We humans have an innate desire to define things, don't we? To make sense of what we don't understand or to apply status to things we'll inevitably aspire to be. Let's slap a label on something to determine it's perceived value, purpose or meaning. It's how we categorize and compartmentalize our surroundings. People, too.
I remember one time referring to my now husband as my partner during a job interview, when asked if I was married. I'm a professional and felt the term "boyfriend" was a bit too juvenile. The person on the other side of the table automatically assumed I was gay. The term "partner " is widely used all over the world as a way in which to define your spouse or significant other, but for some reason during my interview, it didn't translate. North America still hears the word "homosexual" when the term partner is used.
I recently read Maria Bello's wonderfully honest and elegant dissection of labels in her book Whatever...Love Is Love. She writes of all the terms we've adopted over the years to help us make sense of who we are, what we want and whom we love. And, frankly, how it's all bullshit. What a breath of fresh air.
Her book was based on her article Coming Out as a Modern Family for the New York Times Modern Love column, about her realization that gender had nothing to do with who she loved, shared a bed with or had sex with. Or, whom she chose to call family. Instead, these labels had evolved into gender-indifferent choices to simply surround herself with people who brought light and love into her life. A pretty bold thing to share for someone who works in an industry that can either tear you apart or celebrate you for such honesty. Luckily for Bello, it was the latter.
One section of Bello's book that struck a rather sensitive chord is when she challenges the label of writer. I like to fancy myself a writer and dream of a day when I can somehow transform this thing that I love so much into something I can focus on full time. She questions whether or not someone becomes a "writer" when they are paid for the work they've published. I've made a bit of money writing, but most of what I've published has been unpaid. Does that mean I'm not a writer, even though in my heart this is something I know for sure?
On the positive side, labels can be a way in which to manifest your dreams, by simply declaring to the universe who you are and what you want. Before I published anything outside of my blog, I would tell people I was a writer when I was traveling or at parties or some nauseating networking event. I even printed business cards that said I was a freelance writer, before any editors knew I was alive. Imposter? I don't think so. I knew what I wanted. And by openly declaring it, I feel like I attracted it.
Last week, Caitlyn Jenner graced the pages of Vanity Fair as a woman for the first time. First time in the minds of the public, anyway. For her, she had felt she was a woman her whole life. A label she couldn't adopt until modern medicine made it so. While it's wonderful to see the public rally around the transgender community, it's kind of sad that this is headline news. Why does she have to redefine herself at all?
Some labels I cherish, like wife, sister, friend...writer. But they don't define me. They simply help me articulate all that is precious to me. Bello refers to herself as a whatever. I think she's onto something.
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