Labels are the adjectives that are used to describe us or a certain aspect of the person that we are. They can be positive, neutral (judgment-free) and they also can be derogatory. Labels are often used to distinguish us from the general population and to identify a personality trait or interest that sets us apart from everyone else. Labels are many times used as a matter of self-identification for the purpose of us telling others about ourselves. We utilize labels as a tool to let others know how we perceive ourselves.
I know of a number of people who object to the use of labels. They feel that labels are too confining and restrictive. Some believe that using labels does them an injustice in that they’re “boxed in” to a particular aspect that fails to represent their complete persona. Others see labels as a broad definition that neglects the uniqueness of their individuality.
I believe all of the above statements are true and valid. The majority of labels used to describe people are intentionally neutral and mostly used in an innocent capacity. For example, the statement: He teaches courses on Deaf culture at a Deaf university. is often employed by those attempting to explain my job. It is a concise description of what job I do for a living. It is true and a neutral summary of my profession.
However, for some people this statement sets me apart as a person with a disability who prefers to associate with others he sees as like himself. Others may see it as identifying me as an obstinate individual, unfriendly and one who does what he wants regardless of the rules. That assumption is based on their experiences with persons who are Deaf.
On the other hand, the above description of my job tells people that I have advanced academic degrees and work in academia. Whether I am Deaf or not is no issue as they have had no negative experiences interacting with Deaf people. There is no stereotypical assumption against the Deaf community. There may or may not be a communication barrier interacting with me.
Within my own culture, there are those who strongly object to using Deaf/deaf as an adjective. Some feel it distinguishes them as a disabled community as opposed to one community being differently enabled. The use of Deaf identifies me as a person who views my deafness as a cultural marker. Those who prefer deaf reject Deafness as a cultural marker and use deaf to describe their inability to hear.
Now, substitute “naturist, nudist, naked, bare, clothes-free” to the term Deaf/deaf above. The arguments for or against using those terms are as numerous, if not more so, than those used in Deaf/deaf. The objections are just as strong and emotions, pro and con, are equally intense.
“Naturist” is offensive to some nudists and vice-versa. “Clothes-free” acknowledges that we need to wear clothes whereas “bare” recognizes independence from a clothes-oriented culture. And the list becomes endless beyond these points.
Some naturist/nudist persons object to the labels simply because it fails to describe the type of person they are and merely implies how they live. They resent being placed in a certain box. In their eyes, how they live has no bearing on their personal qualities.
The cultural divide between naturist/nudist is almost identical as the one between Deaf/deaf. One refers to a specific culture identification and the other to a broad definition based on a simple attribute. Then there exists in both groups those who object to the use of either term as an identifying marker.
These discrepancies and disagreements exist within most defining labels categories. All sides of the debate hold solid, well-founded opinions on their specific position. All arguments, at least to me, are valid. There is no clearly divided line between “right” and “wrong” in any case (except where the label is used intentionally as a pejorative one). There are merits to all opinions.
I dislike the use of labels unless the person is using them solely for purposes of self-identification. This eliminates them from any disrespectful or insulting usage. I use them here on A Guy Without Boxers primarily as a matter of self-identification, of both myself and this blog site. I use the labels “Deaf,” “gay” and “naturist/nudist” in order for the reader/visitor to know what this blog is all about, what to expect and as a warning that they may find some of the ideas/materials/opinions offensive or at least disturbing to their sensitivities. My purpose in blogging is not to upset or otherwise offend anyone.
As much as I hate to admit it, to answer the question posed by the title of this post is: yes, there are times when the use of label(s) is necessary. Do I agree with this answer? No. Do I have an alternative? No. At least not until all of humanity agrees to show each person the dignity and respect that we all, equally, deserve.
No Boxers, Briefs, Thongs, Bikinis, or Jocks! Be Nude!
Peace! Get naked. Enjoy!
Author’s Note: I used the labels Deaf and nudist here because I am a member of both of those communities and did not want to risk inadvertently offending anyone or any community. If you are a member of either of these communities and I offended you, I extend my humble apology. The offense was not intentional.