For as long as I can remember, I have had a certain resentment to labels. It feels as if for every label I accept or acknowledge, I lose a bit of myself – choice and freedom readily comes to mind – and I find myself bound tighter. While there is a certain security in these labels, for if we fit within the labels and conform to the associated standards and norms, we feel we belong and in some places, physically safe. Ideally I’d like to say we each ought to break free from these shackles, I know some enjoy their labels. I am also a pragmatist who knows for others, to defy these labels, to stand outside of them, to be different and unique can mean life and death. So who I am to judge?
I came upon an essay by Maria Popova which I am compelled to share. The essay is titled “Love Is Love: Maria Bello on Resisting the Labels We Are Given and Redefining Those We Give Ourselves” based on the recently published book by Maria Bello. I unashamedly ‘cut and paste’ parts of the essay (the italics text below) because they resonate.
The socio-political labels I have been called,
come with limitations and restrictions. And yes, to these labels attach privileges and opportunities too but only if I conform to the dominant paradigm from which they derive.
To you, what does each of these labels mean? Do you have an imagery for each of them? Are they similar, do you think, to the imageries for the next person you encounter? Should they?
“[T]he tyranny of “supposed to be” warps the very asking of those questions, including that of what a “partner” really means in the modern world — something that circles back to the challenge of being labeled by the outside observations of others rather than by the inner truth of our experience.”
I had led an unremarkable life, a conservative and somewhat traditional life. Acquaintances are likely to be a little surprised by my thoughts, perhaps finding it incongruent to the ‘Me’ they have encountered. Those who know me will also know my mind…and its landscape is fluid, colourful, unexpected, contrary, rebellious, occasionally silly, creative, etc. Those who truly see me will also know my soul desires. The different layers of myself that others see intrigue me, if I am to be an objective subjective observer of self. Ah, not here and not now.
So to my ideals – that one day society, humanity will no longer need labels.
“…in every realm of human rights and equality, what is needed isn’t merely tolerance but acceptance, wholehearted and unconditional.”
And in this space, Maria Bello writes about coming out to her son about being in love with her best friend. Female. His reply, ‘[w]hatever, Mom…love is love.” which makes for the title of her book. She says,
“…a partner is someone you rely on in your life — for help, companionship, mutual respect, and support. Can my primary partner be my sister or child or best friend, or does it have to be someone I am having sex with?”
“An updated label of partner might be anyone who is significant to you in some fundamental way. The definition of the family is changing, too, and I hope it’s working to bring people together with a new respect for different kinds of relationships. So I would like to consider myself a whatever, as Jackson said. Whomever I love, however I love them, whether they sleep in my bed or not, or whether I do homework with them or share a child with them, “love is love.” … Maybe, in the end, a modern family is just a more honest family.”
This idea remains, whether in Bello’s circumstances of coming out about her sexuality or in our everyday life, that labels are more likely to restrict, limit and serve as a tool for division, exclusion, isolation, and hate.
So perhaps we can begin first by removing labels on our own selves.
I will carve the space to re-imagine myself, to not let others define me by their labels and to re-visit the labels I have placed on myself, specifically to discard those that no longer serve. In the end, it is the labels I place upon myself which will ultimately free or bind me.
So what will you do?
To read the full essay, go to Brain Pickings.
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