NADIA HUQ LIVES IN LONDON AND WORKS IN DIGITAL FOR THE GOVERNMENT
Should labels be for products, not people?
I first realised I wasn’t a fan of labels when I was chatting to a woman in a gay bar. She was intelligent, curious and compassionate, a charity worker with a fondness for the outdoors. “I don’t have many gay friends so it’s really lovely to meet other lesbians and bi women,” I said, sipping my wine. “Actually I’m queer…” she said with sneering disdain. I had no idea what queer meant at that point. I had to squirrel out the word, hunched over my laptop, but the unspoken sentiment was clear: we’re done here. As someone who had only recently come out, it wasn’t quite the roaring welcome to the LGBTQI+ community I had been hoping for. My girls- only dating app is awash with labels: bi, bi- curious, lesbian, gay, (I’m still not sure of the difference between lesbian and gay!), pansexual, queer, boi, femme. Whatever happened to just taking a girl out for coffee? Now we need to lay our sexual preferences on the table before we’ve even swapped numbers: “Sarah. 34. Hey! A happy-go-lucky yoga instructor with a passion for peanut butter and walks on the beach. Also, I have sex with men sometimes too”. Why do we proffer this profoundly intimate information about ourselves like we’re dolling out business cards? Whose business is it anyway? If I like girls and you like girls then isn’t that enough? Our pool of opportunity is often, let’s face it, too depressingly small to be scoring such spectacular own goals against one another. In the past, labels like lesbian and bisexual made complete sense. The incredible, gusty women who came out 30, 40 or 50 years ago desperately needed a community of like-minded women where they could find love, support and camaraderie (and if any of you are reading this: thank you so much, you wonderful women). It might be that in those days you literally were the “only gay in the village” which, in a pre-internet world, must have felt like a pretty lonely place at times. Identifying as a lesbian or a bisexual woman opened doors to a network of women who felt and loved just like you. But I wonder if the current proliferation of labels is helping us to forge connections or driving us apart? Yes, labels give us identities, but they can also create barriers: if I’m “this” and you’re “that” then maybe we’re not right for each other? Real human connection holds no truck with labels. It literally couldn’t give a toss. Love, when it comes, is blithely oblivious to your hang- ups and stereotypes, your prejudices, narks and chips- on-your-shoulder. What a terrible shame then to thwart it with endless road- blocks, to make life so bloody difficult for ourselves. Maybe it’s time to call time on labels. Not just for us, but for the many people on the spectrum who feel daunted by the prospect of having to whack a big, fat shiny label on their feelings, to publicly and irrevocably “out” themselves before they’ve even had a chance to explore this brave new world. Ladies – if you like it, you don’t need to put a name to it. I believe a tidal wave of same-sex love and exploration is coming. I can feel us hovering on the cusp of it. And when that happens, we won’t need labels anymore because it will be completely natural to love people of any orientation or gender. The default will be that there is no default. Human beings simply love, and they love widely. So in that spirit: “Hi, I’m a human who happens to date women. Can I buy you a coffee?”
Maybe it’s time to call time on labels...