Image credit: Yours Truly
Snip. An umbilical cord is cut and a baby is delivered. The inaugural wail of new life impregnates the air. And so begins the journey of accumulating labels: boy, girl, black, white, brown, fat, slim, straight, gay, rich, poor, parent, child, doctor, writer…
Most labels are unsolicited facts of modern life, the first of which is given to many of us before we are even able to decide our gender (or lack therefore) for ourselves. Then there are labels that some of us seek ceaselessly in the hopes that they might afford the existential peace we all crave.
Can labels shape the ways in which we show up in this world?
Coaxed by society, we often trick ourselves into believing that some labels will deliver us happiness: “I’ll be happy when I’m a university student/graduate/professional/spouse/parent/thin/curvy/loved/healed.”
And the collecting of labels is going as well or awfully as it can, until one day you’re at a dinner party and people are asking each other who they are, expecting to hear about what they do, and someone simply answers: “I am.”
Such an answer signifies that they know themselves to be more than an accruement of human-created labels. It’s also an answer that can cause eyelids to twitch and mouths to utter judgemental whispers that label said person as simply fucking strange. It might sound strange, but isn’t “I am” the truest answer? Isn’t it the answer that sets us free from the dizzying, ego-driven, and fruitless pursuit of external validation?
When I first heard Deepak Chopra declare that he simply is beneath all of his worldly labels, I began to wonder whether labels had power beyond language. Can labels define us beyond the simple intention of naming? Can labels shape the ways in which we show up in this world? Can labels push us in directions that are untrue to our truest nature?
The further away I move from my conditioned-mind identifications and toward my True Self, the fuller and more free I become.
Are they like cups, millilitres, kilograms – measurements that allow us to speak value to our worth? How much do these labels add to who we know ourselves to be? How much do they take away from the infinite potential of who we really are? These are the questions of a twenty-six-year-old having an existential epiphany. I said epiphany, not crisis.
I think many of us are compelled to subscribe to labels because we are looking to lead a full and impressive life and, because social constructs tell us so, we believe that the accruement of labels is equivalent to the accruement of success. And when our subscriptions don’t yield absolute fulfilment, we feel jarred.
I believe the reason for that common lack of yield is because if we identify too closely with our roles, our labels, we are not awake to our True selves or our true potential. Instead, we are awake only to others’ perceptions of us, and the perceptions of others we have internalised to be perceptions of our own. Living this way will never bring fulfilment.
The more I explore what it means to exist objectively and why it matters, the further away I move from my conditioned-mind identifications and toward my True Self, becoming fuller and more free than I could have ever imagined myself to be.
That’s not to say that I don’t still strongly identify with many labels. I do. It’s just that I’ve taken an interest in interrogating the whys behind them. I want to gain deeper insight into why I show up in the ways in which I do. Instead of identifying with all the labels I’ve been given, by others and myself, I want to understand what their impact is on my existence as a complex and conscious being seeking fulfilment.
I want to know whether breaking away from them is even possible in a reality that would not exist without them, and whether disidentifying from them would exalt me from feelings of existential anxiety and inadequacy.
I want to understand my labels better, to know how I accumulated them, and how they influence me. And, most of all, I want to pinpoint what unlearnings are fundamental to my evolution into a more joyous, peaceful, and present being.
I subconsciously viewed women as weak and existing mainly for the consumption of men.
Through sharing my own reflections, I hope you might find yourself inspired to better understand your own conditioned-mind identifications and how they might be keeping you from living a fulfilling life free of existential dread.
I am a woman
The battle between female and male energies within the patriarchy
I identify as a woman. Sometimes I wonder how I’d identify if I was born into a world that wasn’t constructed around oppressive gender binaries. I know I have, at different stages of my life, identified more with my masculine energy than my feminine. Though I think my eagerness to embody a more male-accepted identity was a byproduct of my internalised misogyny.
Based on the ways I heard my father speak about women, often my own mother, I subconsciously viewed women as weak, less than, generally accepting positions of submission, and existing mainly for the consumption of men. I didn’t want to be seen as less than by men because it seemed to pay to be in their favour, so I chose to present myself in ways I understood to be cooler than “normal girls”.
I believed that by embodying more of my masculine energy (see: acting in ways problematic men do), while still obtaining my validation from their sexual advances, I could become “one of the boys”. Accepted, empowered, different to all the other girls they treated like shit. I thought perhaps I’d find myself on the other side of the fence, taking warmth around their fire. Naturally, I thought very, very wrong.
