Labels; Are they important and do they have a use?

I understand this is again much like the privilege piece, a delicate topic and I have tried to approach it with as much love, compassion and respect as possible.

My views are just that and are not made to start a hateful, demonising or negative discussion about any cisgendered males, females or members of the LGBTQi community.

I would like to add that the LGBTQi community has been extremely welcoming of me and I hope that this piece encourages the reader to learn more about this diverse community and how they could become an ally, as well as reflecting on their own ideas (the reader) of labels.

So when I was researching privilege there was something that came up for me. I wanted to open up the topic of whether or not the label of gender was important to have in this day and age and what are it’s uses (if any) to us as human. Just a note here that I don’t have a predefined point of view, I am just expressing my thoughts behind this topic. I am not aiming to come to a firm standpoint at the end of this article as I don’t think there is one.

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about transgender people and non-binary individuals and what was interesting to me is how up in arms some cis -gendered people are on labelling transgender and non binary individuals and making sure they can be defined by what it’s between their legs.

I am going to be completely transparent here and say that before I started my journey into reading up on feminism, racism, intersectionality and colonialism, I had no clue as to why people were up in arms about gender. It didn’t even cross my mind as an issue. I had a very laissez faire attitude on rights as a whole. I was extremely naive and had this approach of “why-can’t-we-all-just-love-each-other” my main concern was literally why a certain boy hadn’t messaged me and didn’t like me (I actually wrote a lot about him, scroll back for this embarrassing evidence) but now I realise that this is an important topic which needs to be discussed. I’ve realised this because not only are more and more people identifying as being transgender or non-binary there are also lots of other ways in which people can be or want to be identified. I don’t know of anyone close to me who identifies as anything thing other than cis-gendered which brings me to realise that there is a lot I still need to learn about the LGBTQ community and I’m hopeful that by writing this post I can start questioning any out of date thoughts I may have and move into a space of true understanding and empathy. I would hate nothing more than to be ignorant in something that I feel I ought to know about so here it goes.

This is probably harder for me to write than the privilege post as I don’t have any experience in this idea of conflicting genders. I feel like I can identify with the majority of some parts of the label given to me and I am aware now of how lucky I am to have felt this way.

What I’m curious about is the connotations we attribute to each gender. To explain this I want to talk about my darling niece who continues to baffle me each day as I’m sure she does her parents. My cousin (Indian culture 1st cousins are treated as and effectively ARE our brothers/sisters) sent me a WhatsApp message to tell me that her and her daughter were discussing differences. My cousin happened to say, as an example, that boys have short hair and girls have long hair. Her daughter disputed this and replied with: “not all boys have short hair, Shrina Masi has short hair and she’s a girl!” In that moment I realised two things. One being that this girl was light years ahead of any other child her age (she is 3) and two, how the automatic connotation of short hair male and long hair female irked me but is nearly completely redundant. Don’t get me wrong; I would have described difference to a child of 3 in similar ways so I’m not annoyed by the explanation, I am more curious as to why that example came about in the first place and for how much longer can we use gender and the connotations attached to them as a source of difference.

My issue isn’t with being labelled female or male, my issue is with the conventional connotations attached to that word. When I was growing up the words attributed to male were strong, brave, big, tough, confident, powerful and the words attributed to female were small, petite, quiet, pretty, simple. Perhaps this was just my upbringing and I understand that in Indian culture there is still a massive divide between men and women and how men are often favoured over women.

It seems to me that gender is a social construct which has all these connotations to it which then have become forced as the norm onto individuals at a very early age and if said individuals didn’t fit in with the “norm” they were labelled as odd or weird or wrong. Who decided that? Who decided that boys do this and act this way and girls do that and act that way and you belong to one or the other, pick a side and stay there. My thoughts are, if society is coming round to the idea, albeit slowly, that sexuality can be fluid then why can’t gender be the same?

What then confuses me though is, by saying that, am I negating the entire experience of the transgender community who identify as opposite to what they were born as? Am I reducing something that the trans-community fight so hard for into nothing but an arbitrary word? I hope not!

Growing up as an Indian British female I was constantly defined by not only what was between my legs but how I interpreted being female. The day I cut my hair off as sort of a middle-finger-fuck-you to Indian society was not at all well received. I constantly got told I looked like a boy and no one would want to marry me (ah well) so to me being defined by my gender infuriates me as it’s seen as a handicap.

What is the need for labels like the word, gender? I think to answer that question we perhaps need to first understand the the difference between sex and gender. It has been argued that sex refers to the biological aspect of a human whereas gender is associated with the societal, cultural and personal perceptions. So by that definition sex is seen as rigid and some might argue as “factual” and gender is something that could be seen as fluid and down to the person using the word. If that is the case then perhaps having labels like gender could be seen as a good thing.

Like I said, I am not knowledge about how the word gender or other labels affects other people in the LGBTQi community so I decided to speak to someone who identifies as trans-non-binary and ask their opinion on labels like gender. They said to me that they “liked the word gender as it reminded them that society doesn’t control how they identify” or how they “represent their gender” and they find it “freeing” They went onto say that the label gender is “absolutely it’s relevant whether people want it to or not” I learnt from this person more about where the confusion lies and how that can cause problems. They said: “Unfortunately there’s a lot of confusion around the terms sex and gender, and many terfs and other transphobes have used that confusion to their advantage (ex: saying trans women aren’t /really/ women) but all sex is what the doctor determined by looking at the phalloclitoris of babies so I think the term gender is actually far more important and accurate since people can label themselves.”

This completely changed my perspective. I was looking at labels like gender as a negative thing and perhaps that is because I am speaking from a place of pain due to the racial and cultural discrimination I experienced within my life. All labels that have been attributed to me in my life by society and even my family have been negative and as a result have had a very detrimental affect on how I now view the term “label” as a whole. This is a more positive perspective of why we need the word or label gender and how it is actually much more fluid of a concept than I originally thought.

This made me realise that really is down to the individual and not only the preference of the individual but the background they have come from which determines how they feel about labels. For example; labels have been inherently negative for me so of course I would lean towards them being restrictive, damaging and unhelpful whereas for those searching for an alternative and for a sense of belonging, labels could help them to feel like they have a sense of identify, which can be moulded and shaped to fit what they need and believe.

Love Shrin xo

N.B

I am extremely thankful to Yvaine Love for their feedback on this topic and for helping me see a different perspective. It is because of them I have had my eyes open and have learnt a little bit more about such a diverse community. I am going to continue my journey into learning about how to be a true ally to other members within the LGBTQi community and I hope the relationship I share with Yvaine endures.

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