Tell a friend about this page.

Labels FAQ

  1. What are labels?
  2. Why do people use labels?
  3. Are labels neccesary?
  4. Aren't Labels and Stereotypes the same thing?
  5. Doesn't using labels lead to stereotypical behavior?
  6. Why shouldn't labels be taken too seriously?
  7. What should you do if you think someone has self-identified/labeled herself incorrectly?
  8. Why do some lesbians embrace stereotypes?
  9. Why do some lesbians try to force others to embrace stereotypes?
  10. If I don't behave in a stereotypical manner, how can I be perpetuating stereotypes?
  11. Okay, how can I make sure that I'm not perpetuating stereotypes?
  1. What are labels?
    _____In reference to people, labels are words or phrases that gives some information or a shallow description of a person. It only gives you a brief glimpse into a persons life, it does not give you a complete summary of a persons ideas, beliefs, or behaviors.
    Top

  2. Why do people use labels?
    _____People use labels to describe a certain aspect of their lives, but not to sum up there existence. We use self-describing labels all of the time, even people who are "not into labels." Whenever you complete the phrase "I am a (blank)" you are labeling yourself.
    Top

  3. Are labels necessary?
    _____They aren't necessary; a person can go through life without saying, "I am a (blank)." For example,

    LabelNon-Label
    I am a writer.I write.
    I am a lesbian.I only date women.
    I am a mother.I have a son.

    _____They can, however, be helpful. If you are looking through personal ads and detest smoking, you are not going to answer ads of people who label themselves smokers.
    Top

  4. Aren't Labels and Stereotypes the same thing?
    _____Labels can turn into stereotypes a) when people forget that a label is a only glimpse into someone's life and b) when people take on label defined by others and not themselves.
    Top

  5. Doesn't using labels lead to stereotypical behavior?
    _____Only if people accept and embrace labels/definitions other people give them. Any truly informative label has to come from the self. Being given a label means that you are also being led to accept the other person's definitions. A label becomes an oppressive burden when you have to alter your natural behavior/tendencies to match it. When this happens, you are not living the life you want to live, but living the life someone else wants you to live-- catering to the limited vision of others-- you become a stereotype.
    Top

  6. Why shouldn't labels be taken too seriously?
    1. a label does not tell you a lot.
      _____You are talking to someone at a party and she says, "I am a writer." How much information has she actually given you by labeling herself a writer? At best, you can guess that she writes words down on paper. You don't know if she writes fiction, non-fiction, or both. You don't know if she writes, poems, stories, science fiction, erotica, songs, etc. Does she write every day? Is writing her job or a hobby? Was she an English major? Is she a business writer, a technical writer . . . The questions can go on and on.
      _____The only way to really gain any insight about this woman as a writer is to invest a few more minutes in talking to her about it.
      _____Now, there are some people who will NOT want to take the time to find out more. They may cling to their own negative, stereotypical ideas about writers (are moody, suicidal, creative but unstable, pretentious) and decide to move on to another party guest. The writer could be a fantastic person, but they will never know.

    2. Your definition of a label can be completely different from someone else's.
      _____Hir/She, an online butch-femme of color community, offers the following definitions for butch/femme (note--they admit even these definitions are not all encompassing):
      Femme: a lesbian/dyke/gay woman that self identifies as such. she may or may not like to present herself in what is 'socially acceptable' attire for women which may include dresses, stilettos, hosiery, wearing of make up,etc. she may or may not be sexually passive as that seems to be the 'socially' accepted role for females. these may define her: athletic, handy and work in 'non-traditional' careers such as construction, factory, etc. femme may also be linked to other culturally acceptable terms such as "lady, mami, momi, fish, etc" and what other delectable names femme-lovin partners have for our synergistic opposite.

      Butch: a lesbian/dyke/gay or queer woman that self identifies as such. she may or may not present herself in what is 'socially acceptable' attire for men which may include the wearing of suits, ties, hair styles, shoes, etc. she may or may not display mannerisms 'sexual or otherwise normally' linked with males in our society. many butches are comfortable in 'their bodies, women's' clothing and may or may not choose alternate pronouns as an identifier. butch may also be linked culturally speaking to "stud, papi, aggressor, etc"and what other delicious names butch-lovin partners have for our synergistic opposite.
      _____What "butch" means to you can be different from someone elses concept of "butch." You may think clothes make a woman "butch" -- somebody else may just think it's an attitude. Thinking she is going to lick you until you pass out, you may go home with a self-identified butch only to find out she is a pillow queen.
      _____The femme girl who loves high heels and high fashion may want to put on HER strap and take you from behind. You can go on a blind date with someone who isn't into labels, but to you her haircut screams "stone butch." You may expect a woman who acknowledges both butch and femme traits to be flexible in bed, but she may be a "top only" in the sheets.
      _____What does African-American mean? For some people, any American of African descent is an African-American. For others, only people born who were born in Africa and then became American citizens are real African-Americans.
    Top

