The LGBTQ+ is a marginalized community that in times of animosity cannot turn against itself. Self-identity and labels are not up for debate. Queer people must be careful to not enforce standards on anyone else’s queerness.
Due to changing labels and self-claimed identities, the community is expanding every day. Not all identities are widely understood and, even though awareness is increasing, there is still an opposition to self-labeling. Groups within the LGBTQ+ community cannot police the identity of others because queerness does not come with rules or standards.
People within the queer community have long found peace with assigning themselves a label. Labels are descriptive and not prescriptive. They describe your identity—not prescribe who you are attracted to. The owner of the label dictates its meaning, not anyone else.
A mainstream example of policing identities is the constant criticism that pop-singer Halsey faces regarding her bisexual identity. In an article published by Buzzfeed, the LGBTQ+ editor for the publication wrote a piece that discredited Halsey’s identity, referencing performances where she dances or interacts with primarily male dancers, and has publicly dated other male artists. The editor insinuates that Halsey is not rightfully expressing her gayness. Though this is a high-profile example, this sort of dictating of personal identity and labels by other LGBTQ+ members is counteractive to the inclusivity the community should uphold.
In the journey of discovering your queer identity, there is a sense of isolation because your feelings are different than the heterosexual norm. Finding your group becomes the goal of this journey. But even after finding others that may identify within the same label, it does not mean that each of you hold the exact same feelings toward that label. Assigning yourself a label means gaining the vocabulary to identify yourself at a time where you can’t or don’t want to explain yourself.
Shel Pomerantz, Queeries program coordinator part of Portland State’s Queer Resource Center, expressed their thoughts on why labels are important, how to respect the identity of others and talked about the work they are doing in educating both members of the LGBTQ+ and allies.
On why they use labels Shel said, “personally, I use labels for a variety of reasons. It’s easier to gain purchase in articulating your legitimacy if you have the vocabulary to explain it. For example, using the identity label of asexual lets me articulate an absence of sexual attraction as opposed to celibacy (the choice to abstain from sexual activity) or aromanticism (not experiencing romantic attraction or desire).”
It is impossible to know what a label means to someone. “They can also denote a cultural or political orientation, or help one to find community with other people who share that cultural or political orientation or who share similar desires, struggles and/or unique characteristics,” Shel said.
Often people criticize how frequent someone may change their label. This idea negates the reality that labels are not meant to box in your identity but to assign a vocabulary to it.
“If someone changes their self-description, it doesn’t mean they were “faking it” before—it either means they have changed as a person, which is natural as we grow, or that they have learned more about the world and/or themself and have adapted their language to reflect that,” Shel said.
An important thing to remember is that when someone reveals themselves to you, it is not up for debate.
“The words we use to describe ourselves might mean different things to different people, and we recognize and celebrate that there is no universal narrative for any identity,” they said. “We also recognize that personal experiences aren’t up for debate, offering people the baseline respect of believing what they say about themselves.”
In Portland, there have been recent attacks targeting people in the queer community. At the height of violence, differences must be put aside. Shel emphasized the value of uplifting individuals within the community instead of holding judgement against them.
“It’s especially important to be responsive to our community members who hold multiple marginalized identities,” they said. “We stand to learn a lot by centering those of us who face multiple axes of oppression, and by uplifting our most marginalized community members, we avoid perpetuating the very systems that we are burdened by.”
No one is gayer than another. No one is queerer than another. The spectrum of queerness is horizontal, not vertical. As a marginalized community it is important that we respect everyone’s journey in discovering their queer identity. At the end of it all, there is no right way to be gay, and no one has the authority to say otherwise.