Society’s labels stifle personality growth and development

Columnist Brandon Baker thinks labels create problems inside and out of the GLBT community.

When I’m out in public, I spend a lot of time observing people and their behaviors – by the standards of many, I might be considered the infamous “creeper.” But while doing so, it occurred to me, that observations aren’t always quite as straightforward and 2-D as we might like to see them as being.

As I executed my daily routine on the subway the other day, I noticed people seemed to prefer to stand during their ride rather than having to sit next to anyone unfamiliar. Somehow, I doubt they feared a potential offensive odor of the people in the seats. It appeared to me they were afraid of the invasion of their so-called “personal bubble.”

From a young age, we’re taught to keep to ourselves in public and avoid talking to strangers at all costs due to fear of the unknown. While these lessons hold merit, to some degree, they hinder our ability to openly be ourselves.

We can’t simply “be ourselves” and still put on public masks simultaneously, especially living in a city where your personal life and your public life are so intertwined. Whether you live in a dorm, an apartment or a house, you’re always a few footsteps away from being in the public eye.

These “masks” have variations and fit a multitude of people, and I suppose they’re functional in their own way.

But at what cost? It seems all too easy to lose yourself in these sorts of self-restrictions and, more commonly, labels.

It is easy to understand why many in the GLBT community might resent the idea of using the notoriously long LGBTQIAA label at all.

To me, there is no “GLBT,” there’s just “me.” We often use the elusive idea of a “self” to describe who we are, but when push comes to shove, do any of us really have a solid enough grip on who we are to slap on any label at all?

“Gay” can’t accurately describe the tailored sexual interests of an individual anymore than “black” can describe the skin tone of an individual. Black and white do not exist: Everything is gray matter.

It seems to me that for this very reason, one might be hesitant to truly “put himself/herself out there,” and as a result, we have a sea of closeted gay men and women in the world. It could be argued, however, that whether gay or straight, we’re all a little closeted in one way or another on the inside.

We all aim to be a certain someone in life, whether that is our favorite role model or just the simple archetype that comes to mind when we think of the closest label that fits us. Yet, in the process of aiming to live the life of someone else, it seems we lose a little bit of ourselves.

At what point do we stop aiming to be Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts and just aim to be the person impatiently dwelling in the depths of our own minds?

As cliché of a message as it may seem, I can’t stress enough how important it is to just “do you.” The first steps to finding yourself can be as easy as showing the confidence to sit next to a person on the subway and strike up a conversation. And who knows, you might find yourself to be more of a role model than you would have expected.

Brandon Baker can be reached at brandon.baker@temple.edu.

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