Imagine There’s No Labels?

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

– “Imagine,” John Lennon

This part of Lennon’s classic song has always bothered me. Not that I’m offended by the concept of a world without religion or national borders. (I’m pretty sure we’d still find reasons to hate each other without those things, but that’s another topic for another day.) What bothers me is the idea that, in order to live in peace with one another, humans must abandon the things that distinguish us from one another. This is why, contrary to pretty much everyone I’ve ever talked to on the subject, I don’t hate labels.

Now, to clarify, I hate the misuse of labels. I hate it when labels are used as an excuse for stereotyping and prejudice. I hate it when a label is assigned to someone against their will. I hate it when people take a label and make that single label the entire sum of another person’s identity. I hate it when a person is pressured to choose a label in any given category before they’ve figured out which one best describes them. I hate it when a label is used as an excuse to dismiss everything that a person says.

But labels themselves? They don’t have to be any of these things. They’re just words. Descriptors. They needn’t and shouldn’t have any meaning beyond their most basic definitions.

Let’s look at a few of my own labels. Author. It means I’m a person who has written a thing that was published. Geek. It means many things to many people. To me, it means I’m a socially awkward intellectual who loves science fiction and fantasy. INTJ. It means introversion, intuition, thinking, and judging as defined by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are my dominant personality traits. Disabled. It means I have a medical condition that affects one or more major life activities. Latina. It means my ancestors were indigenous to Latin America. Female. It means my gender identity is located on the female side of the gender spectrum. Cisgender. It means that, when I was born, the doctors and my parents made an accurate guess about my gender identity. Bisexual. It means I’m attracted to people of more than one sex. Christian. It means my faith is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

These labels are all facts. I could reject any of them, but if I didn’t or couldn’t change the reality that the label describes, getting rid of the label wouldn’t really change anything. I could choose to stop using the word “disabled,” but that wouldn’t change a thing about the state of my health. I could choose to stop using the word “Christian,” but merely changing the word wouldn’t change my beliefs. (If I did change my beliefs, I would change the word – to a new, more accurate label, like “atheist” or “pagan” or “Reform Jew” or whatever described my new belief system.) I could choose to stop using the word “bisexual,” but that wouldn’t make any of my past or present attractions to people of either sex un-happen. I could choose to stop using the word “Latina,” but that wouldn’t change history and make my ancestors indigenous to some other part of the world.

And, honestly, the only thing on this list that I would change if I could is “disabled.” And in that case, it’s not the label that I hate. It’s the fact that I’m fucking disabled. That I have a medical condition that affects several major life activities. (No, you don’t get details. Sorry.) But as long as I do have it, why do I need to pretend I don’t in order to feel good about myself? Why does another person need to pretend a part of my reality doesn’t exist in order to see me as an equal?

Which brings me to the ultimate reason I don’t want to imagine there’s no labels: the idea that distinction is necessarily a source of strife and oppression. We don’t need a world with no countries. We need a world where national identity isn’t seen as a valid reason to kill someone. We don’t need a world with no religion. We need a world where people can respect each other’s religious choices, even if we disagree with them. Even if we think they are absolutely, unquestionably incorrect. We don’t need a world where the social constructs of race, gender, and sexual orientation don’t exist. We need a world where neither race, gender, sexual orientation, nor any other label is seen as a legitimate reason to deny anyone any right or privilege in our society.

Imagine that one’s country
One’s religion, too
Is nothing to kill or die for
It’s not that hard to do
Imagine all the people, different, yet in peace

People label me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…