Saturday, May 5, 2012

Label-Maker, 2012

I wrote this about four years ago. I still hold to most of these POVs, but there are one or two I'd give another thought to now that I'm older and wiser.

Labels are for soup. Not people.

We all know - or should know - that labeling someone this or that is narrow-minded, but we all do it anyway. Sometimes it’s just an easy and harmless way to describe someone, i.e. “This is my gay friend John”, "This is my porn actor friend Carlo", etc. As if they’re the only gay man or porn slut that the speaker has ever known. Other times the sole intent for the labeling is sheer spite and derision that has most likely grown from the label-thrower’s own insecurity. If you’ve ever been on the tail end of one of these hateful descriptions, you know it’s painful and can stay with you long after said labelers have already forgotten it.

As a gay man, I used to hate the word “gay." This was because it was used as a taunt; a word more commonly followed by "wad" rather than "pride." Even with my distaste for the word, I always used it. It is universal in meaning. It would be great if I didn’t need to explain myself in that particular way, but the world ain’t that forward yet, folks. People around my neck of the woods still assume a person is “straight” unless you say otherwise. 

There are other terms that the world uses to refer to gay people, of course. More malignant ones. You know what I’m talking about, so I won’t repeat them. Some of these terms, the “gay community” (such a strange phrase…like we all live in little huts just outside of Houston or something) has adopted as their own. “Queer as Folk”, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Some think it is a way to claim the word so that it doesn’t mean what it once did. Got news for you: the negative connotation still lingers on that word no matter how it’s used. It’s like that coffee that’s made from monkey poo: it may be packaged up all nice for expensive retailers, but it’s still shit. "Queer” means “strange” and I don’t see myself as particularly strange. I’m not normal either. Nobody is normal, and thank God for that.

The term “homosexuality” did not rear its ugly head until 1869 when sociologist Karl Maria-Kertbeny coined it in a pamphlet against a Prussian anti-sodomy law. (That’s right, boys and girls. It was coined by a man who today would be referred to as a “gay.”) His coining of the word, however, has led to much divisiveness. I imagine that’s not what he intended. But now, it’s out there. Gay, straight, black, white, red-state, blue-state, Obi-wan, Gandalf. There’s so much that separates us these days. Sometimes I think we look for wedges just so we can have reasons to get shitty with each other.

Of the more modern phrases that I have grown up with, (and have even used and accepted before I knew better), there are some that raise my dander more than others. “Straight-acting” is one of the dumbest phrases I’ve ever heard. There’s even a website you can go to and get your “straight-acting” rating, like some merit badge to paste on your personal webpage. WHAT.THE.FUCK.

Think about that term. It implies that being gay is not as good as being straight so one should try and mask being gay…somehow. What does that mean exactly? I am not a “feminine-acting” man, and because of that people refer to me as “straight-acting.” I’m not heterosexual, nor would I want to be. I am completely satisfied with my sexuality just the way it is and always has been. I know a lot of gay men who are more “masculine”, if you want to use that word, than any heterosexual football player I have ever known. And counter that, just because a guy does hair at Becky’s Boutique and listens to Judy doesn’t automatically make him gay. It might make him “gay-acting”, though. See how stupid that sounds?

“Sexual preference.” What dumbass came up with this? And I’ve used it in the past, so I’m just as big of a dumbass, I guess. Sexuality is not a preference as far as my experience has shown me. There is no choosing involved…unless of course you’re threatened with ostracism so you choose to “straighten up.” Unless you then choose to grin and bear a life of self-hate and posturing.

“Tolerance.” On the one hand, tolerance is good. Intolerance is bad. But you tolerate the weather. You tolerate the smell of salmon. You tolerate a headache at three in the afternoon so you can be done with work faster and get home. You don’t “tolerate” people. You accept them and you respect them.

Finally, “lifestyle.” Me falling in love with another man and devoting myself to him is not a “lifestyle.” It’s a life. Now, if me and said man o’ my dreams are deciding whether to live in a bungalow or a condo, THAT would be a style of living (I think I’d choose the bungalow). Again, to me “lifestyle” implies some choice. It is not conducive to my definition of the world. It is not helpful or instructive for those around me either. They need to know where I’m coming from, and why. Seeds are planted by the words we say.

So, here we are. Struggling through the politics of language. Still. It has nothing to do with being politically correct, though some may argue with that. I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to hanging labels on people and drawing assumptions from those labels. I still have to jump on myself regarding my prejudices (and I realize that’s what they are) against very religious people. But I’m trying. It’s one step. I make mine. You make yours. Soon we’ll be moving along just fine.


  1. well said, then and now -- too bad that "wedge labeling" has gotten worse in politics since you originally wrote this

  2. I agree with you. Labels are stupid. I don't introduce myself, "Hi I'm Barb and I'm straight" any more than I'd say "Hi I'm Barb and I'm rich." (Not that I am.) We're all just people.

  3. Well said Eric.

    "Straight Acting" really irritates me. It gets sold as a synonym for manly and brave, but often it is as much a costume as drag and it just means "Better at hiding in crowds". There is nothing sexy about cowardice. On the other hand, I love a guy who is unafraid to be who he is, ALL of who he is - not just the bits that he thinks are palatable to the heteronorm.

    Straight acting just seems like a way to to talk youself out of getting laid. after all, it's hard to be straight acting with a dick in your mouth.

  4. We all struggle for acceptance in the society. I mean, I know it's dumb, but we all want it. Straight acting is okay, I think, unless a gay man thinks he's superior or more "acceptable" in the society or a straight saying be gay as long as you're acting normal..

    And yeah, I would have to somehow agree with marcfab1 "Straight acting just seems like a way to to talk youself out of getting laid. after all, it's hard to be straight acting with a dick in your mouth."