LAST WEEK, I MET AN entrepreneur, fresh out of a meeting with a marketing agency.
The execs had asked her to describe her company as if it were a person: ‘So I said, “It’s non-binary genderqueer, like me!”’
Roger that, I said – then had a flashback to a time when the smug-cool-irritating thing everyone always said was: ‘I’m not comfortable labelling myself, you know?’
That was – what? Five years ago? Seven? A recent enough time, anyway, when labels were considered too lazy and restrictive to encapsulate the nuanced complexities of anyone who fancied themselves a bit. Yet here we are, really not that far into the future, declaring ourselves ‘non-binary genderqueer’ by way of a casual hello; and we’re doing this because, suddenly, oh! We
love labels! Adore them! Embrace them like lovers, brandish them like Rolexes!
I am not just talking about the labelling of sexuality or gender. I’m talking about the portioning off and baptism of every part of ourselves. From our diet to our mental health, our lifestyle choices to our political allegiances. We are non-binary genderqueer, but also? Freegan upcyclers! Gluten intolerants, fourth-wave feminists, alt right or Corbynite! We are anxious, Pure O, insomniac; polyamorous plastic-free older Millennial yoginis!
When we run out of new ways to label ourselves, we turn our attention to the important business of labelling other people, which we do in less flattering ways, because they’re them ( boo!) and we’re us ( yay!). Other people are trolls. Privileged narcissists. TERFS (trans-exclusionary radical feminists). Racist Brexiteers ( if we voted Remain), whingeing Remoaners ( if we voted Leave). A toxic liberal elite. Social justice warriors.
Why are we so addicted to labels? I’d say it’s 30% us having had to repeatedly distil our souls into Tinder profiles, 20% our wanting to be part of a gang (any gang!), and 50% the curation of the ongoing oeuvre that is Our Identity. Identity is the holy grail of Now: this era that believes Who We Are is more important than What We Do (which is a shame, because it isn’t). Those multiple pile-up contractions of labels – it gives the illusion of identity. It also divides us into micro tribes, designed to turn on one another on social media (all in the name of inclusivity, of course, because everyone knows their particular micro tribe deserves to be included first, and most).
Which is not to say that I Don’t Do Labels. I do. Or rather – I Do Label. Just the one, but, it’s a good ’un. I herewith proudly, unabashedly, unashamedly identify as JSW. I am, you see, very much, Just Some Woman.