Labels Suck. (But Also, They’re Handy.)

I know I’m not a man—about that much I’m very clear, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m probably not a woman either, at least not according to a lot of people’s rules on this sort of thing. The trouble is, we’re living in a world that insists we be one or the other—a world that doesn’t bother to tell us exactly what one or the other is.”

—Kate Bornstein

Ah, Kate. I love you for your insight, and yet, JEEBUS, do you have to make me think so much?

I don’t know Kate, but I imagine that would get a smile out of her. And then I’d smile back and say, “But you’re right. This fucking sucks.”

And it does.

So, about me first. (This is my blog. I get to make it about me. Can you feel me sticking my tongue out? Because I am.)

I would say the same. I know with certainty that I’m not a man. Forced to label myself as one or the other (I’ll come back to this in a bit—keep your pants on), I’d say I’m female.

But the problem with that is I’m not female like cisgender women are female. I can’t be.

And it’s not about the parts. The between the legs stuff. It’s not even about the hormones. It’s about experience.

I was raised a boy. People see me as male. I have this rich, convoluted, messy-as-fuck history of a masculine exterior. Cisgender women don’t have to put up with that. It’s not a part of their journey.

So when I hear a transgender person say, “I’m no different. I’m a woman/man just like anyone else,” I want to call bullshit. No, we’re not. And that’s not bad. It’s just different.

(By the way, I’ve said that. I’ve made that very statement. I was wrong. What can I say? I’m growing.)

And that’s the problem with labels. Fucking labels. This whole binary construct we have going, the way we see gender in simple male-or-female terms, it’s crazy limiting. Sure, people are more accepting of trans folks now than they ever have been (even though we still have a long way to go), but most people still expect you to pick a side.

You’re not a guy. Okay. Fine. Then you’re a girl, right?

Well, sort of. More girl than boy, for sure. In fact, if you just think of me as a girl you’ll understand how I think and feel far better than if you think of me as a guy. But really, I’m a trans girl, and that’s a different thing.

At which point most people would heave a heavy sigh, roll their eyes and give me that look that says, “Why don’t you run along to Whole Foods, buy yourself some weird-ass vegan ‘chips,’ and bother someone else with your insanely specific worldview? Because I can’t. I can’t keep up with this shit. I like my labels. They make the world make sense.”

And that’s the thing about labels. They DO make the world make sense. That’s why we use them.

It’s also why I think it’s far easier to say “female” than “kinda mostly female” if people ask me about my gender identity. The average Joe Shmoe is in no way prepared for a deep, metaphysical response to what most people think of as a simple question.

Plus, for practical purposes, “female” conveys enough of the truth of who I am to be an approximately accurate label.

The bitch of it is, we need more labels. Or no labels. But I don’t think the world will ever be okay with no labels. That’s just not how we think.

So, more labels. Better labels.

I have no fucking clue what those should be. I have ideas, but I’m sure lots of people have ideas. And anyway, that’s not the point. The point is that labels are both good and bad.

They really mess with me as a transgender person. They mess with my head and my heart. They make me sad because I feel like I don’t look like I need to look to fit most people’s expectations of my preferred label. They make explaining who I am difficult in really awkward ways.

But they’re also good. They give us a way to talk about this shit, even though they’re clunky and inaccurate.

Which is why I think both sides need to calm the fuck down. It would be chaos to ditch them all, and it’s inconvenient (and unfair) to stick to them no matter what. We need to find a way to be more balanced.

And I need to love and accept myself, no matter what anyone else thinks about the labels that do or don’t apply to me. But that’s on me.