The Paradox Of Labels Being Stereotypes And Radical Acts Of Self Love

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Personal identity definitions are ever changing but they often start with the answer to why we create labels for people and for ourselves.

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Labels For People

As personal identity definitions and formations change and evolve, people tend to ebb and flow between grasping at labels and rejecting labels, often for the same reasons. We search for labels when we're unsure of our identities. Once we're secure in our identity and who we are, we tend to transcend these same labels and find the fuzziness within them. This is an interesting phenomenon to explore. On VProud, there's an amazing video and conversation about this topic. VProud CEO Karen Cahn sat down with androgynous model Rain Dove to discuss gender labels and the freedom and humaneness of moving beyond the need to label ourselves and label other people—these acts are not one and the same. Mother, writer, and editor Vikki Reich reflects on this video through the lens of her own experience and how she found security within labels twenty six years ago when she came out, as well as how she views these same labels today. Take a look at what Vikki has to say about the paradox of how we use and need labels at different stages of our lives.

—The VProud Team

why do people label other people

On Labels

By Vikki Reich for VProud


One Saturday night in 1990, I stood alone in the bathroom of the off-campus house I shared with several friends and stared at myself in the mirror. I was trying to see if I looked any different, trying to say the words, “I am a lesbian.” The realization was new and I felt that if I could just say it aloud, it would feel real. But I couldn’t actually say those words that night because the word “lesbian” came with so many negative stereotypes that I couldn’t bear to use it. Many of my friends were lesbians and none fit those stereotypes but the word was still tainted. Lesbian. Deviant. Wrong.

The next day, I told my closest friends that I was “not straight” and received nothing but love and support. As the weeks went by, I became more comfortable with myself and began to feel part of a community--the gay, lesbian and bisexual community--and I finally claimed the label of “lesbian.” Each time I called myself a lesbian or a dyke felt like staking a claim in the world, felt like a radical act of self-acceptance.

Labels were everything. They helped us find each other and gave us community. Yes, they were limiting in ways we couldn’t conceive of then but they were also dangerous in the best possible way. I remember lying on the floor with my first girlfriend listening to music and seeing a sticker on her dresser that read, “Label jars not people” and I honestly couldn’t imagine a world without labels.

Now, twenty six years later, I can and I have a deep appreciation for the shift and the freedom that comes with it. We grow and change and language can’t always keep up with our evolution. I still label myself, though the words change depending on the audience. But I also know--deep in my soul--that I am more than the labels I use to describe myself. We all are.

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About the author: Vikki Reich writes about the intersection of contemporary queer life and parenthood at her personal blog Up Popped A Fox and publishes VillageQ, a site that gives voice to the experience of LGBTQ parents. You can also find her on Twitter and InstagramJoin Vikki's honest conversations on VProud.




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Rain Dove and Karen Cahn represent humans, because labels are boring. What do you think?

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