by: Lydia Landor
Growing up, I was surrounded by women in my family who were farmers, midwives, clairvoyants and environmentalists. Some were straight and some were gay but the theme they conveyed to me was the same: Be yourself. Starting at a young age, I did just that. I wore what I wanted to, which were mostly boy’s clothes, and did the things that I like to do, which included playing sports and board games. At the time, people would call me a tom boy. As I grew older I realized what most members of the gay community would refer to me as: a stud or a dyke. If you are at all familiar with modern “glingo,” which is essentially “gay-lingo” you will know that stud is just the beginning of the many terms that exist to describe certain people in the gay community. Words like femme, lipstick lesbian, stud, butch, twink, bear, cub and otter are all words that are used to classify different types of gay and lesbian individuals. This brings me to my first question. For many people the gay community has been a place for them to freely express themselves and their sexual preferences in a safe way. It has been an escape from the constant questions and labels given to people unwillingly, as if they were food items. So, why then, when we have made such progress in establishing a community away from these constricting labels of the majority, do we create our own labels to categorize those within the community? To label someone is to claim that you know and understand them as a person and that everything they are can be summed up in one word. That is, obviously, impossible. One word does not even begin to describe our complexity as individuals. Nobody wants to lose that sense of uniqueness to be merged into a bunch of abstract concepts. It is dehumanizing and is oversimplifying the elaborateness that comes of being a human being. It seems ironic, and almost hypocritical, that a community that so emphasizes the importance of not conforming to normality and being an individual could create so many exclusive categories to put people in.
I understand that for some people the labels to categorize those in the gay community are merely used for identifying what they look for in a significant other or partnership. A girl who could be classified as “femme” may use the word “stud” to describe the appearance of someone she would be most attracted to. However, while it is clear that people have different preferences and attractions, those feelings should not be reduced to a single word to categorize that attraction. Recently, I was talking to a friend about someone that she was interested in who happened to be a girl as well. I asked her if she considered herself to be a certain sexuality, i.e., bisexual or pansexual. She simply said, “I love freely.” This answer really stood out to me as such a basic but beautiful phrase. When it comes to identifying sexual preference, people use so many different words like bisexual, omnisexual, pansexual and pomosexual, but when it comes down to it, we are human and we have the ability to love other humans no matter what their creed, race, or gender. When being involved in a partnership, a person should find someone that is a respectful, decent and good person, not because they belong to a certain category in a wide spectrum of very specific labels.
The other problem with these labels is that it alienates those that are not in the community. Finding other people that are like you is a wonderful thing, but it shouldn’t make you forget that we live in a diverse world and there are other people who may not have the same sexual preference as you, but are just as invested in your life. One example of this is a couple years ago I went to a festival called the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. It was a week-long festival of empowerment to celebrate being a woman and a large amount of the people who were there were lesbians. While I can completely understand the meaningfulness of thousands of women coming together to celebrate what it means to be a woman, I can’t ignore the fact that the spelling of the word “womyn” bothers me. This spelling changes the “e” with a “y” because it has the word “men” in it. Women who use it seem to want to show their independence from man. While I appreciate this, I think the respelling is a way to exclude a category of humans, which I don’t agree with. It’s true that women are in the minority and have been excluded for centuries from the dominant man. However, for the last four years I have been raised mostly by a single father who has created a wonderful home for me, so it seems wrong to completely exclude his gender in the word “women” just so I can have a sense of independence. How can we say that we are all-inclusive and accept everyone when we can’t even spell a word that includes the word man? Strong and powerful women are not created by the absence of man or the change in a spelling of a word. They are formed by the examples they set and their actions of good.
These are just a few examples of how words may just be words to some people but to others they are powerful things that completely misinterpret or generalize who someone is. Every generation seems to come up with new ways to express themselves through language. Words are constantly evolving so that they mean different things every day. However, the problem is when we take one word and use it as a way of describing a person’s entire being. The gay community exudes inclusiveness, but by using labels to categorize every type of person they risk losing that inclusivity. We all have so many ways of defining ourselves that are so much more then, gay, straight, bisexual, stud, femme, twink or any other label. My name is Lydia. I am a girl. I am a chess player. I am a musician. I am a tutor. I am a goalie. I am a sibling. I am daughter. I am a student. I am a human. I love other humans. Try to label me now.
Lydia Landor is a musician/student at Loyola University in Chicago. You can check out her music atyoutube.com/lydialandormusic. In her free time she enjoys playing chess with her dad and lying on the couch having silly conversations with her sister. This is her first submission for this blog.