My last meaningful post had to do with labels, and ophidios
brought up some interesting points that lead me to do a bit of thinking.
Labels can be really awesome and helpful, or they can be really fucked up.
One thing I love about a label is that it gives me a name for something I'm working on or struggling with. It's like... before I can truly fight my opponent, I must first name my opponent. Where, in this case, the opponent is the shame and issues associated with whatever it is that I'm naming. For bisexuality, it involved feelings of sexual orientation and shame about being attracted to both genders. Feeling broken and wrong for wanting both genders. For transsexuality, it involved feelings of shame and fear surrounding being open in expression and presentation.
A label provides a lot of useful traits: It gives me a keyword to find resources using Google or the library. It gives me a name to search for support groups under. It gives me a banner to fly in pride parades and marches and activist work. It gives me a category under which to label a wide variety of experiences that I have, that might previously have been thought of as separate. It takes individual memories and moments out of time and puts them together so that patterns can be detected and solutions to problems found.
But there are issues with labels, right? Specifically regarding the definition of the label. Sometimes, a label is very clear cut. A woman that has only dated and slept with women and has no interest in men could easily be labeled as a lesbian. She could easily apply this label to herself and go in search of others with that label. But what about the woman that only *mostly* likes women, or prefers both, or is in a relationship with a woman now, but might date a man in the future, or what of women that were assigned male at birth. Suddenly, the simple label becomes muddy, and people start arguing about who fits and and who doesn't.
I've recently been spending a lot of effort exploring labels for some of my mental conditions. I have a whole host of anxiety inducing issues that cause me great suffering, pain, frustration, etc. They are obstacles that I have struggled to overcome all my life. Individually, they are just individual situations and concerns and are hard to work with. But if I find a label that seems to fit a bunch of these characteristics, it gives me a category to identify all the issues, and all the other benefits of having a label on things. It gives me something to talk about. It gives me a little mnemonic to remember helpful tips for handling situations.
The Manic/Depressive thing is a great example of this. By looking at the label and starting to apply it to myself, I have managed to calm myself down a LOT. I've managed to reduce my anxiety levels down by leaps and bounds. I've managed to get control of myself when I'm doing things that are wild and out of control.
How? By grouping some of my behaviors under that category of Manic/Depressive-ness. I figured out some patterns in some of the things that happened within that category, and I applied solutions to it. I stopped drinking coffee for example. I decided to start "closing off my mind" whenever I saw the anxiety hitting me in these situations. To remind myself to do so, I would sort of "memorize" a list of situations that I experience anxiety in, and use the label of "manic/depressive" as a mnemonic to remember it. I slowly have been noticing and discovering more situations in which I exhibit what I call "manic/depressive" qualities and slowly removing the issues of anxiety from them.
I'm doing this also with the Asperger's thing. I've always had a lot of difficulty understanding communication of various sorts. A lot of it matches the symptoms of someone with Asperger's. It is becoming a mnemonic for me to remember that I'm not a bad person when these things happen. I remember that it is okay to not understand and that I've had other situations like this in my life and it wasn't the end of the world. I can think of other "Aspie" moments where some bit of social interaction didn't work and calm myself down in the present.
And both of them give me access to wealths of information throughout the internet and psychological field. It gives me a way to group things together to talk to my therapist. Some of it applies to me, some of it doesn't. I don't perfectly match any of these labels.
So we get back to the problem. I don't perfectly match ANY label that I've applied to myself, really. People question my gender because I don't perfectly match female, nor do I match male. People question my sexuality because most of the folks I date are women. Because I don't perfectly match the Manic/Depressive label, folks get upset that I'm using it. Because I don't perfectly match the Aspie label, some folks seem upset that I'm using it. I find this particularly odd in these cases, since I try to be very careful to always say "Aspie-like qualitites" and "Manic/Depressive-ish tendencies" and things like that. I try to avoid saying that I have Asperger's, or am Manic/Depressive because I see those as a medical diagnosis that I have not, at this time, received. Maybe I'll get it one day, or maybe I won't. Who cares? That's not the point.
The point is that I've found other folks that have similar struggles to mine. Similar issues and experiences. And through that we can share our experiences. I've found ways of grouping my behaviors to look for patterns that I want to modify and hopefully improve. I've found a way of noting events and situations as being related so that I can more easily recall them in the future.
And fuck it. I think everything exists on a spectrum anyways. Lots of people have tendencies towards lots of different conditions, labels, etc. We're a continuous system, not a discrete system. To hold to a hard definition of a label and defend it at all costs seems to me to be a very very very foolish and deluded thing to do.
EDIT: Ooh! And some labels can combine other labels to form mega labels. When I found the transgender label, I had a new label with a larger scope to cover my smaller "gender-related frustration" label! I'm considering the extent to which the "Aspie" label covers my "social interaction issues" label. It's really awesome when this happens intelligently, because finding patterns between things can really help with diagnostics and algorithm updates. :)