Labels, much like language work well when there is an agreed upon definition. They help us categorize, classify and give us a baseline understanding on how to interact with something. They work great, for example, in nature. We know how deciduous trees will behave because we understand what deciduous means; so no need to worry about the health of your Maple when it loses it’s leaves in September. Now, If your Pine does the same thing? Call an Arborist.
See? Helpful! As broad categorization tools labels work well and can provide useful information.
But there are two things that absolute must be kept in mind when dealing with labels.
- They need to be kept broad.
Good label: A Dominant is one who enjoys receiving power exchange. This gives us a nice board understanding to work with. If you label yourself Dominant, you’re conveying to people that you enjoy receiving power from another person.
Bad Label: A Dominant is one who is into receiving power exchange with large displays or ritualistic behaviour and provides strict and sever discipline for disobedience. This label is way too constrictive. There are lots of people who are into receiving power exchange that are not into high protocol, or dishing out corporal punishment for disobedience. Plus, being a Dominant does not make one a Sadist – and that is very much okay.
It’s true that some labels are so broad they need additional clarification – Queer would be a great example of that. Does it mean you’re sexually queer? Gender queer? Queer identified for political purposes? Hetrosexual, but not hetronormative? Sometimes, we do need to be more specific in order to communicate the identities we wear. If you want to ever do someone a solid, give them space to tell you what their labels mean to them by asking question of What does -this label you wear- mean in your life?
It’s also true that one label likely won’t describe the whole of you, but that’s fine – you can put on as many labels as you like in order to describe yourself in a way that makes sense to you. And oh hey there – point two!
- Humans do not exist in the state of nature.
People are rarely exclusively one thing, and this is where the problem with labels come in.
We try to use them to understand and categorize people, but we find up pigeon holing both ourselves and others because people are rarely exclusively one thing. Can I say that one more time? People are rarely exclusively one thing.
So why do we keep treating both ourselves and others like they are?
Sometimes we use labels as a standard we think we need to uphold, berating ourselves when we think we’re not X enough – submissive enough, masochistic enough or dominant enough. Other times we apply labels in a judgemental way against others without getting to know the person behind the label. Other times still we use label to limit what others are allowed to be. A Dominant who also lives receiving pain? A submissive who isn’t into service? Why the hell not? Surely they don’t need your permission to live a life that is best inline with their own desires.
After all, you’ve done all the work to get out to out to this place. This place where sexual expression can take many forms, and relationships can be what you’ve always wanted. Why limit yourself – or others – now?