By Dorian Wilde
I was asked a question this weekend… a question that challenged my thought processes and beliefs. Yet it was a question that I have asked myself many times a long time ago, a question I have forgotten until last weekend.
“Why do you need to label yourself? Why can’t you just identify yourself as a human being?”
This is the question that has kept me staring into space when I shouldn’t be and kept me awake at night, searching my heart and head for an answer. I had gotten my answer a few days ago, but only today I have had the time to write it down. It might not be an answer that might appease the person asking the question, but at least it cleared my doubts… which is always the most important thing.
No one in the world is the same. Not one person can accurately match their lives, interests, preferences, thoughts, emotions, etc. with any other person living now or ever on this earth. How then, can labels accurately describe the people it categorizes?
If I were asked to describe myself in full, I would probably say, “I am a part of the endless energy of this universe, and I’m here in this human form to experience the experiences assigned to this character named Shamin.” If I were asked to describe my gender identity and sexual preference, I would say that I am a pansexual transman with drag queen tendencies. So am I the same as other pansexuals, or other transmen, or other people with drag queen tendencies, or someone who also identifies with all those labels?
No. So why use labels? Why can’t we just go without them?
I think to answer this question, we have to look at the world through a more realistic lens. Let’s be clear here, I don’t like labeling myself. Most of the time when people ask me who I am or what I am, I would just say I’m human. Because that’s how I want to be seen, as just human like all the other humans of this world… not a transman, not a pansexual, not an Indian, not a Malaysian. Just human. I firmly believe that we will be able to achieve true peace and enlightenment only when we are able to see each other as nothing more and nothing less than human beings who are equal to one another.
However, the world is far from that. Everywhere, people are still being discriminated, penalized, killed for some attribute that should be insignificant compared to the similarities they share with the perpetrator. Everywhere, people still have conditions when selecting the people they would show unconditional love to. Everywhere, inequality and injustice persist, either politically, socially or economically.
The way I look at it, the labels I use do not define me. Instead, they are just shortcuts I use when explaining how I define my external self, what sex I was born with, what gender I feel more affiliated to, what kinds of people I’m interested in (which is everyone), where my recent ancestors originated from… the list goes on. So instead of writing a book on the kinds of people I’m interested in, I’ll just use the label “pansexual”. Instead of stripping and displaying my non-surgically-modified body while having a full beard and a baritone, I’ll just say that I’m a “pre-op, on-hormones transman”.
More important than this though is the fact that when I use these labels, I take myself away from the faceless majority by identifying with the plight of people who see whatever attributes of themselves the way I do; who are being discriminated against. In doing that, in counting myself with them, it makes us stronger and more able to demand for equal rights for people like us. Hopefully when the equal rights are achieved, when discrimination against this particular label is no more, then perhaps we can move on past the label and let it dissolve in the procession of time.
A long time ago, people of Indian origin used to fiercely identify by themselves by the castes they were born into. If you were born into a particular family, you are treated a certain way, you have to do a certain job, you have to marry someone with the same circumstances as you (or higher/lower, depending on your sex)… if you ever went against that, you will be ostracized and shunned by the entire society, even your own caste. However now, people are able to see past their castes and do all those things that seemed impossible before… and in some places where there are large numbers of people of Indian origin, many such kids grow up without even knowing what castes they are supposed to belong to, or the existence of such a thing until the read India’s history. This would not have been possible if people did not fight to achieve equality among the castes. Most of these people were people of the “lower” castes, who would not sit there and take the degradation and inequality anymore from the people of “higher” castes. What they achieved was not just the equality between castes, but also a near future without the existence of such a thing as caste.
Hopefully the same thing will eventually happen to labels of colour, ethnicity, race, gender identity, sexual orientation and all other labels we now use to divide ourselves and obscure the fact that we all share more similarities than differences. But this can only be meaningfully achieved when equality is achieved for each of these groups and when discrimination becomes a thing of the past.