I learned that it doesn’t matter what you do to be accepted by patriarchal agents. You can treat women like shit. You can agree with them on everything. You can even fuck them all, but in their minds you’ll always be “just a girl”.
It’s hard to say how much of my masculine energy was pure and uninfluenced by what I perceived to be expected of me, but I know I did love skateboarding a lot when I got into it. Sometimes I think I might have only got into it because I wanted to be more like the boys I was surrounded by. If that is the case, I guess I have my internalised misogyny to thank for the discovery of something I ended up loving of my own free will anyway.
Identifying with the collective female pain-body and becoming an intersectional feminist
Now, having exorcised most of my internalised misogyny, I identify very strongly with the feminine energy I once suppressed. And because I’ve experienced a host of traumas at the hands of men, I also identify very heavily with the collective female pain-body.
When trash men approach me with their shameless expectations, I refuse to produce the politeness our society so often expects of women.
The deeper I ventured into my divine femininity, the more women’s history I consumed in an effort to honour my heritage as a women. The more history I consumed, the wider my eyes opened to the stark contrast in realities experienced by white women and Women of Colour.
I began to realise that while I definitely have experienced (and will no doubt continue to experience) sexism, the situation for Women of Colour is far worse. It’s the plain racist truth that my skin (white) continues to afford me privilege where my gender doesn’t.
I realised there was such a thing as white feminism, or “white supremacy in heels”, as @rachel.cargle so aptly puts it. I began to wonder how I could call myself a feminist, how I could claim that the pain of the collective female pain-body wrenches my guts and wills my tears, if I wasn’t actively acknowledging how large a part of that pain was/is inflicted by my own race. I realised that I could not be a feminist if I was not an anti-racist. And so my next label was born: intersectional feminist.
Showing up in the world as an intersectional feminist
Sometimes I feel my identification with the collective female pain-body take over the juvenile equanimity I work so arduously to mature. When trash men approach me and other women/femmes with their shameless expectations – expectations they wear like birth-right cloaks that afford them an imagined monopoly over our bodies, minds, and time – I refuse to produce the politeness our society so often expects of women.
I have only unveiled malice to offer and thick boundary lines to draw. And that’s gotten me into trouble before. I’ve lost a job opportunity because I was “too feminist” and not “tolerant enough” for The Industry (waitressing).
My beliefs and lust for boundaries struck fear into my prospective employers (cis-het white males, of course – when are they ever not the prospective employers?). They thought my “strong views” (see: pleas for gender equality and respect) shared over social media might repel the very cis-het males their business is supported by. A business that clearly prioritises creating a safe space for cis-het men to do whatever they want (see: treat waitresses like sexual objects).
And although at the time I was not, I am glad that happened. It has only strengthened my grip on the moral high ground I so desperately cling to in this eternal tidal wave of patriarchy, that continuously demands women accept less. If my wish from men for basic decency, personal space, and respect is “too much” for any prospective employer, I am happy to show myself to the door.
It’s our job, as white women, to show up for our sisters.
I also know that I am privileged enough to be able to do that. I am a woman holding white, slim, able-bodied, and “pretty” privilege – birth-gained labels-cum-ladder rungs that will continue to see me elevated in place of women who aren’t afforded the same. With that in mind, I know it is my responsibility – along with that of all white women like me – to stand up and speak out wherever we can, especially when it costs us opportunity. Remember, if your feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s not feminism.
I implore you to dig your nails into the very same moral high ground, even if it means skipping a lifesaving ride on a cis-het, white-male rescue boat that promises conditional rewards in spite of your sisters. In an attempt to protect my best interests, I haven’t always stood my ground the way I should have. I was wrong. Now, I won’t be polite when the time isn’t right. I won’t stay silent when the situation calls for my voice. And neither should you.
And don’t do it to bolster your tender ego, to strengthen your white-saviour complex, or for cookies. Do it because it’s the bare fucking minimum, because preaching feminism isn’t the same as being feminist. And please, the next time you hear a white woman saying “I DoN’t SeE RaCe, wE aRe ThE HumAn RaCe” to a Person of Colour, slide into her DMs and educate her because People of Colour shouldn’t have to.
White people created race and racism. We cannot slip into some apathetical “SpiRituaL oNe LoVE, I sEE No RaCe” bullshit. It’s our job, as white women, to show up for our sisters. To acknowledge our privileges. To speak up against our white men. To choose our woman-ness over our whiteness.
The male gaze and expressing my divine feminine energy
And even now, fiercely feminine, I can’t help but wonder – as @florencegiven puts it so eloquently – how much of my femininity is who I truly am and how much of it is a product of patriarchal brainwashing to exist for male consumption?
