It's my birthday this month and so it's got me wondering: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going with my life? Do my actions define me or do I direct my actions? Asking these questions is what makes us human. Seeking answers is what makes us alive.
Humans are name givers. It's part of our nature to group the world into categories and affix handy labels for reference. We're curious animals and desperate to "understand" the world around us and our place in it. Unfortunately, our labels often become more important than we are. Too often we lose our identity in our identifiers.
Are you straight? Gay? Bi? Black? White? Mixed?Male? Female? Both? Neither? Married? Single? An ... "ummm friend?" Swinger? Poly? Divorced? Celibate? Slut? Kinky? Vanilla? Dominant? Submissive? Short? Tall? Thin? Fat? Religious? Atheist? Degreed? Street-wise? Two from column A and three from column B? What do any of these things have to do with who you are?
Every word in the above list probably gave you some sort of mental picture of the person it might apply to and there was probably some sort of gut reaction accompanying each. But what do these words really tell us about the person wearing them? Very little, really. Just enough for us to decide whether we might want to find out more about them or not. Depending on which label we're hit with we could make one of the best friends of our life, or miss the opportunity. The problem with labels is that, although we wear many, we're often identified with only one or two at a time. Modern life is too hectic to allow us to see one another as fully integrated fellow humans most of the time, and that's a tragedy. We react to keywords that either turn us on or off before we get a chance to really get to know one another. Look at any page of personal ads if you doubt me. Hell, try writing a brief ad that you think "really" tells the reader who you are, for that matter.
So what can we do about it? Other than complain, that is. The most important thing we can do is be aware of what's happening. Once we're aware, we can try to push our boundaries (a very important thing to do). If we hear a label that triggers a response in us (good or bad) we can investigate that feeling. Why does it bother me, for instance, when someone tells me they're a Christian? What prejudices am I encountering in myself? Why does it excite me, on the other hand, when someone tells me that they're bisexual or enjoy sexual role-play?
By learning more about myself and my reactions to others I can learn more about others... and vice verse. By listing the labels I (and others) have attached to myself I can also give myself a visual reminder not to judge others too quickly. Someone who might be turned off by knowing I work in the adult entertainment industry might be turned on by the fact I have read Plato in the original Greek... but which label is likely to come up in conversation first?
Each of us must remember that who we are is the sum of all our parts and not just one or two bits... and we must remember that others are the same. Being bisexual does not mean that you are confused. Being dominant does not mean that you can't be sensitive. Being an accountant does not mean that you can't be kinky. Being a stripper does not mean that you can't be shy. I think you get the picture.
The wonderful thing about organic beings is that they are capable of growth. The way we use labels needs to reflect that... they need to be flexible enough to grow along with their owners. Otherwise our labels will own us.