epporsimuove: (Default)
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the intersection of labels and identity. We build much of our identity based on labels. Don't believe me? Quick, describe yourself in thirty seconds or less. Go ahead, I'll wait.

My description would be something along the lines of "I am a white, female, uu, liberal, bisexual feminist." All of which are labels, and not even all of the labels which I assign to myself. In fact, they are labels created by someone else, but which I have now commandeered and identified myself within. No one has the right to tell me I do not deserve to label myself as I do.

To give a more concrete personal example, my description of myself as bisexual is often challenged, for various reasons. The challenges range from "bisexuals don't really exist, they are just confused/lying/etc" to declarations that I am not bisexual enough to be labeled as such because I have not had sexual relationships with both sexes or genders. When such label objections come up, I am forced to defend my identity.

Two recent events have really compounded this idea of labeling and identity for me. The first is the recent attention surrounding track star Caster Semenya and trans mayoral candidate Melissa Sue Robinson. Both have recently been discussed in the media, and generally not respectfully. (I blogged a bit about Caster Semenya earlier this week, and here is a brief, and not perfect, discussion of an article about Melissa Sue Robinson.)

The importance of labels and identity is very apparent when dealing with sex and gender. Anyone who does not easily fit into a male-female observed gender (the gender an observer assumes a person to be) and an observed gender that matches their own gender identity, will often be forced to defend their own gender labeling and identity. For Robinson, this means constantly being labeled "a transgender" (and their are a myriad of problems with that statement) and often being referred to as a male. For Semenya, I would be incredibly surprised if every article about her from now on does not label her a hermaphrodite, regardless of whether that is a label she wishes to adopt herself.

The second event was a recent outpouring of discussion about whether men can be feminists. Some said yes, a feminist is someone who exemplifies and values a 'feminist' mentality. Others said no, the definition of a feminist requires a gender/sex of female.

All three of these examples depend on differing definitions of the label discussed. And the problems extend beyond feminist and gender and sexuality examples: the LDS (Mormon) church, for example, is often considered not Christian; although most of my friends and acquaintances in the LDS church consider themselves to be Christian.

Where the problem lies is not simply in our different definitions of what bisexual/female/male/feminist/Christian/etc is, but in our own identity connections to those terms. Do people care as much when it is not the definition of their own label that is being questioned? When we meet others who label themselves as we do but do not do so in the same manner, our own identity and 'right' to that label is called into question. Likewise, when we meet people similar to ourselves who labels themselves differently, our 'right' to reject that label is questioned.

So, in the end, my point is this: everyone has the right to craft their own identity and to assign whatever labels desired to that identity. If you do not agree with their own self-labeling, declaring that label to be false is not the correct response. I, at least, will respond positively to a respectful question: "I often think of a bisexual as...How do you define it?" Please don't be offended if you don't change my mind, I probably won't change yours. And, really, neither of us should be expected to. But dialogue and genuine attempts at understanding, that should be expected.
epporsimuove: (Default)
Despite not talking about it much, I have been following the Caster Semenya "scandal" pretty closely. It is bringing up a lot of different issues, from a discussion of what makes a woman, to an ongoing conversation about the media's epic fail in covering the story in a respectful manner. Take, for example, this stunning piece of brilliance from Yahoo!News, which was the first thing I saw when I finally got online today. The piece discusses the recent rumours that Semenya's gender testing has revealed her to be a hermaphradite (these are, of course, still unverified). Nothing really new, but

Reading the IAAF rules, it would appear that Semenya would be allowed to run if her condition was treated.


Allow me to put on my angry face as a I say this is not a condition, and she does not need to be fixed.

Also, your funny quote for the day:

Not having ovaries isn't something that goes unnoticed.


Actually, unless you have x-ray vision, not having ovaries can easily go unnoticed, as ovaries are not visible on the outside. Sounds like the writer needs to go back to health class.

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August 2010

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