Labels are everywhere. We use stereotyping as a cognitive shortcut, and that has proved an immensely useful survival tactic over the years. You group lump edible plants into a group, and so can avoid the poison group. There are the ‘elderly’, the ‘athletic’, the ‘ill’.
But sometimes the labels become constricting. The most common example being the common coming-of-age story set in a high school. At the start, there are all the cliques, and people don’t break outside the label that they’re given. Geeks don’t talk to jocks, seniors are separate from freshmen. And everyone seems satisfied with these descriptions of people. Pick one person from any clique, and even if they’ve never spoken to them before, there’s probably a run-down of characteristics that they can give. Geeks = smart, book-loving, Sci Fi appreciating, quiet, reclusive and weak. At least according to the stereotype. But really, they are individual people who just happen to be stuck with the label, possibly based on that one time they wore a Star Wars t-shirt and the fact they have fairly good grades. That alone is enough to give them the label.
But there’s more to them. They may have a black belt, they might be making money off an eBay account, they might spend their weekends crossing activities off their bucket list. They may have a whole different persona that their label blinds you to.
Labels are also a way people can grant themselves superiority over others. This is my problem with the nerd fighter movement. It’s nerd superiority, based purely on the fact that they call themselves nerds, and value the characteristics they attach to that. This is one of many ways privilege and oppression can be expressed. And by describing yourself in one category, you automatically are putting everyone else into another – the other or the different. It’s a polarising practice.
Over the years I’ve been given many labels by many different people. And each time, I have hated it. Once you’re called something, it feels like an image you have to live up to. Or a box that you’re not allowed to break out of.
I was a major fan of Photoshop when I was 15. I would spend hours editing images and posting them on my livejournal account. I had gigabytes of textures, bases, edits and psds. And this one hobby of mine became who I was. That and my general attitude at the time. I got told that I was an introverted computer-head for a while. At the beginning I enjoyed the way it set me apart, but as time passed, I became sick of that seeming to be my whole identity.
Recently, I’ve been given a few different titles. It seems people are so keen to give them these days, and I just want to be more than what they say. I’ve gotten them from doctors, work colleagues and even myself. I’m working very hard to change the label I gave myself as ‘broken’ and ‘unfixable’, but changing the views of others is harder.
It feels like they only way to grow past the shortcut is to remove the need for one. And the only way to do that would be to show more attributes than the brief glimpse people get – make myself more than my clothing choices, more than my feelings about myself and more than just a representation of a label to people. Basically, make it so that others can see past a few characteristics of me that they decree to be defining.
I suppose that’s why I’m so desperate to get to know myself.