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the trouble with labels

September 16, 2011

A few weeks ago, I declared myself a Southerner. And ever since then, I’ve been thinking about identity labels. Why do I call myself the things I do?

I spent a week in Kentucky recently, and while Kentucky is not always considered part of the South geographically, culturally it has always felt very southern to me. So I was expecting to feel like I belonged, finally. Instead, I felt as much like an alien interloper as I ever have.

Initially I thought perhaps labels are additive (not subtractive), so rather than identifying solely as a Southerner, I could say, “I’m a Southerner in addition to [other stuff]”. Except in short order that seemed slightly ridiculous: “I’m a Southerner, a Great Lakes-er, a Midwesterner, and now a Mid-Atlantean”? Why bother using geographic labels at all?

And then I thought, why use labels at all? What do I gain from using labels?

I’ve since realized that a large part of my attraction to geographic labels in this case seems to be entangled with that tendency I have to chase after people who don’t like me. But here, I am chasing after a community or a culture. A community or culture that I have no natural affinity for, but some part of me thinks, “if these people will accept me, maybe I deserve to exist, maybe my life is worthwhile.” You can see how pernicious this idea is, because if I can’t get them to accept me, I’ve defined my own life as worthless or even nonexistent.

If I have no labels, do I exist?

If no community claims me, can my life matter?

I’m trying to explore these questions, but I’m meeting with a lot of internal resistance. Even the idea of just living my life, and not paying attention to how others would define it, or even how I would define it, seems so revolutionary I can hardly wrap my brain around it.

It does seem clear, though, that there are many more parts of former identities that I need to prune away, before I can locate and perhaps co-create my inner truths.

Who am I?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathy permalink
    September 18, 2011 21:20

    I’m really excited to see where this will take you!

  2. January 6, 2012 03:54

    Very cool. Yes if you have no labels you begin to exist and create your personality independantly.

    You could call this Ontological Anarchy.

    Take the word Nothing, It means Nothing. Literately. If you think about Nothing for long enough.. you begin to have thoughts and nothing takes form. I think genuinely if you rid yourself of the labels you will find it matters only so much. While they are constraints what matters more is your experiences and other facets of your self that form the collage that makes what you would call ‘A Personality’.

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