“La­bels are im­por­tant, to me they sig­nify affin­ity”

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I am a woman. Of trans his­tory. Sex­u­ally chaotic. Con­fused, even. Writer. Cam­paigner. Pub­lic nui­sance and gen­eral pain-in-the-butt when it comes to “the es­tab­lish­ment”. Knit­ter. Oc­ca­sional stand-up. Cat lady. I could go on, but at this point, dear reader, I sus­pect I am test­ing the lim­its of your tol­er­ance. Be­sides, I imag­ine that the point is made. I carry a multitude of la­bels, ev­ery one of which could be swapped for loads of de­scrip­tive words. Some week­ends I tour the al­ter­na­tive club cir­cuit, ex­pos­ing my­self em­bar­rass­ingly, get­ting laughed at. And that’s an ac­cu­rate take on both my comedic ef­forts, and my at­tempts at achiev­ing some fris­son of sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion. But why bother? With the wordi­ness, that is; be­cause I had you at “oc­ca­sional stand- up” and “sex­u­ally chaotic”. The prob­lem, I guess, and where I have sym­pa­thy with the anti-la­bel cause, is what hap­pens when we use la­bels to de­fine and limit; when it is de­cided by oth­ers that if you carry a la­bel, your life is hence­forth bound by that la­bel. Like the woman writ­ing to the Tele­graph re­cently and ag­o­nis­ing over whether she is a “real les­bian” or bi, or some­thing else en­tirely be­cause, de­spite pre­fer­ring women, she has slept with a man. Ok, she didn’t re­ally LIKE it. But she did it. So she fears she must now de­tach her good-les­bian­ing badge. As a prob­lem, this high­lights all that is good and bad about the la­bel/no-la­bel de­bate. Agony aunt Dr Pe­tra Boyn­ton, for whom I have much time and re­spect, re­sponds re-as­sur­ingly: of course she is en­ti­tled to iden­tify as les­bian, be­cause that is the la­bel she is com­fort­able with. Yet some la­bels – “gold-star les­bian” for in­stance, are toxic, adding lit­tle to un­der­stand­ing or sis­ter­hood. I have so much sym­pa­thy for the an­ti­l­abelling point of view that I have to keep check­ing to make sure I haven’t spun round into re­verse. But the nub of the is­sue is this. In gen­eral, I am against cat­e­gori­sa­tion. I don’t be­lieve peo­ple can be neatly as­cribed to sim­ple cat­e­gories, or worse, nailed to ex­clu­sive ones. I be­lieve in grey and fuzzy bound­aries and have writ­ten at length about this. Not least, when in­dulging in one of my favourite di­a­tribes against Aris­to­tle, who set us on the road to all this this­ness: the idea that you are (logic alert!) A or not-a, and can­not be any­thing else. That, to me, is non­sense with bells on, and the root of so much evil. But that’s be­cause it is es­sen­tially es­sen­tial­ist – the idea that you de­fine who you are by a set of in­trin­sic char­ac­ter­is­tics. Whereas, if I must lay claim to any philo­sophic la­bel it would be closer to ex­is­ten­tial­ist. Oh, and Catholic too. Rec­on­cile that, com­rades! So why are la­bels im­por­tant to me? Not be­cause they de­fine, ab­so­lutely not. But be­cause they sig­nify affin­ity. Ac­cord­ing to tabloid speak, I tran­si­tioned be­cause I “am” a woman. True. But more im­por­tantly, I al­ways felt that I be­longed to the tribe iden­ti­fied as women. Women were, and are, my spir­i­tual kith and kin. But that is com­pli­cated, far more com­pli­cated than I care to ex­plain on first en­counter. Like: “Hi, my name is Jane and I am [insert philo­soph­i­cal dis­course here]”. I am, as Na­dia ar­gues, what I do. I am also where I lo­cate my­self po­lit­i­cally, per­son­ally and philo­soph­i­cally. For me, that is best ad­dressed in short­hand with a sim­ple la­bel. And that is all it is: use­ful short­hand. It’s a shame that some peo­ple, in­clud­ing her gay bar en­counter, in­sist on us­ing la­bels as a means to de­fine and ex­clude.

La­bels are im­por­tant, to me they sig­nify affin­ity

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