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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My label maker is broken!

I had another one of those interesting conversations the other night. This time the topic turned to labels. Polyamory, Poly-fidelity, Homosexual, Heterosexual, Asexual, and on and on. I personally don't like labels much. I use them to facilitate conversation with others, as a starting point, but not much more than that. The person with whom I was talking took the position that labels are necessary. That people require labels to exist and will refuse to be without a label.

As interesting as I found that, I find it even more interesting that people are constantly creating 'new' labels to define themselves. In that sentence the word 'new' is in quotes because, well, most of those 'new' labels aren't new. They are simply new words that apply the same labels already defined somewhere else.

But back to the original discussion, that people refuse to be without a label.

In some ways I think that is true. People define themselves by comparison and measurement to others. Often that means participating in a group to be able to value yourself. For example; a polyamorist isn't going to measure their success or value against monogamists. A monogamist isn't going to compare their love life to that of a polygamist. A Christian probably isn't going to use a Pagan as a comparison. People usually classify themselves into a group with beliefs or values similar to theirs, then mentally compare themselves against what at that point would be their peers.

But what if we could do away with the labels? Specifically as they relate to our love lives and sexual orientation. I like the word polyamory because I feel conceptually it describes me pretty well but at the same time, I don't necessarily fit the generally accepted or practiced definition of a polyamorist. I like to define my relationships by how they develop, rather than how they are expected to be defined. So what if we developed a term, say Love Relationist, but left the term undefined. Anyone could be a self-proclaimed Love Relationist but they couldn't define the term other than as it applied to themselves. You could be bi-sexual and polyfidelitous and be a Love Relationist. Or you could be homosexual, monogamous, and be a Love Relationist. Whatever you are, you would be a Love Relationist. And so would everyone else.

Yes, I know, it sounds like I'm inventing another label but that really isn't what I'm trying to do. Rather, what I'm suggesting is that rather than trying to apply labels to ourselves, what would the world be like if there were no defined labels?

I think an initial result of such a thing would be the opening of communication. You would have no idea what type of relationship design someone preferred or practiced without asking them. Want a relationship? You have no choice but to start talking to people and asking them about their design. Likewise, you would learn to express your interests and desires or probably be single forever.

The next thing that I think would happen would be the end of valuation by group comparison. Or from another perspective; valuation using everyone as perspective rather than a group. Without defined labels there would be no group in which to put yourself, either for yourself or as an expression to others. With the ability to place yourself in a group using a label, self-valuation might come more from within than from comparison to others.

I think conversations would change as well. Instead of asking someone what their orientation is, you might instead just ask them to describe themselves. Without asking a leading question, as we do now which often involves an explicit or implied label, the person answering would be able to do so with their own words, without the bias currently involved in the original question.

Could this work? Probably not. Current social practices have us place ourselves in a group and define ourselves based on language and general expectations generally attributed to that group. And when someone misplaces themselves in a group everyone else will chat behind their back about how they should probably be classified as something else.

What are your thoughts on labels and groups? Good, bad, indifferent? Do you use labels or avoid them? Do you try to create unique labels or use those that already exist, even when imperfect?


  1. I understand people's need for labels-as you said, a need to align themselves with the group that matches their own values. But I am starting to think more and more that labels are ultimately useless. If someone tells me they are poly, I know further discussion is needed to flesh out what that means to them and me. Same thing with many other labels used in the non-monogamous community. So really, they are just a springboard to suss out commonalities and weed out those too different. If someone tells me they are Catholic, I immediately put them into the undateable category. Sometimes I think I should identify myself a slut and let it go at that. :)

  2. Walkietalkieooo,
    Exactly, labels are becoming somewhat useless.

    Some of my best friends are sluts! Ok seriously, I think the drive to reclaim the 'slut' label might be a good idea. In my community there are more than a few (male and female) who identify openly as sluts and there seems to be much less negative association with the term than in the past.

    Thanks for the comment!