Sunday, August 21, 2016

Labels Are For Jars

I just came across this and it made me stop short:

"(We have a) fundamental human need to categorize everything. To compare and fit things into their boxes so that we understand them better."

Whenever I see the phrase "fundamental human need", it activates a hand brake in my skull. Not quite as strong as "it goes without saying", but...strong. Because most of the time what follows that phrase is NOT a fundamental human need, but something strongly perceived as a need by the speaker.

There are times I feel like a label helps promote understanding, and I'll latch on to it. And then I'll invariably discover that (a) there are varying definitions of that label; (b) many people seem to value their definition over all others, and you (c), that just grates on me.

Take that 'demisexual' label I adopted last year. It describes me well, in many ways; need some level of emotional attachment for sexual attraction to occur; fantasies about celebrities are just...weird to me. 
But most of the demis I have interacted with are not like me at all in one critical way that they use to define their demisexuality. It takes them months, sometimes years, to build enough love for lust to exist.  

Not me. Sometimes it takes longer, but it can happen in a matter of hours if I 'click'. AND I'VE ALWAYS KNOWN THIS. It happened with Eva and it happened again this year. 

Discovering this disconnect between myself and other demisexuals would have bothered me as recently as three years ago, when I was more hung up on labels. Now I don't care so much.

I'm reminded of one of my best friends, who is gay. Now, he is undoubtedly gay: he has many female friends he loves dearly, but the thought of sex with a female utterly repulses him. He once referred to a vagina, and I'm sorry but this is too gross not to share, as "a canned ham dropped from a great height".  It turns out this originates with gay icon Dan Savage; I should have known.

At any rate, my friend moved to San Diego years back to be somewhere more welcoming. He was thinking he would blossom there. He eventually did. But not before he discovered that he didn't fit the community definition of 'gay' at all. 
As Jay described it, to be 'gay' in San Diego in the early 90s meant you slept around. You had orgies. The line between 'friend' and 'lover' was so blurred as to be nonexistent.

This didn't fit Jay's conception of 'gay' at all. He was and is a one-man man. And he was actually ridiculed and even ostracized for this, early on. 

Can you imagine that? Can you? To yearn all your adult life to be somewhere you can be accepted for who you finally get there...and to be rejected for who you are instead? It depressed the hell out of him. I seemed to be his only emotional outlet for a couple of years, which was distressing me to no end: we were four thousand kilometers apart. 

It had me wishing I was gay for a bit. No, I'm not making that up. I wrote that in this blog's predecessor, a vivid purplish-pink notebook I called "Past, Present, Fuschia". Had I felt the slightest bit of sexual attraction to him, there's not a whole lot I wouldn't have done for the man. Still isn't, for that matter. I didn't, though, and he did eventually find a man to marry. They're still together.

You start down this road of questioning labels, there's no telling where it will take you. Just recently I felt the first twinge of sexual attraction I've ever felt for a man in my life. Just a twinge, mind you, I'm not lusting after the guy. (And here I am qualifying that right away as if there'd be something wrong if I did lust after him...) There's no doubt I'm straight by my own definition, but for many people, males in particular, admitting what I just admitted is tantamount to copulating in a Pride parade.

Fuck 'em...pun definitely intended. There are spectra; people are complicated. Very few people are entirely one thing or another, and the need to shove people into little boxes is tremendously limiting. I felt this twinge of attraction, processed it, said to myself hmm, that's interesting, and got on with my life. 

Some people would question if I was even poly. And by their definitions they'd have a point. 

I'm forever railing against the way "polyamory" is coming to mean any form of ethical non-monogamy, from swinging to fuck-buddies to anything else that doesn't have love in it. It's a losing battle: I don't have control over how anyone but me uses any word at all. It bothers me, though, because now when I say I'm poly, I have to hurriedly define it not just for monogamous people, but for other people who use the term completely differently.

Now there's a new label in town: relationship anarchy (RA). As I've said before, I hate the term, because in my mind and many other minds, anarchy means chaos. But RAs use the word simply to denote their rejection of rules-based relationships. The idea here is that no distinction is made between friendships and sexual relationships; each individual relationship is cherished on its own time and terms and none is elevated over any other. It's the ultimate rejection of labels. 

And it appeals.  Much of it applies to the way I actually live, now. But try explaining it. And if you think polyamory is open to abuse (the cheater who says "but I'm poly! I love you both!" ought to be hung by his genitals)...RA is much more so. It's not about selfishness and doing whatever you want, whenever you want to -- its manifesto explicitly states "love and respect instead of entitlement" -- but it certainly looks that way to people who haven't even been exposed to polyamory...and I really hesitate to brand myself with a label which is that easily misunderstood. 

My poly has one rule, a very few boundaries, and a couple of overarching guidelines--"the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship" (which is an RA principle if ever I heard one) and Wheaton's Law -- "don't be a dick". I think that rules can easily take the place trust should occupy, and that is often destructive to a relationship. Rules also try to force a relationship into little boxes -- I can't type that without hearing Pete Seeger in my head -- and that's not a good thing. It denies growth. 

The other thing that make me shout "NO" in my head was "to we understand them better"

"This is not that" is maybe the first step towards understanding, but it's a baby step. I have found it's much more instructive, not to mention productive, to free your mind of comparison entirely to really grok a thing and especially a person. To really get inside someone's head, you need to be out of everyone else's and especially your own.

Labels are for jars. And comparison is for shoppers.

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