I admire women that purposefully manipulate the male gaze to benefit themselves, and I can be one of them when I need to be. I know cis-het men hate that – women wangling a system of oppression to play in their favour for once. I mean, how dare we use an arm of the patriarchy to benefit ourselves? Fucking whores.
“Sorry I am not Pamela Anderson and that my boobs aren’t as big as the other girls’ in my grade.”
It’s no wonder sex workers are left out of movements like #MeToo and so-called feminists are quick to talk down on them. You can’t be calling yourself a feminist and hating on women who ask men for things and encourage others to do the same. False feminists are shouting about reparations but they won’t ask men for money? SMH. If you ask me, sex workers are as revolutionary as they cum. They’ve been getting reparations.
I know that I’ve always enjoyed expressing my femininity through often eyebrow-raising fashion choices, but I think the motivation behind my expression has changed greatly over time. As a young woman, I unconsciously dressed for the male gaze because to have the eyes of those I adored the most upon me was to be seen. To be wanted. To be cared about. To be.
In my 15-year-old-me diary, I wrote a letter to my first boyfriend saying “Sorry I am not Pamela Anderson and that my boobs aren’t as big as the other girls’ in my grade.” He’d obviously brought it up to me, as if I had anything to do with the state of my chest. I remember begging my mom to buy me a push-up bra (see: a heavily padded contraption that would only deliver disappointment when removed).
There’s just no way pre-woke me dressed sexily just because I liked it. I dressed sexily because I’d been brainwashed into believing I was a product to be consumed by men and that I should package myself accordingly. I didn’t like dressing sexily because I liked it, I liked being attractive to men because that’s how I received validation.
Post-enwokenment, I find that I still love dressing sexily. This time though, it’s for my damn self. Instead of purposefully parading my assets for the male gaze, I tactfully cover my cleavage with a wandering arm, or pull my jacket closed when shamelessly-staring eyes become a physical weight upon my chest.
But mostly, I don’t restrict my clothing choices with the male gaze in mind. I refuse to give the male gaze any more power over my self-expression. I encourage my alter ego – Thotimus Prime, Slayer of Patriarchal Worlds and Trash Cis-Het Men – to dress as extra as she likes and to admire herself in every passing surface that affords the pleasure of her flawless reflection.
I know now that I haven’t been “girl crushing” for all these years.
I’ll wear the baggiest clothes possible when walking to the shops alone though. That kind of male gaze isn’t the same as when I’m at a club or restaurant with my boyfriend. I feel even more unsafe when I’m unaccompanied in open spaces because I’ll still get cat-called with just my ankles showing. Go figure.
In the restraining order that my ex got against me in response to me getting one against him (lol), he said that the only reason he was trying to control what I wore was because I was attracting attention from “unsavoury men”. Makes sense, right? Let’s keep women from wearing anything that is remotely revealing so that they won’t attract attention from men with unsavoury intentions.
Let’s definitely not interrogate why men are allowed to go savagely uncheck in the business of sexually harassing, raping, and generally oppressing women – not that wearing something revealing is any motivation to do such things. All the motivation they seem to need is that they are men and we are not.
I am bisexual
I have always been attracted to women and, although I am happily in love with a cis-het male at the time of writing this, I know now that I haven’t been “girl crushing” for all these years. I’m just bisexual.
And I won’t say that I am not open to a relationship with a non-binary/gender-fluid/transperson as well. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of getting to know any such person intimately, but I do know that my sexual preference is of spectrum so I don’t see any point limiting myself with more labels than the ones I already subscribe to.
I think it’s easy to call woman-on-woman attraction a “girl crush” because the patriarchy loves to fetishise lesbians. I’ve heard cis-het men say they are keen to “hook a lesbo” to see if they could “turn her straight”. I’ve heard cis-het men ask a lesbian couple to kiss in front of them for entertainment. I’ve seen those “Jim Turns Dirty Lesbians Straight with Giant Cock” porn videos.
I know the patriarchy loves fetishising queer women because they think we’re just holes to be fucked. And we all know how the patriarchy treats homosexual people in general. I think that’s the reason why this is the first time I’m telling anyone I’m bisexual. I was afraid of being othered.
I can only imagine how much harder that would have been if I really did have an eating disorder.
I was worried that people might think I was weird, although I can imagine it is much harder to come out as gay/lesbian. People thought it was cute if I said I was bi-curious. By forgoing the formality of the bisexual label, people laughed my woman hook-ups off at best and fetishised them at worst. It felt safe.
