About you and me: why labels aren't always just for soup cans

labels aren't the enemy

 

Labels. We hate them. We love them. They hurt us. They help us. We often say that we don't want labels. But in our instinctive need to belong, we reflexively label ourselves: Athlete. Intellectual. Artist. Traditional. Vegetarian. Taurus. Pisces. Geek. Steampunk. Emo. Mac. PC. African American. Democrat. Republican. Straight. Gay. Lesbian. Non-binary.

 

However much we hate labels, the truth is that sometimes, we kind of need them. Labels can help you sort information and find people who share your same interests. They can also help you find a wedding vendor who won’t choke on their chicken sandwich at the idea of providing wedding services to a same sex couple.

 

You see, out here on the internet, we depend on labels to keep the machine moving. They're called ‘keywords’, but they’re still labels. For instance, you might head over to Pinterest and search for ‘taper and fade’ to share with your stylist now that you’re over your Bieber cut, or you might search Google for ‘Steampunk bridesmaid dresses in violet leather’ when you want to see something kinda specific for your bridesmaid dress research. Because if you just search for ‘bridesmaid dresses’, you’ll be there poking at your shiny iPad screen for the rest of eternity looking at all those ruffly blush and baby blue concoctions.

 

Well, that’s neat, you say, but we’re not labeling people with those kind of searches… those are searches for stuff. Well, yes, and no. Hipster (or millennial, or emo, or whatever) is a label applied to a group of people who share a fashion sense, an attitude, a particular outlook. And, yep, people use the term ‘hipster’ as a negative thing sometimes. But, it’s also a way that people with like interests can come together and find friends who might have things in common with them. And find avocado toast.

 

But here’s where internet labels become really important. Imagine you live in a small town in the middle of America. In one of those places that is always red red red on the presidential election map. There’s 669 churches in your town that has a population of 3,337. And they’re all the kind of place where someone yells and hollers about fire and brimstone twice every Sunday and once on Wednesday, and everyone there is stern, and the women have to wear dresses, and they’re all sure that all the people at the other 668 churches are going to hell because they aren’t worshiping exactly the right way.

 

Now imagine that you’re gay. Or lesbian. Or transgender. And you live in this town. And you’re not planning to leave this town (or can’t) in the near future for good reasons that are nobody’s business. Would you be lonely? Damn right you would be lonely. (Welcome to my entire childhood.)

 

How would you find someone you could connect to and feel safe with? How would you even know that you weren’t completely alone on the planet? By using the same labels that people use to disconnect you to search the internet for people like yourself…. well, the nicer words they use.

 

And that’s why I spend a significant amount of time making sure that I’m easy to find. And I intentionally label the photos and articles and myself on my blog and website, because although I loathe labels, I still understand that they are powerful. In both directions. They can be hurtful. And they can be liberating.

 

One day, the world will be different. It’s already happening. But change comes faster to some places, and slower to other places. In the meantime, until the world is perfect, we need ways to cope and manage and live and celebrate our lives just the way we are. Whether you’re Sagittarius, hippie, hipster, traditional, gay, or all of the above… we all share so many things, including the need to belong. Labels help us find each other.

 

Because love is love is love. And if there’s one thing we need, it’s more love.

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@theamandasummerlin

Making neat pictures of nice people since 2009. You're not like everybody else, your pictures shouldn't be either.

 

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