I've been giving a lot of thought to labels lately—more than usual. I don't know why. Maybe it has something to do with the new Star Wars trailer coming out. Maybe it has something to do with the laundry pile sitting next to my washing machine that seems to be self-breeding through mitosis, which is scaring the living shit outa me.
But I digress.
Labels. Why do we get so caught up on labels? What difference do labels make?
Some people are vehemently, almost militantly anti-label. They make a point of keeping their Fetlife profiles completely vague, absent of titles, statuses, fetishes, anything that might dare to come across as a label. Their only fetish will be something along the lines of, "you want to know, fucking ask me." I do believe that is a fetish on Fetlife.
So here's what I think about labels. I think it's not just the label that's important. I think it's the intent behind the label, too.
When you think about it, labels serve as a courtesy not to the person who self-identifies, but to the rest of us looking in. People like structure and order; people like standardization. Laziness breeds efficiency, and people tend to be lazy; so if you can make their lives that much simpler by supplying a quick and easy label, they will reach out and take hold of it like a child to a grape-flavored popsicle on a hot day.
But the point of the label is supposed to be to make people understand something faster. Maybe they won't understand the fine points—maybe they won't see the small nuances right away—but they will get the general idea, quick and simple like, and they will be happier for it. Labels are supposed to give knowledge to others, often so they can change their behaviors accordingly.
What labels are not supposed to do is confuse. This is what I think riles up people so much: when labels obscure and complicate matters instead of simplifying them. When people assume one thing about a person based upon their label, and then come to find out that person is the exact opposite of what their label typically stands for.
And yeah, I know, some of you are going to gripe now "But nobody should be making assumptions! You should be asking!" And you'd be right. But for a person to adopt one label, when it's pretty fucking obvious everyone else uses that label to mean something wholly different than the way they're using it, maybe even the complete opposite—that is deceptively ambiguous at best. That person are purposely misleading others into thinking something about them that is not true. And then, you gotta ask why.
I am monogamous. I do not have sex with others. Men, women, doesn't matter: no sex for me or with me. Does this mean I'm straight? No. But it does mean my sexual orientation becomes less relevant for others looking for prospective sex partners, because whatever I am, however I see myself in my own head, I'm still not available to them for sex. And I want people to know that. I want to make that clear up front. Because I don't want to waste anyone else's time by making them wonder if (and hope that) they can sleep with me.
Now...if I labeled myself monogamous, but still had sex with other people? That would, I'm sure, raise a whole bunch of questions in other people's heads. Why would I call myself monogamous if I'm sleeping around? Could it be I'm cheating on my husband? Could it be I don't want anyone to know about my other sexual partners? Why not? Why hide it? Is there a consent violation going on in there somewhere?
Suspicion is raised. Uncertainty begins to form. And all because I choose to use a specific word to describe myself, when there are others out there capable of doing a much better job.
And maybe there's a good reason why I'm choosing to use the word monogamous. Maybe it means something special to me. But then I'm using it with the full knowledge that I'm confusing everyone I give it to, everyone who ends up thinking I'm using that word in a deceitful way. That is the choice I would be making.
There are general labels, old labels, new labels—the word "polyamorous" is relatively new—and what's ironic here is that for many, the deeper you pare down, the more specific you get, the more you need to think about personal nuance. You need to ask what special meaning, if any, people might have for using the labels they do. "Poly" is pretty general. But when people start using phrases like "closed poly," "triad poly," "V poly"...that is when people typically feel the need to start asking questions.
But the point is always supposed to be transparency and clarity. Big Brother's Newspeak won't get you very far. War is peace! Ignorance is strength! Cheating is fidelity! Lies are virtuous! No. Doubleplusungood.