To The FemmeMobile! Away!

{February 3, 2010}   Call me… grapefruit. Or wait, lemon. Yes, I like lemon.

So, in my bisexuality post, labels came up. There are a lot of different takes on labels, and I know a lot of people really dislike them. One of things I hear most often, in fact, is that labels are limiting and harmful, and we should all live without them.

I disagree. Allow mt to pontificate explain why. ;-D

As a kid, I was outside. I was Other. I didn’t fit into any of the groups. My family joked that I was my father’s only son, which was true! I was more boyish than the boys in our neighborhood. I didn’t know other tomboys. I wasn’t girly, so I didn’t fit in with the girls, and I wasn’t actually a boy, so I didn’t fit in with them. I was other. As I got older, that only got worse. I was an introvert, a storyteller, a female comic geek, my perception (untrue, but I didn’t learn that until later) was that I was the only problem child in a house full of geniuses. I felt like I was alone.

For me, labels keep me from being alone. If I can find a label that fits, I can find a community of like-minds. When I started to discover that I actually fit into some labels, I was able to feel connected with people — which was a first. I wasn’t so isolated. I wasn’t having to do it all myself; someone else was suddenly there to do it with me. When I learned, for instance, that the label that fit me was ‘introvert,’ I was able to look up introvert on the internet. I was presented with tons of coping skills, other people, ways to keep my sanity, and above all the knowledge that there were OTHER introverts — I wasn’t a freak.

This type of experience fostered a love affair with labels.

Rather than limiting me, labels give me new things to explore. If I claim the label ‘comic geek,’ and other comic geeks say, “Hey, we like Star Wars!” Then I can go explore Star Wars.Β  I may or may not like it, but it’s given me something new to explore. It’s actually broadened my experiences in a way they would not have been broadened otherwise. Plus, in my experience I often do like what other like-minded people recommend to me. If I hadn’t used that label for myself I never would have thought to look in that direction. (More recently, I started labeling myself femme — and what do you know, a lot of femmes are talking about sex practices I’d never paid much attention to. And some of those, I’m finding, are a turn-on; something I’d have never known if I hadn’t claimed a label and then looked further into it.)

Labels give me new ways to think about things, and help to open my mind. Okay, yeah, that sounds just like the above, right? But if I claim I’m masculine-sexual, then I have to stop and think about what I’m identifying as masculine. This helps me not only look at myself and further identify what I like (possibly changing it as I realize — as I did in my bisexual post — that it’s not masculinity I like, but these other features sort of disguised as masculinity), but it also helps me look at other aspects of my life and examine them. What do I consider masculine? Why? Is it sexist? Can I improve it? Can I strengthen someone? Am I hurting anyone? And so on.Β  I love analyzing this stuff. πŸ˜‰

Labels give me a short cut to finding other people, as both friends and SOs. I like masculine people, so I can stop spending time and energy looking at others. The trick here is to keep an open mind. If I find myself attracted to someone who isn’t masculine, I shouldn’t not check it out to see if something’s there — but in the meantime, I can skim populations and ads and whatever else to see if anyone fits into the type of person I’m typically attracted to.

Labels also help other people find me. Butch women are more likely to approach me if I’ve already said I like them. People who like femmes are more likely to approach me if they know I’m femme (this applies especially online, where you may not be able to run someone past your gaydar). People who are also masculine-sexual will be more likely to approach me for friendship, because we can be at ease with each other.

I already mentioned this, but again: labels give me a sense of community. They help me seek out like-minded people, people who’ve already traveled my road, people I can learn from and get support from and support in turn. Here’s the catch, though: If I have the wrong label, I’m going to feel like an outsider. Those people and me, we aren’t going to mesh properly, and I’m not going to be sure what’s wrong.

In fact, if I have the wrong label then I’m probably knocking out a portion of the population I’m looking for. More importantly than that, I feel like a liar. This is my identity we’re talking about. This is my self-concept of who I am. I don’t want to lie to others about that. I don’t want to lie to myself about that, either. I could keep this from happening by eschewing labels — but look at all the above things I would be missing if I did that. (I’m not saying that other people who do eschew labels are missing those things, mind: I’m saying this is what labels do for me, and therefore it’s what I would be missing.)

I know some people feel penned in by labels, that it limits them and takes away their strength — but I feel just the opposite. Labels give me power, open my mind to look at new things, lead me toward further self-realization and general realizations, help me find others like me. They give me strength.

For me, it’s not about whether or not bisexuality fits, really. It’s about trying to figure out who I am. It’s about finding other people that I feel joy with. It’s a lot more than pigeonholing myself somewhere. πŸ˜‰

There you have it. More than you ever wanted to know about my take on labeling.



Nezuko says:

Wow. Thank you for saying this. That’s great. That’s such a well thought out answer, and I really needed to hear this, because I’ve been getting a bit of that “labels are bad and you are bad for seeking them” feeling from some other conversations I’ve had recently.

JB says:

I get it a lot, and see it even more often. But there’s always two sides to a story, right? πŸ˜‰

I’m glad it helped!


DK says:


I find it endlessly frustrating when people stonewall a conversation by dropping ‘labels are bad’ right in your path. Yes, labels may be bad for you, fair enough, especially if you’ve had a nasty experience with them — though if I’m completely honest, likely I’ll be labling you ‘teenage’ and ‘asshole’ right around this point. >.> But I don’t think labels as a whole are a bad idea. They’re just a tool. It depends how they’re being used.

