Label Whores: Looking Beyond ‘Masculine’ And ‘Feminine’
Overcrowded, overwhelming and understaffed, this retail abyss was the bane of my existence back when I lived in Louisiana. Be that as it may, the prices were right so I—like most Americans who patronize the corporate giant—swallowed my pride and took my weekly trips to Wally-World.
One particular trip, though, will forever remain engrained in my mind. As I entered the store one Saturday morning, I made my way through the clutter en route to the toy aisle. I’m not certain why my trip necessitated a venture down this particular aisle, but in retrospect I’m glad it did; what I saw was enlightening.
“Mom, can I get this?” A young boy (presumably around the age of seven) asked, pointing to a Barbie hanging above him, just slightly beyond his reach.
“No!” his mom retorted hastily. “That’s a girl’s toy.”
The boy—clearly disenchanted by his mother’s immediate disavowal of his request—simply replied “OK,” and continued to walk along. His mother then convinced the young boy to get an action figure instead. The boy begrudgingly agreed, his disappointment evident.
I thought to myself, “what makes a Barbie a girl’s toy? Is a vagina a prerequisite for purchase?”
This event is the perfect allegory to underscore how using gender and sex labels interchangeably can be toxic, especially within the LGBTQ community. As children, we are taught that individuals with a penis (men) are expect to be “masculine,” while individuals with a vagina (women) are expected to be “feminine.” While I certainly have reservations applying these terms even to environments that are considered to be heteronormative, I find these classifications within the LGBTQ community to be especially pernicious.
Below are some examples of how attempting to subscribe to one of these alleged “discrete” terms—masculine or feminine—can pose some unique problems for those who identify as LGBTQ.
How do we even define masculinity and femininity
I’m often asked if I consider myself to be masculine or feminine—a question that is far too convoluted to be relegated to a simple either/or inquiry. And since the terms are used ad nauseam in parallel with sex (masculine = man; feminine = woman), it should be pretty evident how this could complicate the matter even further within the LGBTQ community. In other words, how do we use these labels in relative terms when there are two penises or two vaginas involved?
Nonetheless, my answer usually goes something like this:
“When I hear ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ I cry like a little bitch. I’m not a Beyoncé stan, and I don’t know anything about ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race.’ I can be aggressive at times; on the contrary, I can be quite submissive. On Saturday, I can spend literally all day watching college football. So what am I? Masculine or feminine?”
Typically, when I respond in such a way I’m told that I’m just being difficult. But am I?
Just because I don’t sashay when I walk or enter a room asking for “ the tea” doesn’t make me any less feminine. Or does it? Since there are no clear, objective ways to ascribe certain characteristics to masculinity or femininity, perhaps we shouldn’t try. What’s the value-add anyway?
Homosexual relationships are inherently different than heterosexual ones…
…so we needn’t try to mirror the relationships of our heterosexual counterparts. I often hear many gay individuals lament the fact that there is a lack of versatility—usually in terms of sexuality, but generally speaking, as well—among those in the gay community. However, as we classify others and ourselves as either “masculine” or “feminine,” we are simultaneously eschewing the versatility we allegedly want. For with these labels come subsequent bucketing: The “masculine” guy is the “top”; the aggressor; the “man.” Meanwhile, the “feminine” guy is the “bottom”; the submissive one; the “woman.” It’s a slippery slope.
We shouldn’t feel obligated to declare “roles” for ourselves just to draw a correlation to that of heterosexual couples. Yes, it may seem as though identifying disparate roles and assigning ourselves to one of the said roles may make things easier, but…
…au contraire, these labels don’t make anything easier.
Marginalization is the natural foe of individuality and there are few things we as human beings espouse more than individuality. So why should this be an exception? Not to mention, the LGBTQ community is commonly stereotyped because of the terms we use to label ourselves. “Who’s the girl in the relationship?” “Who’s the one in control?” “Who ‘takes’ it?” These are all questions that I’ve heard straight individuals ask gay couples. And, honestly, I can’t even be upset because we’ve delineated ourselves as such.
A common stereotype is that a hefty number of gays are label whores. I guess that stereotype wasn’t limited to just designer clothing.
So here’s a proposition: I think we should make a collective decision—as an LGBTQ community—to stop being label whores, and just start being ourselves.