  7. What should you do if you think someone has self-identified/labeled herself incorrectly?
    _____If you do encounter someone who describes herself in a way that you wouldn't, don't tell her that she's mistaken. She's not. You just have to expand your definitions.
    _____Okay, even if you don't see it as an opportunity to expand your horizons, don't vocalize your disagreement. It's rude and disrespectful to tell a person that she doesn't know herself, but you are going to tell her who she really is.
    _____Have you ever come out to someone and have them tell you that you aren't really lesbian, bisexual, or however you self-identify but just confused or going through a phase? How did it feel to have people dismiss your feelings, your experiences, your desires because, though they haven't taken a step in your shoes, they "know what's really going" on with you?
    Top

  8. Why do some lesbians embrace stereotypes?
    _____Before realizing that they are attracted to other women, many lesbians expected to be straight. Parents, teachers, friends, etc. assume girls are going to be hetero and (backed up by the media and society) teaches them how good hetero girls should behave: no sex before marriage, wait for a guy to ask her out, the object of a relatonship is to get married, expect him to pay for everything, etc. Long before the first date with a guy, women know what's acceptable behavior in relationships.
    _____Then, eventually, when a woman discovers she's a lesbian there's a problem. She's been trained to navigate the hetero world since she was a kid. Suddenly, she's in lesbo land without any clue as to what she should do or what is expected of her. It's natural for people new to the lesbian community/life to want to find something concrete/predictable when they are feeling unstable and insecure. The stereotypes associated with butch/femme are similar to the hetero rules so they are easiest to latch onto.
    _____Eventually, some find stereotypes too confining and abandon them, stepping into a world where they make their own rules/decisions. The more you discover for yourself what you like and don't like, etc. the less you will have need for someone else's standards. For others, the benefits of adhering to stereotypes outweigh the discomfort and they try to live within the boundaries.
    _____What are the benefits of adhering to stereotypes? Ultimately, you are not really responsible for your actions; you are just fulfilling the role that "society" carved out for you. This is the "Don't hate the playa, hate the game" mentality. There will be very little reason to venture outside of your comfort zone. You know exactly what to expect from other people. Sure, you give up your individuality and your deepest wants, needs, & desires (physical, mental, & sexual) may go unfulfilled, but some people are absolutely willing to give that up for a sense of security or belonging.
    Top

  9. Okay, if they want to adopt stereotypes fine, but why do some lesbians try to force others to embrace stereotypes?
    _____Stereotypes can not exist on their own; people need to believe in them. Three or four people are not enough to give a stereotype life-- they are just a clique. A stereotype needs the (apparent) endorsement of a community before it becomes effective. It has to be something that "everybody knows" or "they say." People who reject stereotypical behavior for themselves can even help propagate them.
    Top

  10. If I don't behave in a stereotypical manner, how can I be perpetuating stereotypes?
    _____Just because you have chosen to chart your own path and define your own labels, doesn't mean that you don't hold stereotypical views of other lesbians. For example, a lot of femmes have rejected the stereotypical idea that a femme can only be a pillow queen who gets serviced by her butch. Well, one look in the personal ads or a club will show you that many self-identified femmes have rejected that: Femme/Femme pairings are common. From strapping up to tonguing down, they are willing to give as good as they get, if not better.
    _____Now, just because a femme does not adhere to stereotypes is no guarantee that she does not have a stereotypical view of studs/butches. Based on her own experience and desires, she knows that femmes don't have to be anything like the stereotype. This may not stop her from seeing butches as dominant sexual givers who don't allow themselves to be touched, much less penetrated. In her mind, femmes can be versatile but studs have a severly limited options in regards to sex and other behavior.
    _____ Someone who has freed herself from the labels of others, may think that butch/butch relationship don't really exist and one of the two is really a femme in denial. In her point of view, a real butch/butch relationship is impossible (what do they do, sword fight with their strap ons?).
    _____So, while a person can realize that she does not fit a stereotype, that does not automatically means all of her stereotypical beliefs disappear. Her belief in that stereotype helps it to exist and becomes part of that "they say" voice that tells studs how they should behave.
    Top

  11. Okay, how can I make sure that I'm not perpetuating stereotypes?
    Remember . . .
    • That any labels you use for yourself have to be defined by you to be valid.
    • If you don't fit in the stereotypical box designed for you, it's reasonable to believe that stereotypes of others aren't true either.
    • Don't voice opposition if you disagree with the way a person self-identifies.
    • Challenge stereotypical beliefs of others. If you are hanging out with your friends and they start talking about how a "real" butch, femme, lesbian, etc. is supposed to act, speak up.
    • When you meet someone who is new to the glbt community, encourage her to ignore those voices telling her what she should/shouldn't do and how she should/shouldn't feel. It's better for her to figure out who she is and what she wants, needs, and desires than to try to the community's stereotypical standards.
    Top

Tell a friend about this page. Go Back