It seems that today we are using more identity labels than ever before – whether it be to define our sexuality, gender, sociopolitical orientation or even just a personality quirk. In conversation with others, the usage of identity labels seems to attract a divided opinion. Some feel that self-labelling is confining and restricts the many dimensions of an individual’s personality. Others, on the other hand, are embracing the modern usage of identity labels as a liberating move in society; one that allows people to freely and confidently express a part of their individuality and connect with fellow like-minded people.
When I first became aware of labels being commonly used to identify personalities with, I will admit, I was a little sceptical as to the point and value of them. On thinking a little more broadly (and also deeply) about the topic, I’ve come across some intriguing ideas for both sides of the argument and would like to open up the discussion for everyone to have a think and say about.
Labels In the Past Were Often Used In Negative Contexts
Thinking back to older times (even as early as 40 years ago), labels were too often used with insulting and degrading intentions in mind. For example, a person born out of wedlock was a ‘bastard’, a woman engaging in multiple sexual relationships (or even just one outside of marriage) would often be branded a ‘whore’ and someone who expressed secular views, in more religious ages, was labelled an ‘infidel’.
All of these labels were used with the purpose of segregating the individual away from others who followed the status quo. Their real names would often be disregarded and their label would come to define them and define the way that they were treated. This new identity of theirs would limit and confine them – often severely restricting their chances of an education, obtaining a job or even having adequate accommodation. It was effectively an internal prison that they weren’t able to break free from.
Identity Labels May Come To Define the Person More Than the Person Themselves
Just like when one’s identity was confined by others in the past, there’s a possibility that self-attaching labels could come to define the individual more than they define themselves. For example, someone may identify as a member of the Conservative or Liberal political party, and suddenly all of their beliefs and values align with that particular party’s:
“I am a Conservative, therefore I believe and follow all of their policies and values.”
In some of these cases, the act of attaching identity labels may actually restrict that person from exploring further into their own individual ideas and values. Instead, they fall into a comfortable flow of following another person’s or institution’s ideology rather than considering their own or questioning outside of the box.
Although, the Gradual Shift Of Identity Labels From a Negative To a Positive May, In Turn, Render Them Far More Liberating Than Confining
Labels will always exist. There’s no denying that. In that case, surely it’s better to use them positively rather than (to no avail whatsoever) attempting to banish them completely? With this particular argument, it brings to mind the attitude shift of the term ‘Queer’, often used with someone who isn’t heterosexual. Previously, it was used hatefully and offensively as an attack from a homophobic in an attempt to segregate the person labelled. The term was branded a hate-word. That is, until now.
Recently, many members of the LGBTQ+ society have been embracing the term and attempting to re-introduce it into society as a positive and liberating label, as opposed to what it was previously used for. By embracing and taking power over the term, the label itself can no longer be used to harm or offend the person – which in effect re-addresses the attitude towards differing sexualities itself: one of love and positivity over hatred.
Identity Labels May Be Confidently and Positively Integrating Those Identities Within Our Society, Rather Than Segregating Them
It’s basic body language that if we’re ashamed of something, we’ll lower our heads and wish ourselves invisible. If we’re uncomfortable about our differences, we’ll stay quiet in the hope that no-one references or notices the elephant in the room.
What if this is the same with identity and personality types?
By boldly and positively asserting labels, it’s unashamedly integrating that unique and individual identity into the culture and society we live in. It’s taking a confining status quo that has been enforced on too many people and effectively punching it in the face.