The Label Fable

Please note: This article has been flagged by the editorial staff for possibly offensive remarks. Please use your own discretion in reading.

When did activism become self-righteous absurdity? When did political correctness become extreme sensitivity? It seems that new labels pop up everyday, each one less inclusive than the last, each one triggering yet another debate over validity, political correctness and implications. The term “bisexual” is no exception.

A couple of years ago, I noticed the term "pansexual" popping up in a lot of bi forums and discussions (for anyone out there who isn’t familiar with the term, “pansexual” means being attracted not only to both sexes, but to all genders). During one such discussion, I made some snide, offhand remark about changing our label just as people were finally starting to understand the term “bisexual”. I have a lot of unpopular opinions, and so was prepared for a little backlash, but the reaction to this comment was nothing short of hysteria. Half of the forum members attacked me for insinuating that pan and bi were the same thing, the other half attacked me for not using the term "pansexual" myself. Three things became clear rather quickly:

1. a lot of bisexuals are, apparently, only attracted to cisgendered people.

2. a lot of bisexuals feel that the term "bisexual" excludes those who do not fit into standard gender roles.

3. a lot of people feel the need to redefine their sexual orientation based on their preferences.

It seems that, because of their generic nature, common labels are falling out of favor in certain crowds. “Male”, “female”, “bisexual”, “gay” and “straight” are no longer sufficient to many, and I'm left looking like an ignorant asshole because I disagree.

I do not understand how using the term "bisexual" indicates a lack of recognition or attraction towards trans or genderqueer individuals. I have no issue calling myself bi while recognizing the many different gender roles there are and being open to attraction to any one of them. To be honest, I prefer the term "queer" because I think if any label fits me it's that one, both in orientation and in personality. Still, if people ask, I say I'm bi. I always have, because people seem to comprehend that better than “queer” or “biamorous” or “pansexual”. I don't understand how this is exclusionary to trans folk or to the androgynous. It means I am attracted to people, regardless of what bits they have in their pants. I don’t know how it could possibly get more inclusive than that.

I do not understand declaring oneself neither male nor female. Yes, one can feel they do not fit into a stereotypical gender role. Yes, one can be born with the "wrong" parts. Yes, one can feel a certain sense of androgyny. But, in the end, gender and sex are not the same thing (at least, they are no longer viewed as the same thing). Everyone does have a sex, whether they like it or not. One quick glance at the nether regions will confirm this, and I truly do not understand the desire to deny it.

Mostly, though, I do not understand redefining orientation to highlight preference. All bisexuals are attracted to both sexes. Attraction to gender is a preference, not an orientation. Some bisexuals prefer clearly defined genders, some prefer androgyny, and some don’t care much either way. Likewise, some straight men prefer big titted blondes, some lesbians prefer spiky-haired butches, some gay men prefer androgynous girly-boys, and some don’t care much either way. Redefining your sexuality to make these preferences clear seems not only unnecessary, but rather ridiculous to me.

At this point, I realize this is probably coming off as a tirade against the term “pansexual” itself. It’s not. As a lover of etymology, I am aware that words, terms and definitions evolve with the times. I have no issue with this, or with people choosing the label that they think suits them best. What irritates me is that this obsession with political correctness has led to a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of labels.

Labels are not meant to be specific—in fact, making them specific defeats their purpose entirely. Labels are meant to give a quick, generic synopsis of a person, summing things up as quickly and easily as possible. Details are offered on a person-to-person basis, as they should be. To most of the world, I am a white, bisexual, female hippy, not only because that is true, but because it’s easy to grasp; it gives everyone a general overview of who I am. To those who know me well, I am a liberal, moderately feminine Canadian of European descent who is attracted to artsy, feminine women and rugged, quietly intelligent men. This is also true, but would not make a very effective label.

We must not forget that political correctness was born from the desire to show acceptance and respect to those who differ from us. If we are to create an environment of mutual respect, we must also establish a simple language as the foundation for a healthy dialogue. Getting hung up on semantics and creating a dozen labels that all essentially mean the same thing is always going to be divisive—an ironic side effect of political correctness. So go on and label yourself however you like, but keep in mind that labels are to define yourself to people you don’t know; if they don’t understand the term, all the thought and care you put into it is moot.

Creative Commons License