Now, I’m done with safe labels. I’m done with labels in general. Call me what you want for the sake of communication, but just know that I perceive myself as a boundless being capable of loving and having sex with anyone I am attracted to, regardless of their labels. I refuse to let society box my sexual existence, one that occurs in transient multitudes might I add.
I am thin and “pretty”
Ah, two labels (also privileges) I know I hold that people have tried to convince me I don’t exactly hold. I’ve always been naturally thin and was bullied in high school for it. Girls would walk behind me on civvies day taunting my outfit choice and making puking noises as loud as they could, insinuating bulimia. They’d shout in front of everyone, “Eat a burger, you ano.” I can only imagine how much harder that would have been if I really did have an eating disorder.
Later in life, when I started recovering from a depression and an abusive relationship that left me the thinnest I’ve ever been, I began weight training and put on about 6kg – totalling 52kg. I also had terrible digestive issues (still do) from what I presume to be years of trauma, so my stomach was often bloated.
I got ridiculed by grown ass adults and told I need to lose weight around my midsection. Like, are you fucking kidding? People will rather see you depressed and thin than healthy and STILL FUCKING THIN BECAUSE 52KG IS NOTHING?! Mind-blowing stuff, the expectations people have of women’s bodies.
I know I have pretty privilege now, though I always felt inadequate growing up. Boys were always comparing me to my friends, and I never came out on top. I’ve been told that I have a great body but it’s a pity my face isn’t any better, and been cheated on by boyfriends who thought I was “average”. I became so insecure about my appearance, yet somehow I was still pretty enough to get waitressing jobs in place of other girls who didn’t make the aesthetic cut. It’s a sickeningly shallow world.
I had to teach myself that I am worthy of pursuing my dreams.
I hate both of those fucking labels. I hate the way society is constructed, how it labels women, and how those labels effect the way we treat ourselves. Those two labels have robbed me of so much time I could have spent loving myself in the ways I deserve. And I’m sure it’s even harder to overcome for people who are fat, people that don’t meet society’s unrealistic standards of beauty at all.
I identified with both of these labels so much that they began dictating how I showed up in the world, whether I wore something or not, whether I went out or not, whether I ate something or not, whether I accepted myself or not. And, again, I’m so aware of my privileges and how much harder it must be for people who aren’t as “fortunate” to be considered as fondly by this piece of shit, shallow society as I am.
I am a writer
I am a writer, whatever kind it pays me to be. And the kind that spends her free time here, sating her soul with think pieces that she hopes will act as salve for the souls of strangers. It wasn’t always this way though. Four years ago, after studying journalism for three years and graduating with numerous distinctions, I was still overcome by imposter syndrome.
I was so afraid I’d fail at being a writer, I felt unworthy of the label. I preferred to float in a depressive career limbo, telling myself I wasn’t good enough to call myself a writer and that I wasn’t worthy of pursuing the dreams of grandeur that rested in my weary heart.
Now, I know that I am a writer and have always been one. I had to teach myself that I am worthy of pursuing my dreams and that the key is to fall in love with the process, not in lust with the label. When you lust after labels, you begin to seek something other than the actuality of the work. Allowing myself to write instead of worrying about being a writer, has allowed me to just ~be~ a writer instead of trying to be one.
Now, instead of coming up with reasons why I am not good enough for my dreams, I plan which books I will write one day. I see an autobiography, a children’s book, a self-help journal, and a comic book that features my cat as the protagonist – a female, feminist ginger cat that steals from cis-het white men to build schools and buy books for girls.
We are not our roles. We are the ones who play those roles.
Beyond gender, sexuality, race, aesthetics, and the interception of them all, I subscribe to so many more labels. I am a self-diagnosed Highly Sensitive Person. I’m an empath. I’m equal parts introvert and extrovert. I’m an anxiety sufferer that’s gotten so much better at caring for myself and, resultantly, managing her anxiety. I’m a survivor of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse.
I am a dreamer, an artist, a healer in the making. There are so many labels that help me describe my existence to wonderful people, like you, but they no longer need to define me in the ways I once allowed them to. I don’t need to feel anxious about my labels and how people perceive them. My path is exactly that: mine. As is yours, yours.
Our labels are just the roles we play within our human experience, roles that can honoured in consciousness or identified within the mind. The former choice is freedom, and the latter is imprisonment. I know now that my True Being, like yours, is indescribable. It is infinite in its potential. We are not our roles. We are the ones who play those roles. In your true nature, you are infinite, you are boundless. You are as I am. Don’t let labels define your True nature. ♥