Struggle. It was a struggle to put all of these thoughts into words. As this is about a struggle that many people face it seemed oddly appropriate. I was inspired by a couple of recent posts I came across in the bloggernacle about sexuality and sexual identity. I really liked them but they indirectly brought up a topic that I have a bit of a fetish with: ‘The difference between adopting a label and identifying a characteristic.’ I want to avoid shedding any negative light on what these two authors had to say so I will not directly link to the posts. I greatly admire their courage for ‘coming out’ so publicly to an audience that is really potentially volatile. They had wonderful things to say and were both quite eloquent.
Both Mormon, both identify as homosexual and both dealt with it in different ways. One happily lives a ‘straight’ life the other completely embraced the ‘gay’ life. Yet both are strong individuals with values and goals. However, I could not help but ask the question as to whether they let adopted labels limit them? One talked about realizing that he was gay and questioning whether or not he had effeminate speech or a swishy wrist. He did not and is quite masculine, yet lives life as a gay man. The other admittedly has some effeminate characteristics, but lives life as a straight man. The fact is that no one encompasses all of the characteristics of any one label. That is why stereotypes are so dangerous. They imply that all people in a demographic group have all of the same characteristics.
Throughout most of my life I have dealt with undiagnosed anxiety and OCD. I wondered why I struggled at certain things, but I worked and worked to overcome them. My life changed when, at 33, I was finally diagnosed, and I now have an explanation as to why so many things were hard. Understanding this characteristic of mine helped me continue to work with those challenges. I wonder what would have happened had someone identified this when I was a child. Would it have been an explanation for troubles, or would it have become my label? Would I have gone through life identifying as a person with a mental illness or would it be another thing that makes up the fabric of me like it does now?
When the ‘straight’ poster talked about being a homosexual, it hit a nerve. I admired his courage and was so happy he had found a way to accept himself. But, he was much more than that with a wife and kids. He had exceeded what this label would apply. I admire that he did not let himself be limited by that label, yet he still adopts it. Why continue to apply this label when you are much more than the label implies?
This is really at the heart of the issue of human sexual identity and sexuality. We want to label in an attempt to understand it. Most people out there at one time or another have had at least a passing interest in the same gender though it may have been just a passing curiosity or observation. Like, ‘Wow! They have a great body’ or ‘I wonder if they are the same as me?’ Certainly not an observation that would make them homosexual, but it does imply a certain amount of sexual fluidity. Except, straight men and women often will deny the fact that they possess any amount of sexual fluidity to avoid the stigma of the homosexuality label. Even bisexual is still a label that many avoid for similar reasons. The fact is that labels do not adequately define who we are. We need to treat these as characteristics that make up the entire picture of who we are.
We should continually seek to understand our characteristics: who we are, why we do things and how that can help us achieve our goals. Just because a young man or woman identifies as gay, doesn’t mean they are limited in life. They can become anything that they want to be. The point is to listen to your heart, not limit yourself and find the pathway that works for you. I feel sad for anyone, gay or straight that adopts a sexuality label as their main persona. Your sexuality is only one part of many.
Labels affect how we treat others. When we label someone as gay or straight, we often treat them as though they fit all that label implies. We can create awkward situations because we make assumptions about other’s characteristics. Or in its most heinous form, we can actually show hate. I am continually drawn to the story of the young woman caught in adultery from the New Testament. The priests had labeled this poor woman and condemned her for it. They did not care to understand why she made that choice or what led her to that place. They just wanted to exact justice and kill her. Thankfully Christ stepped in and showed the way. “Neither do I condemn thee.” He did not label her, he gave her counsel. He did not say, “Well I saved you, but you’re still and evil adulterer.” Quite the opposite, he let her know that this act did not define her as a person and that she was still worth something.
Christ taught that the two greatest commandments were to love God and love your neighbor. He also iterated that on these two points hang all of the law and all the prophets have said. Before we go about judging people based on labels or telling people they are in violation of the commandments, we must look at ourselves. Do our actions really show love and understanding? Is our righteous anger really righteous or are we the one casting the stones?
The platitude, love the sinner not the sin, does not mean we have to debase or condemn the sinner. It simply means that we do not adopt the sin. If you believe being gay is wrong, then don’t go and start sleeping with a person of the same gender. Antagonizing another person because of it violates both the first and second greatest commandments. Assigning that label inhibits your ability to judge a person on what really matters.
Whether labels are inflicted, worn as a badge of honor, adopted or any other number of ways we gain labels, they should not be the governing force behind defining who and what we are. The label should only be a characteristic that makes up the beautiful and complex pattern of our lives.
–David Crane (www.waxingplatitudinous.com)
[Last post in the Teaching Sex guest post series: It Seemed Terrifying]