By Annie Liu
As the co-president of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Miami Palmetto Senior High School, I have witnessed firsthand the widespread confusion that comes as a consequence of associating with a label. A nationally recognized network of student clubs, GSA’s own namesake is misleading. When students hear “gay” and “straight,” they automatically assume that the group is only for those who identify as gay or straight. In reality, the alliance welcomes all identities and works to raise awareness and erase the stereotypes around LGBTQ (another label). The club is also a safe space where everyone is viewed equally and can bring up new ideas without worrying about being discriminated against. Our name, however, serves only as an obstacle and often isolates and excludes students.
Just last week, my fellow YES Institute intern Caro was discussing why she tells people that she’s a “lesbian.” Although she would prefer to not identify with the label, it is a shortcut to expressing her orientation. For Caro, it is simply easier in daily social interactions to eliminate any misunderstandings that may arise. For her purposes, labels actually help diminish confusion. Nevertheless, calling herself a lesbian has its downside - with her label arrives the distorted idea that all lesbians are tough and “butch.” Because Caro has long hair and is not what people would perceive as overtly masculine, she deals with wayward glances and remarks from peers who simply do not believe her. Our culture’s deep-seated stereotypes get buried in the collapse of gender and orientation. Labels themselves are just words, but what people do with them can create painfully unnecessary experiences that dramatically impact a multitude of lives.
In terms of my own orientation, I have opted for no label. Often enough, I am asked the question “What is your sexual orientation?” Accustomed to these inquiries, I declare that I like people based on who they are, not what sex they were assigned at birth. Out of convenience, pansexuality is my chosen response on surveys and conditions in which there is no “other” option. The label is the closest I can get to describing my interests. Aligning with this term, however, is something I find disheartening. What can a single word really say about me? A label cannot encompass the various depths and layers of who I am and what I prefer. This label doesn’t say anything about my Chinese heritage, love of electronic music, and connection to nature. Nor does it share that I’m an avid reader and am fascinated with the human mind. I am not my label. Why let a little word distract from what I’m really about? In the end, only the investment of time will make way for an understanding of Annie Liu.