Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Boxes: Labled and Otherwise

A TED talk I watched today (Here's the link) really got me thinking about the boxes we put ourselves and others in and how we label those boxes.  

We label things out of necessity, otherwise everything we owned would be put into a giant junk drawer/closet/garage, never to be found again.  So, labels serve a purpose...for things.

Labels are good for people if, and only if, the person you are labeling identifies with the label and you may use it only if they feel positively about it.  For example, you could label me fat, but unless you want to make me cry, please don't.  Label me funny and you will be right...and if I cry it will be because I am a total sap, not because you've hurt my feelings.  

Positivity in labeling is VERY tricky in the world of disabilities.  That is a post (or seven) for another day.  All I will say here is PLEASE follow the lead of the individuals with disabilities and their advocates; always.  Words matter.  

I found it interesting when Ash spoke about how angry it made her to be asked whether she was a boy or a girl.  I wondered why she chose to dress in a way that made it ambiguous if it was such an issue.  I mean why?  If you want people to know you are a woman you should have long hair and wear pink and not camouflage, right?

I'm kidding, ...sort of.  The problem, of course, is the boxes that we put people into.  The ??? box does not work for us.  We need to name it.  We need to know.  Does a gay man go in the pink box or the blue box?  What about a woman?  What if she is straight but HATES the color pink? What if she had cancer and her hair has not grown back?  What if she is happily married, but HATES long, sweaty hair?  What if she is a lesbian but (horrors!) looks straight?  What if they are trans-gendered?!?!? Boom. Heads explode.  

And to answer my own question about how Ash dressed:  Maybe she was comfortable that way.  Maybe she wanted a fight (I can relate to that).  Or maybe, it was a little of both.  Or, maybe she just didn't feel that she had to put herself in the "girl" box.  She is a girl/woman, she is gay, she dresses in jeans and button downs and her hair is short.  Geez, that's a long label.  It doesn't fit and that bothers us.  In turn, it bothers(ed) Ash (she seems cool with it now) that it bothers others.  

This is getting to be like a movie that involves time travel.  I'm going to leave the "chicken or the egg" conundrum for another day as well.

This talk also made me pause and think about how my occasionally (okay, often) militant approach to issues might have backfired.  It is something I have been thinking about; trying to figure out a way to get my REALLY IMPORTANT POINT across without resorting to shouting, or my absolute favorite: sarcasm.

It's really, really hard.  

I don't think I realized I was doing it, or rather, realized how it sounded until I encountered some other shouty people with whom I mostly agreed.  The substance of what they were saying had merit, but the delivery system was flawed, to say the least.  


Wait, what?  No one listens when you shout at them.

They might hear you for a few seconds before it becomes BLARRRGH!  and they tune you out; maybe forever.  

So, you need to pick your battles, your forum and recognize that you are not the only one fighting.

Lastly, this talk got me thinking about my own labels.  It's funny, because when I think of labels for myself, none really come up, other than ME.  Finally, I am me, after years of trying to figure myself out.

I have short hair, which I love.  I am a mom.  I am a terrible dresser.  I have blue eyes that I think are nice. I am married to the best guy I have ever known.   I identify as being straight, but I love K.D. Lang and think Salma Hayek is hot.  What does that mean?  I means I have ears and eyes; not much more.

It's not that I don't think labels can be useful.  They can.  They can help navigate grocery aisles, or libraries, or help you find a file.  I'm just not so sure how great they are when used to identify an actual, living breathing human and not some caricature.  Labels don't tell the whole story, just a little, tiny piece of it and only the piece that your mind can perceive.  No matter how many labels you put on me, you'll never never know ME, unless you put them away.