Dan Savage is a man I admire greatly. He is a sex-advice columnist/political activist with a voice that can be both elegant and severe. Until recently, I thought his work and his advice to be above rebuke. The past couple weeks (as a result of landing his own MTV show) have proved otherwise; it seems every time I load a page another community is up in arms about his supposed thisphobia or the fact that he's thatpriviliged. Apparently, Savage can't apologize enough for the fact that he's able-bodied, thin, not transexual, and that he lucked into being born a white male.
I'm obviously on Savage's side in all this, but that doesn't mean I think his detractors are idiots. On the contrary, I believe the majority of the blame here lies with our society's obsession with labels. Some of these labels we can't escape - you can all see my tits and know I'm a woman, and (though my gorgeous tan is somewhat deceptive) I am very obviously white. It's every other label I question the need for: the -sexuals and the -ists; the drop-down menus requesting one's relationship status; the lacto-ovo-mouthfuls of which we're constantly trying to make sense.
They're descriptive; I understand that. They're a useful tool for a mental sketch. My problem is that they are also, by nature, restrictive. Once you plaster that scarlet letter on your breast, that descriptor becomes fact, something permanent and immutable. My bestie, Jake, sloppily ranted about it when we first met. We'd just had an ice cream fight in the kitchen of a house party, spent some time affectionately kissing, and were lying on a deck under the stars when he slurred that he thought it was bullshit that his desire to fuck men meant he was immediately categorized and filed away as gay; that his sexuality was neatly dealt with, as it were. On the surface, it does seem a silly thing to fuss about: the very definition of being a homo is being sexually inclined to a person of one's own sex, which he is. Part of me is inclined to say 'Sorry, dude. Yer a homo. Quit wingeing. End of story.'
But then I read something like this:
That's from a tumblr called Queer Secrets, a queer/asexual (erg, do I capitalize those?) take on PostSecret. The desperation in that poor girl's letter breaks my heart. It seems to me that the message she's getting is this: There are labels we apply to regular people. There are even labels we apply to irregular people. If you, in any way, deviate from definitions behind those labels, you must be so completely and irreversibly abnormal that you have no place in society.
Another letter begins by saying "I am a pansexual, androgynous genderqueer..." Like ... what the ? No, no. You are a teenager. You are still figuring things out.
This belief that labels are damaging has been with me for awhile. I balk when I hear them. I am sceptical and suspicious of their validity. It seems to me that most of us are so fluid that we must seep out of any box we are put in. Oh, you're straight? Really? But you're staring at my tits. Oh, yer drunk, and you want to kiss me, but only if your boyfriend can watch? Oh, a vegetarian? But you're eating fish sticks. Oh, I see. You're a lacto-ovo-piscotarian. Why even bother at that point? It must be easier to say: I don't eat beef. I eat everything else. End of story.
While I never had a crisis of sexuality (ish), I certainly have had crises of faith. As I've mentioned before, so sure was I of my newfound Buddhism that, at 18, I got one of the eight auspicious symbols tattooed on my back. Five years later, so sure was I of my love of hagiography that I converted to Catholicism. So I went from running around saying I'm an Atheist! to I'm Buddhist! to I'm Roman Catholic! until the whole thing became a complete farce to my friends. These days I cautiously say "I think there's something..." and leave it at that, unless I'm prompted to continue.
I understand that this post is somewhat undermined by the fact that it's written by a blogger who is desperate to fall under the (made-up) category 'Regular Man'. Yes, when it comes to making matters simple, labeling has its place: http://www.twopeopletryingtomakealifestylechangeforthe betteratthetimethisblogwasstarted.blogspot.com doesn't have the same ring to it. I just think it's important to remember to affix them as descriptors alone, and that when one categorizes people in a wholly divisive or negative way, one is entering dangerous territory.
The fact that Dan Savage is white, male, thin, and gay doesn't make him a racist, sexist, fat- and hetero-phobe. It is ridiculous to suggest that he's privileged simply because he isn't marginalized in every possible way. And tacking the negative of whatever you are onto him because it's easier for you that way is completely presumptive.
Labels are often lies, and they're often lazy. Let's try precision, and avoid self-descriptors that necessitate phrases like:
'...except when I'm drunk', or
'...when I was a teenager' or
'...but I don't think being gay is a sin, and I believe women should be allowed to be priests.'
Let's shun hypocrisy, the love child of labels, and consider using more words when a situation calls for more words, and for god's sake let's stop tossing labels on people that we ultimately know nothing about. Good? Yes? Thanks, homos.