For most of my life, I’ve struggled with labels. I’ve had a hard time finding the right ones to capture my messy and fluid feelings and experiences. The only labels I’ve managed to stick with are the expansive ones, like queer, that operate as umbrella terms and can have a variety of meanings—giving me room to exist, to breathe. I’ve had a difficult time getting more specific than that. I might find a label that works for a little while but wears out or fails to capture all of me.
However, I’ve started to have an easier time with labels since changing my approach to them. I’ve moved away from viewing my identity as being solely about me as an individual. I’ve stopped requiring labels to capture all of the experiences, feelings, and ideas I have about myself. Instead of trying to use labels to sum up who I am, I’ve started to see them as terms for the communities I feel connected to.
This is how I’ve become more comfortable with using labels that seem to contradict. For example, I identify as sapphic but not as a woman. I’m sapphic because of the connection I feel to the sapphic community. I resonate with the issues, jokes, and experiences other sapphics share. Identifying as sapphic doesn’t mean that I also have to identify as a woman. Instead, it means I have a meaningful relationship with that community.
Labels, I’ve decided, are less about trying to sum myself up, less about trying to capture every nuance with a single word, and more about communicating which communities I am in or feel drawn to. I don’t necessarily have to be an active member of a community for a label to fit, but there has to be some connection there. Labels aren’t just about me, they also describe who I am in relation to other people. I can have multiple labels, and some of these labels can seemingly contradict, because I can be a part of multiple communities. I can be queer and non-binary and sapphic and gay and bisexual. I can drop some labels at times and pick up others. I can explore myself and the communities I feel at home in. These explorations, these labels, can be messy, imperfect, and fluid—just like my orientations, just like me.