Art by Samantha Miller
In a society that constantly wants to put people in boxes, understanding that labels don’t serve the same impact for everyone is crucial when creating a more inclusive and accepting world.
Projecting our own understanding of labels onto individuals is inappropriate and labeling should instead should be approached with open-mindedness and a willingness to learn.
Particularly when considering sexuality and gender, the fluidity of both lead to an escalation in misgendering and mislabeling those who do not fall within the historically accepted confines of gender binaries and heterosexuality, according to Harvard Medical School.
By misgendering or assuming another person’s sexuality, the labeler creates a space that doesn’t allow for the ever-changing context of what those identities represent.
It may feel more comfortable for a person to say they are attracted to everyone or have no preference in terms of gender and sexuality, as opposed to identifying as pansexual. The pansexual identity is characterized by a romantic or sexual attraction focused on traits other than sex or gender. Moreover, a person may say they’re genderqueer, rather than selecting a label of non-binary or transgender.
The emphasis that a label carries may empower one person to embrace their sexuality wholeheartedly, but it can constrain another to involuntarily ascribe to an identity or group they don’t see as representative of themselves.
As the interpretation and definition of labels constantly changes, leaving it up to the individual is vital in fostering a more inclusive society.
Labels are necessary and important when it comes to legislative advocacy and policy implementation that protect marginalized groups who fall within the realm of those labels. Psychology Today wrote the benefits of utilizing labels are minimizing ambiguity, producing authentic representation, establishing a communication starting point and decreasing marginalization.
However, the largely subconscious way we interact with one another on a daily basis with regard to how we view people and the label we want to attach to them for our own comfort proves to be problematic.
“The labels themselves are also seen to reflect particular ‘western’ identities that do not speak to the diversity of meanings attached to same-sex desiring and gender non-conforming people in other parts of the world,” according to the Institute of Developmental Studies.
Oftentimes those outside of the straight, cisgender identity feel cornered into accepting a label of how others understand their sexuality to be. A facet that is often not taken into consideration is how one’s environment affects a person’s comfort in openly expressing themselves with a definitive label.
In the context of a Christian university like Pepperdine, it can be difficult for those who do not ascribe to what is written in the Bible to feel comfortable labeling themselves as anything other than heterosexual. For their own protection, this may feel like the safest option.
“Pepperdine University affirms that sexual relationships are designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between husband and wife,” according to the Sexual Relations policy.
Pepperdine’s stance on which narrowly-defined relationship dynamics are acceptable inherently establishes a culture and environment of hostility. How is a student who strays from the expectation defined in such a rigid policy supposed to feel comfortable being themself on campus?
“We acknowledge the complexity of issues surrounding sexuality and desire to engage this conversation with courage, humility, prayerfulness and convicted civility,” according to the policy.
The University’s attempt at championing an accepting community is something that its policies and statements — like that of Sexual Relations — do not reflect. The general conservatism of the school may not create a space where students can feel as though their identities will be welcome with open arms.
The nature of assuming how an individual chooses to identify, and more specifically what others assume them to be, reveals a larger issue of a societal desire to keep people within the confines of heteronormative and binary expectations. Moving forward, it should be understood that using a gender or sexuality label does not affect everyone the same way.
Instead, allow someone the time and space to be transparent about how they do or don’t choose to identify, rather than forcing our own understandings upon them.
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