The LGBTQ+ community has evolved dramatically over decades and generations, which has ultimately led to bouts of misunderstanding even among those who have identified with the acronym for a long period of time. 

It’s inherent for us to feel the need to describe ourselves with a specific identity. Our brain resorts to using labels to describe anything, which was described in one instance as a “mental shortcut” for folks. An article from The Jury Expert cites the dynamic nature of LGBTQ+ identities though, which in turn may create more confusion for the majority who are looking to include everyone. 

“For instance, the term ‘queer’ was once considered a derogatory term but now, in appropriate contexts, that term can be used to describe a romantic or sexual orientation that fluctuates or is difficult to characterize,” the Jury Expert article reads.

But with this, it seems folks may feel pressured to find a label for themselves sooner than they may be comfortable because of these norms. Does it really matter though?

As a matter of personal preference, identities among the LGBTQ+ spectrum are oftentimes used by folks in the community but may not always be the most comfortable route for others. There are even some who went as far as to create a whole new acronym to broaden the field of identity, for them to essentially “fit in.” 

Some argue the greater LGBTQ+/MOGAI communities are cohesive to the community’s goal of equity and all-inclusiveness. However, others believe it does more harm than good.

In some cases, having an identity – or label – may be comforting to have a title to lean back on. Oftentimes in coming out stories we cover here on Come (Out) as You Are, young queers openly noted they were not aware of a term to describe how they felt as a child and subsequently felt relief after realizing they were not the only ones feeling such a way.

In an LGBT Equality Alliance article, Audrey Pitcher said labels allow an “easy way to connect with other people who share our experiences.

“They allow us to find communities and resources specific to us, and make us feel like our identities are valid.”

Furthermore, some people are content to know what they are and what they feel, and view labels as something more for others’ benefit than their own, the article notes.

Other folks may use their identity to find others in the community who may have shared experiences. They help us find the people we may connect to most. However, with such diverse interpretations of labels in the community, online arguments have risen on several occasions about their importance or if they should be used at all.

In a 2019 study conducted by University of Connecticut assistant professor of human development and family studies Ryan Watson, it was found that many LGBTQ teens tend to identify themselves with emerging labels driven by that same generation. 

“We’re already missing who we know exists out there, and this study has shown us that it is not enough today to just ask about these traditional labels – lesbian, gay, bisexual,” Watson said. “Instead, there’s thousands – and if you extrapolate from this study, hundreds of thousands – of teenagers who identify with new identity labels that people don’t even know what they mean; they have never heard of them before.

“We don’t want to miss them. We want to make sure we capture what these youth want to be called; the identities they actually are identifying with. We think that’s pretty important.”

During this Q&A session, Watson emphasized the necessary efforts to understand patterns and trends of gender and sexual identities among teens and kids growing up in the U.S. using social media, which can essentially put adults out of the loop.

“One of the biggest problems I see is that young people – and adults – who are LGBTQ are not being recognized and counted,” Watson said. “If we don’t know that this population exists and we don’t count them, they’re not included in our efforts.”

The Evolve Treatment article notes both sides of the whole “using identities” argument as, on one hand, as encouraging community growth and self-expression, and, on the other, exclusionary. For the latter, there have been instances where some folks in the community may think one can identify with a label only if they had met certain criteria, such as sleeping with someone of the same sex, having multiple partners, etc.

The Evolve Treatment article compares this idea to longtime fans of a movie series dismissing a newer fan because they weren’t active in earlier times. 

This She article lists other common issues with labeling oneself, one being that it’s limiting a person’s growth, that life is determined by – and subsequently lived to fulfill – a specific identity. 

“When you put a label on yourself, it can limit how you view yourself. It’s common among a community of people for individuals to copy what other members of the group are doing. Thus, labeling yourself can often lead to blind conformity or putting pressure on yourself when influenced by a group,” the article says. “It’s important to remember that labels shouldn’t dictate our identities, rather we dictate the label and what that means for us individually.”

In addition to this, the She article mentions that identifying with something on the LGBTQ spectrum comes oftentimes pervasive and rather intrusive questions about one’s romantic life, especially among straight-presenting couples. In which case leads to folks in the community feeling as though they have to explain themselves to others.

The Evolve Treatment article also notes labeling being harmful if they’re forced upon someone who may not want them.

“Being labeled by other people, even if the label fits, takes away teens’ right to say for themselves how they understand their gender and sexual identities when they’re ready to say it,” the article reads.

“A good approach to navigating the long list of LGBTQ labels is to familiarize yourself with them and encourage kids to take all the time they need to decide whether and how they want to label themselves.”

And among those who choose not to identify themselves with a specific label or set of identities are equally as valid. While some just don’t feel the need to, others may feel as though their identity is so fluid and “nebulous” to find an all-encompassing term.

If someone chooses to label themselves within the LGBTQ community, it cannot be of another’s concern. It is one’s own (or lack thereof), and only theirs. The community is constantly evolving and people shift in experiencing new parts of themselves. 

Label yourself, or don’t. Change your label, or don’t. 

Shifting Experience says it pretty well: “Sexuality isn’t always straightforward. Everyone takes different time to become more self-aware and discover who they are. No one should feel like they have to decide.”

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