Labels: How They Can Make Us Or Break Us
Labels are complicated things. Once a label is attached to you, whether you voluntarily adopt it or someone else bestows you with it, it can be hard to be rid of it. Labels bring judgement, positive and negative. Many would argue the drawbacks of labels outweigh the benefits. I don't see it that way. I started collecting labels years ago and don't know if I'll ever stop. They define me. They guide me. They lend purpose and clarity to my life.
I say, get out the labeler and let your identity hang out for all to see.
But what about those who target members of a group because of that very identity? What do we do in the face of a horrific tragedy such as the mass shooting in Orlando on Sunday?
Maybe it isn't quite so black and white.
I want to begin with my own story for context. I primarily identify with four labels, although each encompasses further, sub-labels. Kind of like a mind map of my identity. In order of my adoption of them, my labels are...
You probably already knew that I consider myself a minimalist vegan if you've spent any time on this blog, but a feminist atheist? Perhaps not.
Regardless of how vocal I am on each subject in my day to day life, they are all a part of who I am. They also each influenced and grew into the next.
I've pretty much always been a feminist. My parents are wonderful and raised me right, and I always knew that equality should be a given. Identifying as a feminist has allowed me to foster an inner strength that I've relied on time and time again throughout my life. It reminds me on a daily basis that I am worthy. That despite what society may say, I deserve to be heard and to make my mark.
It is partially my feminism which led to my eventual transition from Christianity to Atheism.
The patriarchal themes throughout the bible have always irked me, even as a child. But it wasn't only my awareness of sexism which led me down this path. Having already spent years going against the grain, accepting the feminist label with open arms rather than hiding or shunning it, I wasn't afraid to venture out and leave religion behind. Feminism opened my eyes to injustice, inequality, and oppression - themes I began to recognize in religion and wanted to distance myself from.
I happened to accept my atheism at a time when I was beginning to consider transitioning from my vegetarian lifestyle to a vegan one. As I realized the truth about the egg and dairy industries, I knew I could no longer support them. My atheism allowed me to separate from the belief that humans are the prime species and accept that all sentient beings deserve to live a life of freedom and joy. Without the belief in a God who made us in his image, I was able to see the world more clearly - and what I saw horrified me. Humans using and abusing others for their pleasure on a massive scale for no good reason.
My adoption of a vegan lifestyle has over the years morphed into a craving for minimalism. Being forced to consider all purchases on a deeper level and acknowledge their impact began to turn me away from consumerism. I started eating a more simple whole foods plant based diet and felt a freedom and calm that was new to me. As my leaning towards minimalism spread to different parts of my life I felt as though I finally had space to breathe and just be.
I am proud of these labels which define me. I wear them on my sleeve willingly. I find fulfillment in being a part of larger movements of individuals with common perspectives. I am passionate and an advocate.
I have been thinking about labels a lot lately, and even more so now with the tragedy in Orlando.
It's really quite terrifying, what has happened. And if you boil it down, it was all because of a label. This was a gay bar. It didn't happen at a bar, it happened at a GAY bar. That extra label, that specific identity, was what allowed this sick person to target a group, a group under a collective label that for some reason this man felt a deep hatred for.
This is the dark side of labels at it's most extreme.
Once you put yourself out there as belonging to a certain group there are people who will rise up against you, who will hate you, just for that label.
Now, let me make something very clear. I live an incredibly privileged life. I am aware of this.
I am white. I live in a first world country. I have resources and a support system. I fit the standard expectations of beauty.
And yet despite all of this, my priveledges aren't enough to protect me from prosecution for the labels I have adopted. I am on the receiving end of hatred, judgement, insults, and jokes on a daily basis for my feminism and veganism. Every. Single. Day.
I know what it's like to be targeted because of a label. My adoption of these labels made me vulnerable to this kind of attack, to the hatred of those who decide to hurt me before they even know me.
People hate me for being outspoken about the things I believe in. For not shutting up and going away.
And that's why I won't, why I CAN'T, back down, on either front. I am a feminist and I am a vegan. And those labels hurt me, on a daily basis, but they also liberate me. They ARE me. And I won't reject them no matter how much hatred comes my way.
But what if those labels are a risk to your life?
I am incredibly grateful that so far I have not felt as though my life has been threatened by my being an openly vegan, feminist, atheist, minimalist woman. But who's to say that there isn't someone with as much hate for my identity as the shooter had for those in the LGBTQ community who will one day target me for it?
I can't know. But I refuse to live in fear or hide who I am.
I know how important it is to accept who you are, to be open about it, to embrace it and be proud of it. To be seen for who you truly are.
No one should have to hide their identity from the world.
It hurts my heart so deeply that there are so many people who are afraid for their lives every single day. Who avoid living in their truth to protect themselves against the hatred of others.
It shouldn't matter what labels you identify with, we should all be safe to be ourselves.
It makes me incredibly angry that an individual would target a group of people and decide, without knowing them, that their lives have no value.
And I don't just feel this way about what happened in Orlando. I feel this way about people who target women, people who target vegans, people who target animals. Those who believe they have the right to end another's life. That they know best.
NO ONE DESERVES TO DIE FOR WHO THEY ARE.
A cow doesn't deserve to die because they're a cow. A woman doesn't deserve to die because she's a woman. And an LGBTQ-identifying person does not deserve to die because they are part of the LGBTQ community.
And what about Muslims? How are they affected by those who take their religion to an extreme? How many peaceful Muslims have been targeted or killed needlessly? How many of them are afraid for their lives because they may be attacked for what others they have never met have done? How many will have to pay for this shooter's horrific actions?
So what can we do?
I can't speak for everyone, but I'm not going to shut up. I'm not going to hide. I'm proud of who I am, every single part of me. The good and the bad.
It's not easy. None of us is perfect. Sometimes others will try to use the labels you choose to hurt you. But they're important. We must all stand up, together, and say enough is enough.
We all deserve the chance to be who we are.
We all deserve to be heard.
We all deserve to live.
The LGBTQ community has suffered a great loss. As an ally, I offer all of the support, compassion, and love that I can and hope that my friends and family know that I am here for you if you ever need anything. We will never find strength divided.
Enough is enough.
Love is love.
How has this tragedy affected your life? What labels do you identify with? Continue the discussion in the comments.
Watch Anderson Cooper read the names of every innocent life we lost. They deserve to be acknowledged and mourned individually, not just as a group.
If you live in the States, consider taking political action.
If you live in this world, consider putting kindness first.
Until next time,