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Fading Light. February 5th 2013 10:31 AM

The advantages and disadvantages of labelling your sexual orientation and/or gender identity
 
The advantages and disadvantages of labelling your sexual orientation and/or gender identity
By Chess (Celestial.)

In terms of the LGBT community, a label can be understood as a specific title which describes a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Many of these may be familiar, such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, but others, such as homoflexible, heteroromantic, or trigender, may come as more of a surprise. No matter what a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is, there is probably a label out there that suits them – but how do they know whether or not to apply a label? Are labels even necessary? Those are both common questions for someone exploring the LGBT world, and neither have simple answers. There are both advantages and disadvantages to applying a label to one's sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

One common reason a person may choose to have a label is because they feel it makes their sexual orientation and/or gender identity easier to explain to others. If they have a definite word they can use to describe their preferences or identity, other people may be more likely to understand and accept it. For example, someone trying to explain to their parents that they do not identify as male or female could use the term genderqueer, ‘verifying it’ to their parents and allowing them to find appropriate resources for support and information. Another example could be somebody explaining to their friend that they are dating someone of the same sex, and being able to counter questions like ‘Are you gay? If not, what are you?’ with terms like bisexual or pansexual, as applicable. People also may find that having a specific label helps give them a firmer idea of their own identity; although ‘questioning’ or simply ‘queer’ can be satisfactory for certain people, others may feel the need to have a more specific term. By having a specific label, they may feel more connected to other people of that sexual orientation or gender identity and more able to find people with whom they can connect.

So why doesn't everyone apply labels to themselves if they can provide such benefits? The answer is simple: there can also be drawbacks. There are often negative stereotypes associated with particular labels, such as bisexuals being ‘on the fence’ or pansexuals being attracted to everyone they meet. Assigning a label to oneself can also create pressure to meet society’s expectations for that label; for example, people may be told to dress more like a lesbian or act like a gay male, which can prompt them to make unnecessary changes to their appearance or behaviour. Labels may also be confining, in that once someone decides on a label, they may be less inclined to explore or experiment with their sexuality or gender identity – even if that label no longer applies or another may be more suitable. For example, if somebody were to come out as gay, and later realise that they liked the opposite sex as well, they may be reluctant to come out for fear of what their family and friends would think. This person might feel that they need to only date their own sex in order to be consistent with their assigned label, and therefore be unable to express their sexual orientation freely.

Ultimately, labels can be both good and bad, and it is up to the individual to decide which label to apply (or whether to apply one at all). It’s important to take time with the decision, and not to allow external pressures to influence it. Since sexuality and gender identity are susceptible to change, it is wise to be flexible when it comes to labels. It can also help to talk to somebody close to you before making a decision, such as a friend or family member. Remember, however, that in the end a label is just a word, and it doesn't need to define you or change who you are.


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