Reasons to Choose
or Not to Choose a Label

Choosing a label for your sexual orientation can be agonizing and unproductive, but it can be much less so if you're clear in your mind about why you're choosing one at all. Hopefully, your reason has something to do with wanting to describe your identity to yourself or others. As long as you're careful to make your labels serve your purposes, there's no reason to be afraid of labeling yourself.

Labels are only wordsa nd words when chosen carefully
usually do communicate more effectively than silence.

The trick is to choose your words carefully—to be absolutely certain that you only allow your label to say what you want it to say. Also remember that many people change sexual orientation labels many times throughout their life, and you should feel free to do the same. A label should describe your identity, not dictate it. Regardless of what label you give yourself, if any, you should always feel free to explore and experiment with any options whenever they happen to seem interesting—whether or not they happen to coincide with whatever label you're currently using.

There are no rules about what labels you're "allowed" to use, or how you have to behave in order to use them. For example, many people who consider themselves "homosexuals" have long-term relationships with members of the opposite sex without ever redefining themselves as "bisexuals" or "heterosexuals," simply because they feel that describing themselves as "homosexuals in a relationship with the opposite sex" expresses something important about their identities that the words "bisexual" or "heterosexual" would not adequately describe. The key here is to recognize that you don't need anyone else's approval to have the right to call yourself by whatever label you want. Just choose your label to communicate whatever you want to communicate about yourself.

Here are some good possible reasons that some people decide to call themselves queer, lesbian, bisexual or gay:

Not everybody has the same reasons for calling themselves queer, but any of the reasons listed above could be good reasons. Personally (this is Gayle Madwin speaking), I started calling myself gay, bisexual, and queer at age 15, in order to fight for the freedom of all people to love and make love to whoever they choose to—and now, eight years later I continue to call myself queer for that reason and also because the queer community is the group I care most about and the place that I feel I belong. For me, choosing to start calling myself queer has been the best thing I ever did. It gave me a purpose in life—a cause to fight for. And the experience of successfully rebelling against heterosexuality taught me a lot about how to rebel against other things I don't like. If I had never chosen to start calling myself queer, I would have missed out on so many important lessons in life that I would be a much lesser person than I now am.

However, it's also worthwhile to consider the reasons many people object to labeling themselves. This quote is a good place to start:

In fact, it frequently happens that [a] man, while recognizing his homosexual inclination, while avowing each and every particular [attraction and sex act] which he has committed, refuses with all his strength to consider himself a 'homosexual.' His case is always 'different,' peculiar; there enters into it something of a game, of chance, of bad luck.... The critic asks only one thing ... that the guilty one recognize himself as guilty, that the homosexual declare frankly ... 'I am a homosexual.'

We ask here who is in bad faith. The homosexual or the champion of sincerity? The homosexual recognizes his [attraction], but he struggles with all his strength against the crushing view that his [attraction] constitutes for him a destiny. He has an obscure but strong feeling that a homosexual is not a homosexual as this table is a table or as this red-haired man is red-haired.... Does he not recognize in himself the peculiar, irreducible character of human reality? ... He would be right actually ... if he declared to himself, 'To the extent that a pattern of conduct is defined as the conduct of a homosexual and to the extent that I have adopted this conduct, I am a homosexual. But to the extent that human reality cannot be finally defined by patterns of conduct, I am not one.'

... But what about the champion of sincerity, the critic of homosexuality? The critic demands of the guilty one that he constitute himself as a thing ... Who cannot see how offensive to the other and how reassuring for me is a statement such as 'He's just a homosexual,' which removes a disturbing freedom from a trait and which aims at henceforth constituting all the acts of the Other as consequences following strictly from his essence. That is actually what the critic is demanding of his victim—that he constitute himself as a thing.

—David M. Munsey, "The Love That Need Not Name its Speaker," Vol. 2 No. 1, The National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, 1996

That quote sums up a lot of people's anti-label sentiments pretty thoroughly. However, the goals of this website are not at all at odds with that man's goals. The goals of this website include all of the following:

  1. To not demand that anyone constitute themself as a "thing." This website does not demand anything at all. Whether you choose to label yourself, what label you choose to use, who you choose to have sex with, who you choose to have relationships with, and how you choose to conduct your life in any and all ways is entirely up to you.
  2. To point out that there's nothing inherently wrong with being constituted as a "thing"—it all depends on what the "thing" in question is. To be constituted as a person, a genius, an artist, or an animal lover is to be constituted as a "thing." Whether or not being constituted as a "thing" is demeaning depends entirely on whether the "thing" in question is defined in a way that you want to define yourself.
  3. To encourage people to consider redefining traditional labels in nontraditional ways, such as if you feel that "a homosexual is not a homosexual as this table is a table or as this red-haired man is red-haired." By claiming the label "homosexual" but rejecting the traditional definition of homosexuality as inborn and/or unchanging ("as this table is a table or as this red-haired man is red-haired"), you can deconstruct the label in ways that others may find liberating.
  4. To encourage anyone who feels or has felt attracted to a person of the same sex not to be afraid to acknowledge that, "To the extent that a pattern of conduct is defined as the conduct of a homosexual and to the extent that I have adopted this conduct, I am a homosexual."
  5. To also encourage anyone who feels or has felt attracted to a person of the same sex not to be afraid to acknowledge that, "But to the extent that human reality cannot be finally defined by patterns of conduct, I am not one."

Related Links:

Jennifer's Bisexuality Index Page
Jennifer is a bi woman who has conducted many bisexuality awareness workshops. Her site contains several sections on how to choose your labels. Although it's nominally a bi site, virtually everything on it is equally applicable to any sexual identity.

Back to the Queer Recruitment Center Front Desk
Back to the QueerByChoice.com Homepage

© 2000-2009 by Gayle Madwin. All rights reserved.