About Labels




This post, for many readers here, will be sort of blatantly obvious. It’s a routine of talking points that we’ve had to deliver time and time again, but for whatever bizarre reason, it hasn’t broken ground and sprouted out. So, I’ll do my best to try to lay some fresh word.


What is often said, particularly amongst the older “early bird” supper not dinner crowd, who I happen to love so dearly, is that we sexual minorities need not use a label for ourselves when expressing that part of who we are.


One conversation I had with my dad, who is still unraveling everything he has learned in his 50 plus years (sorry for the age reminder pops), points to the state of understanding in the older generation.


I said I told a friend that I was gay, and he, in his gracious, loving and thoughtful way, asked why I needed to label myself. He asks me this out of unalloyed, authentic concern for how I will be perceived by a less than understanding world. Part of him, too, hopes that I will stake my identity first in Christ before anything else. And that is why he is a great dad. Sometimes a helicopter- but a great dad.


I respond to him by asking him what his sexual orientation is. And then there’s the ah ha… okay, I see what you’re saying. And that’s all it takes for him to understand that labels are less focal than they are formal.


And maybe, that conversation is the crux of where we are today. I plan on writing a post, or perhaps a series, on the importance of understanding your privilege, but this may be a microscope into how the privileged, through no fault of their own, project their desire to bring loved ones into normalcy. We’ve been taught time and time again that normalcy equates with virtue. Within the evangelical subculture, that the wills and whims of the majority must be the will of God. In secular culture, it means beautiful and acceptable and inalienable because they belong.


In Maya Angelou’s, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she articulates beautifully what being a minority is like for a child that is aware of it.


“Wouldn’t they be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair which was long and blond would take the place of the kinky mass that momma wouldn’t let me straighten? My light-blue eyes were going to hypnotize them, after all the things they said about “my daddy must’ve been a Chinaman” (I thought they meant made out of China, like a cup) because my eyes were so small and squinty. Then they would understand why I had never picked up a Southern accent, or spoke the common slang, and why I had to be forced to eat pigs’ tails and snouts. Because I was really white and because a cruel fairy stepmother, who was understandably jealous of my beauty, had turned me into a too-big Negro girl with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number two pencil.”


Maya grew up with a profound sense of her otherness and that told her that she wasn’t beautiful. That she wasn’t what she was supposed to be.


This is why we, as minorities, have to own our minority status. I remember sitting with counselor and my parents and I was in this whirlwind of choices, most of them would’ve been destructive, and I asked him, apprehensively, whether accepting my sexuality would take away any opportunity for change? I’ll never forget when he said, I don’t think you can move forward and be healthy, emotionally and spiritually, unless you learn to love all of yourself, including this.


And now it all makes sense to me.


It took me awhile, but after I stopped flailing to change inwardly it hit me that no matter what I did, what I told myself, what scripture I swallowed, I would always feel disconnected from myself. There was no way I could move forward until I owned that label for that part, with all the prejudice and sneers that came with it. I couldn’t war with myself anymore. I couldn’t call this a struggle. (That was the last descriptor I dropped- struggle. It’s a nicer name than say, perverted, but it still doesn’t fit. To me it sounds like a word straight conservative folks applied first, because this, this has hardly ever felt like a struggle. It’s felt like a discovery inside and rejection outside.)


When we are asked why this label is so important to bring to light, it is because of our history with it. It’s because the closet amplifies this label until its all we can hear reverberating off it’s walls. It is a huge part of our story. It is something we wish everyone could understand, yet, we know there is a gulf in experience. Which is frustrating.


This label is also misunderstood. You see, it would be weird for someone to caution my mom about identifying with that word mom. Or even mama or mother or, soon to be, grandmother or grandma. That is part of her story that is honorable and endearing and a fragment of who she is. We all know that she is more than that, but we celebrate this facet of her with all the value and hard times and bliss that accompanies it.


We are, each of us, a mix of characteristics and convictions patched together by the Blood. It is a beautiful thing.


When people prefer we use a different word to describe our sexual orientation, they mean well. They see the word as representing something deviant or at least, connected to a way of life that is deviant. It’s a guilt-by-association thing and since they know us and know that we are far from who they are, they think it’s a mistake to put that label on it. They think it’s setting ourselves up. They think that word is a target on our back.


And it is. In today’s world, it is a target on our back. And that’s why employing it is all the more important.


Their perspective is important for all of us to understand. It’s the same way many would caution a reformed alcoholic from identifying as an alcoholic. As they say in AA, once an alcoholic always an alcoholic, but these dear friends who are reformed are different than those alcoholics. They are not drinking, they are not deviant, they love God.


The same way we’re not hitting the clubs or dancing at pride or running away from God.


Problem is, being gay isn’t an addiction. It isn’t thoughts that popped up like phenomenons every now and then. It came with our “sexual awakening” of puberty. We noticed it and then we dealt with the fact that it was different and undesirable by our community… but it just was. We just are. We didn’t meet some monster in some street ally who perverted our nature. We didn’t have parents that loved us any less than yours (at least from me, as you’ve read before, my parents are wonderful.) Culture didn’t convince us to be gay, nor did our peers, nor did anything. In fact, we had nothing at all to gain from being gay. Being discriminated and ostracized aren’t exactly prices we would pay to be culturally relevant, as many have said. It is just, simply, a part of who we are. Case closed.


Secondly, alcoholism and homosexuality could not be further from each other. These two aren’t even on the same planet. Alcoholism is is destructive and is rightly viewed negatively. Being gay, recognizing same-sex attraction, isn’t a negative thing. It’s a statement of fact. It is a part of who we are. There is no averting these feelings and attempting to do so can lead to a life of depression and heartache. Saying we are gay is honesty. It is self-honoring. And it’s not negative.


Maybe this is the starting point where things actually start getting better. When we recognize that homosexuality is not a disease, not an addiction, not a choice, but a part of who are. A part that is labelled not by society, but by ourselves. A label that needs to be reclaimed. It needs to be redeemed. It needs to not be shunned or cautioned about, it needs to be better understood. As a part of that wide and expansive, every dimple and freckle mosaic of our personhood.


Maybe once that truth, that reality becomes the new state of understanding, well, maybe then we can All move forward.




PS: What do you make of labels? Are you completely anti? Completely pro? Or somewhere in the middle? Better yet, what do you make of Normalcy?


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