This is a bit of a trick question because there is no right or wrong answer. In truth, there are both positives and negatives to labeling your sexuality, gender identity, or expression. However, society has not yet broken up with the idea of assuming people are straight and cisgender unless otherwise stated. This collective, societal assumption often makes queer-identified people feel they should come out and explicitly label themselves to change the narrative of heteronormativity.
Notably, though, the automatic presumption of someone’s sexuality and/or gender is the real problem in this conversation. For many reasons, no one should feel pressured to adopt a label, especially because labeling could have life-threatening consequences for many BIPOC queer folks.
At the same time, as younger generations become more vocal about the injustices they face, different cultures reflect progressive change through policies and public consciousness. Unlike older generations, more young people have the privilege of being open about their sexualities, gender identities, and expressions. In fact, a survey done by Gallup demonstrates one out of six zoomers considers themselves a part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
The amount of openly queer individuals and communities have only increased as time progresses, thus re-normalizing queerness within white supremacist or colonized societies. So maybe labeling isn’t so bad after all, right?
For one, labeling can be beneficial as people can establish their own chosen family consisting of people who better understand their personhood and have the ability to empathize with their struggles.
Labeling can also bring advancement and provide other queer people the hope that they can one day be “out” as well. Although queer people have long existed throughout history, being able to openly be yourself without legal persecution (depending on where you live), is due to the work of LGBTQIA+ activists as well as individuals who were brave enough to advocate not only for themselves but for others.
On the other hand, a person’s sexuality, gender identity, or expression is their own business. See: how Ariana Grande approaches her own queerness. Ariana didn’t outright say she was queer in a public capacity until it was mentioned in her song “Monopoly” with Victoria Monét and perhaps implied in the music video for her single “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.”
However, both Ariana’s audience and some critics thought she was queerbaiting.
In a BBC article, Professor Julia Himberg of Arizona State University says “Our identities have been used over and over again in pop culture to establish an edgy identity.” So when high-profile celebrities tease around their gender or sexual expression without explicitly stating what their labels are, it can come off as performative. Fans may then feel lied to and see the person as disingenuous for showcasing deceitful representation.
Correspondingly, Ariana’s fanbase contains many people who identify within the LGBTQIA+ community, so her slight “hints” around her sexuality seemed like pandering. Except, it’s Ariana’s choice whether she wants to disclose personal information or not because, ultimately, she’s not obligated to share private aspects of herself with the public.
It’s understandable fans want to see themselves in their idol, as it makes them feel closer to those they support. But it’s unfair to put pressure on a stranger you have a parasocial relationship with to do something they aren’t yet comfortable with. Ultimately, forcing celebrities to label themselves is not the kind of queer representation we should want.
Moreover, as great as it is to be within a community amongst others who share the same identity, there are still limitations. The LGBTQIA+ acronym itself is frequently argued as being exclusive to other identities that aren’t represented with a letter. Some feel that excluding certain identities and denoting them as only a “plus” is insulting.
The LGBTQIA+ community is one that encompasses inclusion and intersectionality; however, by not highlighting all the possible identities within the acronym, the community may be doing the opposite. Activists and community members alike are unsure how to go about rectifying this issue. People should be excited to see themselves within their chosen family, not be hidden behind a small symbol or be disregarded completely. Why should some people go through the trouble of labeling themselves if they can go unacknowledged within their own community?
Perhaps, though, this is a matter of other queer people being unaware of the entire spectrum of gender and sexuality and not out of intentional negligence. For others, this can be seen as a petty problem when the acronym should be praised for how much progress it has created so far.
Despite my own hesitancy, I label myself because, for me, openly claiming my own queerness and bisexuality feels like an act of resistance. In some Black households, families are unaccepting of those who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is because many Black people are conservative Christians and harbor idealized family dynamics based on the social structures from the Bible.
Additionally, there are many within the LGBTQIA+ community who stereotype or ignore bisexuals, despite us having the highest percentage of members within the community. Biphobia and bisexual erasure are constant issues bisexual people face.
People often question the validity of our sexuality and think bisexuality is a “stepping stone” for either deciding you are completely straight or completely gay. For these reasons, I continue using my label because it’s my way of fighting back against the marginalizations placed upon me while being Black, woman, and bisexual.
Personally, I consider myself as a “somewhat out bisexual.” My significant other, close friends, cousins, and Twitter followers are aware of my sexuality but not the majority of my family. It may seem cowardly to not be fully out, but I’m doing what feels comfortable for me at the moment while still combatting people’s negative perceptions surrounding my identity by just being myself.
All things considered, how you choose to identify will always be your choice. Labels can provide comfort and help you better connect with others who share similarities with you. On the other hand, labels can make you feel as though you have to live up to certain expectations instead of being your true self.
Labeling wouldn’t hold so much conflict if we stopped assuming everyone is cisgender and straight if they haven’t stated otherwise with a big announcement. We need to be more open-minded, including other queer folks, for the way sexuality and gender can fluctuate because the two exist on a spectrum and were never “fixed” concepts to begin with.
Gender and sexuality are aspects of your identity that can be shaped and molded to fit the best versions of you. No one needs to tell you how to present to the world and you shouldn’t be forced to confine yourself within any societal, cultural, or community standards not set by yourself. After all, only you can truly define who you are.
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