*climbs off soapbox*

JB says:

*laughs!* People who do that usually aren’t teenage or asshole — they’ve just had bad experiences. Often, I find, people who are stonewalling conversations like that are doing it because they’re afraid for me. They see me as repressing anything outside that label. So while I’m generally annoyed and pissy rather than remembering they’re just trying to help, I remember it later and also remember to call back and apologize for being pissy. >.>

I like that bit about it being a tool! I’ve said that about a lot of other things; I think I’ll start using it to explain this, too!


G says:

I personally like labels. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – labels help give us a point of reference for things, and I actually find that helpful. I think the key is to use them to include, not to exclude. I believe that when people throw out that “Labels are bad, mmkay?” thing, they’re more concerned with the consequences of hurtful labeling than they are with the label itself.

I have also found that I like labels when referencing myself (oh, the happiness when I accepted “butch”!), but I’m not so concerned with labeling others.

It’s late. I’m rambling. Great post.

JB says:

Those are really good points. I guess I’d always assumed labels were to include, not exclude, and I forget that others are worried about the opposite! I also don’t feel the need to label others, which is something else I think the anti-labelers are worried about. I understand that worry: getting labeled as heterosexual feminine is quite annoying… ;-D

I think my biggest problem is when people wave off my concerns with a casual, “Well, it’s just a label. Be free and don’t label yourself, and then you don’t have to worry about it!” If I wanted to do that, I wouldn’t be labeling myself in the first place. πŸ˜‰


Jen says:

So, being that I tend to read your blog late at night and I generally make less sense at that time, I want to clarify a bit what I meant by “why bother labeling yourself?”

I don’t think labels are necessarily a bad thing. I think in some cases, yes, they can be very limiting. For instance, in your search for a proper label, as “bisexual” doesn’t seem to fit because it places inherent limits on your likes and dislikes. And a label like “femme” can have so many different connotations that it’s more freeing than limiting.

Does that make sense? It’s late again . . . well . . . maybe not late in California, but it’s past midnight here.

Also, I can really identify with the being a tomboy and not having a lot of like-minded people with whom to interact as a kid. I’ve gotten comments from my male friends like, “Wow. You throw like a guy.” Well, my brother had an older sister to play catch with. Even my two best friends in elementary school were quite girly, and I didn’t understand it. When we played exploratory pretend games (like pretending to go on a date), I was always the boy.

It’s funny, because one of my best friends from that time was really girly, and I look back on some of the more risque exploratory type games (she shall remain nameless as I don’t want anyone’s business being brought up, but at 10 and 11 we were pretending to get it on with me as the guy and her as the girl, and she knew a lot more about that kind of thing than me because she had older sisters) and I laugh, because I think we both got a little turned on by those games. At the time, I’m pretty sure we had no idea what to do with those feelings, but what cracks me up now is that this former friend is now an out, engaged lesbian.

And yes, we were very, very weird kids. Talk about experimenting . . .

I didn’t even get into makeup until college. My grandmother spent my entire life trying to get me to be more like my female cousins in style because I wasn’t girly enough. She’s still trying, even though I am thoroughly girly now (I mean shit . . . I own over $8K in makeup and kind of love dresses when I can find one that fits well). But I spent a lot of time in the guy world. I get along better with guys. I can throw a baseball with the best of them, even though I can’t aim worth a damn. While my girl cousins sit on the side of the pool tanning, I am playing basketball with the guys. I think it still shocks my family to see me wearing a knee-length skirt or a dress. I don’t identify as masculine; I just have a lot of masculine tendencies. My best friend is a guy. A gay guy, but a guy nonetheless.

Seriously, I thought he was joking when he came out. He was like . . . the straightest gay man ever. Funny story about his coming out, but that’s for later.

Now that I’ve rambled thoroughly, I’m going to go wash my face, brush my teeth and go to bed.

JB says:

I think I see what you mean… but I figure if a label is limiting, it’s the wrong label! πŸ˜‰ I think labels can be a bad thing if you’re slapping them on other people, or if you feel like you can’t do something because of your label — but I also don’t feel like that’s what labels are for, or that it’s a healthy way to live!

re Tomboy – dude, you had exploratory games like that, too? I totally thought I was the only one! Well, okay, no, but I definitely figured I was in the minority. (Though my friend grew up to be very very straight. *laughs* Even funnier, because she was always the ‘boy’!)

It’s been strange to hit my late twenties and suddenly start wanting to be more feminine. I’m having to learn late about make up, hair product, and nail polish. You should see some of the looks I get at the questions I ask… ;-D


Holden says:

Great post. I love labels, the more the merrier in my opinion because then we have more language at our disposal to express ourselves. And we all have the choice to accept or reject them at will.

G says:

That’s such a great point, H. Who says we have to use just one label to define anything? If you ask a handful of people to describe the ocean, I’m sure you’ll get more than one answer. I can think of several labels for myself (and only a couple are profane!).

JB says:

*grins* And you’re discussing labels at your blog — how perfect! *laughs* I might have to follow your lead and look through some more labels to see what else fits…

Re – your comment — exactly! I think a danger is becoming too attached to a label and not being willing to change it when it no longer fits. But I’m a cheerful flip flopper; not so much a worry with me. ;-D Labels are great; I can tell someone in a word or two roughly about myself, rather than having to describe it all.


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