Identity Labels - Are we going bonkers?
Hi, I’m Emma. I’m a lesbian! No, I’m a woman who loves women! No, I’m a human being who loves my fellow man, woman, non-binary, transgender, pan…
Last week, I got into a conversation with some writer colleagues about the marketing of an event we are putting on for readers of lesbian fiction. The issue of ensuring inclusively across the diverse range of gender and sexual orientation categories came up and generated unresolved debate. Marketing is more effective when focused. Being focused excludes!
It’s an issue, and for those who are fighting for their human right - to identify in a way that feels right for them - it can be devastating to live in a world that just doesn't get it!
There are now more than seventy different ways people identify and categorise themselves in terms of their gender, sexual orientation and sexual preferences. I am sorry to say, I for one would need to study a degree to understand this new wave of individualism. I remember when the term Ms came into existence, it was the cause of fierce debate then! How do we navigate a world, without offending people, in which the language of our ‘being’ is changing so rapidly?
Our leaders can’t help. At this point in our existence, around the world heads of nations and those who support them are doing their utmost to create greater security by; closing their boundaries, building walls, finding ways to cast out those who they feel do not belong. Economic insecurity breeds distrust and a parochial attitude. Distrust is fuelled by fear. Fear of those who are not like us and fear of change. There is always a cost of change; financial, physical, mental and emotional. Systems, rules, and governance structures cannot cater to human emotion. Yet, it is our emotion that drives our behaviour. Our desire to be recognised – through the label of our choice – is based in a feeling. The brain that does not align with the body feels wrong to the person living with it. The emotion that drives exclusion is fear. Acceptance of individual differences in whatever form they take is driven by our conditioned rules (mental) and our emotions. Those who can achieve acceptance of their fellow human species are not fuelled by fear, but by love and compassion.
Religion won’t save us. I am not going to labour on this topic because many people gain a great deal of comfort and security through their religious beliefs, and that is awesome. What is not helpful about religion usually lies with the individual delivering the sermon rather than the universal messages of kindness and inclusion that we would find if we looked for them within our religious texts. Religions are bounded by rules, those stories that have been passed down over time. Is the world really that constant?
Does claiming our gender, orientation, and preference identity labels have to be a fight?
In the past fifty years, much has changed in the UK. We have fought for female equality in the workplace, fought for the right to love who we chose without recrimination, fought for our sexual orientation to be recognised in our courts and churches so that we can be accepted as equal to our heterosexual neighbours. I had to fight to be accepted as the parent to my children. I had to fight for my right to ‘choose’, with my mother, when I came out. Where there is fear, the need to fight will be our first response. It’s primal. It’s biologically rooted in our brain. You attack; I defend. It’s who we are. But we are more than our initial fight-flight-freeze response. We have cognition. We can think, make decisions, apply logic (sometimes), we can change our mind. We can solve complex problems, design incredible structures, invent out-of-this-world devices and products. And yet, we can’t easily accept individual differences!
Our laws, systems, and processes have never been able to cope with the pace of change we demand of them. Emotions run high when rejection leaves us feeling excluded. It’s human nature. So, yes, sometimes we need to fight to get people to listen to us, but we also need to recognise that the pace of change doesn’t always work as quickly as we would like it to. Many of the craftsmen who worked on the ancient structures – the pyramids, Petra, and the like – died long before the job was completed. That doesn’t mean we give up the fight. On the contrary, we keep doing our bit to create change even though we may not benefit from our endeavours. It isn’t always about fighting, though.
Whatever labels any one of us might choose to live by, we are beneath the surface all, human. We have thoughts and follow the rules we have been taught that guide our actions. We have emotions; we feel hurt, shame, loneliness, and if we are lucky, happiness and love. Acceptance of individual differences is an attitude, including our own. Judging others as less worthy than ourselves is easy to do, it slips off the tongue in casual conversation without us noticing. Judgement is not discrimination. We will always discriminate – we have to, to make sense of the world – but judging someone on the basis of their chosen identity as being less than any other human being is both cruel and cowardly. Not to say, fundamentally inaccurate. It takes great courage to stand up against a system of being in which you do not fit. It takes immense strength to live in congruence with yourself in a world (or body for that matter) that would have you burnt at the stake for being a heretic.
I am blessed that my children have helped to change the hearts and minds of their peers by being who they are. Quietly, effortless, it is totally normal that they have two mums. They have played with a nine-year-old boy who identifies as a girl. They have had discussions with her over which toilets she uses at school. Her name is Alex. They have educated their classmates (and the ladies at the Supermarket checkout) that their mums are lesbians and that they were conceived through a donor. This is their normality and the world will change because of their interpretation, that their normal = difference. They have schooled alongside children with Autism and other labelled conditions. They understand that human brains work differently and that it is cruel to criticise someone who is different from them. And, even though they know they can love and marry (or not) who they choose, they still talk of loving and marrying a person of the opposite gender. My son spent a year saying he wanted to be a girl. That is normal, it passed, and it is in no way the same thing as a person with a brain and body that are out of alignment with each other.
Where there is insecurity, the need to fit in is stronger. With maturity, it becomes easier to stand out from the crowd. Even our political leaders cannot manage such a feat! Who knows who our future leaders will be, but rest assured the day will come when that person will identify through one of the seventy-plus label options that are now in existence. The days of Mr and Mrs, Master and Miss, are gone and it is time to embrace the transition into a new language of our human experience of ‘being’. My hope is that one day we won’t feel the need to talk about how we identify, because it won’t have a bearing on anything. I am sure I will be one of the craftsmen of Petra in this respect!
I remember talking to a young gay man when I was about twenty-two. He said, “I wish they (the heterosexuals who criticised his sexual preference) would get their heads out of my fucking bedroom. I don’t give a shit what goes on in theirs.” He was right back then, it shouldn’t matter, and we shouldn’t be thought ‘less of’, or treated as ‘less than’, for being who we are. There are more important issues that are a real threat to our existence that desperately need our attention.
Please, can we rise above our fears and accept all people as equal, create systems and structures that reflect and support individual differences, and work in harmony to deal with the real threats to our humanity?
Nope, I thought not. It's just not in our human nature!