinister ‘They’) hope you never realize:

No matter whether you identify as male, female, neither, or something else, no matter if you like guys or girls, or both, or don’t recognize the difference, no matter what parts you have or which parts you were born with, or if you choose to sleep with one person, or many, or no one, the only label that works is the simplest one. Anything more and we’re just drawing lines to further separate us instead of holding each other close, driving wedges between us instead of embracing our differences and celebrating each other for the radiant beings we truly are. Making it easier to turn away, rather than joining together. Because if we did that, we might realize just how unequal and unfair and dangerous the lines drawn by our leaders have become, and actually do something about it.

The only label we need is Human.

(Assless chaps are still OK though, right?)


I considered putting 'TL/DR' ('too long/didn't read', for those less net-savvy) directly in the comment box prompt. If you did make it through, let me know your thoughts! Unicorns love thoughts! And Pringles.

And, as always, be FABULOUS to each other! 



  1. This was not something I even thought about - though it makes sense.. "Trans and intersexed folk can be straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual!" Good Point!

    "Sexuality is fluid, which kind of renders a lot of labels moot right from the get-go, but that’s neither here nor there.

    Or is it? What we don’t understand, we fear. And what we fear, we abhor. We use labels to keep those things at a distance. Distance destroys empathy and compassion. Condemnation and oppression are never far behind." Another good point.

    Yes.. Ass-less chaps are always good.. feeling educated! :) Thanks Unicorn! Lol!

  2. I guess people like labels because it makes the world more simplistic and therefore easy to understand. People hate things they don't understand. If only the world would just TRY to understand another person's point of view/life/thoughts/whatever. We'd be hanging out in a much better place.

  3. Ass-less chaps make me smile. No labels required. :) Luckily, some people DO try to understand another person's point of view/life/thoughts. Maybe more than we think. But not everyone is there yet. Ass-less Chaps for a Brighter Future!


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Please be kind to each other - I welcome discussion and conversation, but if you're deliberately nasty to someone, that makes kittens cry. Let's keep it fabulous!

~ The Unicorn