In a community famed for its all-inclusivity, labeling is becoming more prevalent than ever. We see it among our well-meaning friends; we see it on dating platforms. Lesbians know their gold stars to their chapsticks, to baby dykes and stone butches; gay men know their cubs, power bottoms, tops, twinks and mascs.
Labeling within minority communities has become its own language. Pool the terms used by homosexuals, and you could end up with a glittery, and possibly thicker, version of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
There are even online guides like the legitimate diagnosis page; How to Know What Your Lesbian Label Is, on WikiHow, so lesbians can effectively categorize themselves by what feels right. For many, this isn’t a way to understand one’s self, but instead try to make sense of others, and it can be considered detrimental.
“As a gay male, I can see that within the community a lot of that [labels] stems from sexism and misogyny that comes down to the fragility of masculinity,” says Jonathon Papadopoulo, the Equity and Diversity Officer, and GLBTIQ Coordinator at Macquarie University. “The label ‘Straight-acting’ is internalised homophobia. Why do we value straight men more than men in our own community? We are determining what sexualities are important and of value to us.”
It’s important to note where those values come from, why do we choose to value one label over another? Masc or Femme? Gay, Queer or straight? Patrick Wright, the managing director of Community Action Against Homophobia, who identifies as a gay, believes that some labels have historic origins. “Historically, the shift towards a masculinization happened in the 80’s, stemming from the pressure to assimilate. Through some [labels] young, gay, feminine men (could) be made subjects of ridicule.”
Certainly for some, internal labels are about connection; and stem from the need to recognise themselves as gay or lesbian or others. For many others it’s about identification and connecting to a culture and community of people who are the same.
It’s shallow labels, however, (particularly in the online dating realm) that can create a marginalized people in an already minority population. Drag queen KimChi, from RuPaul’s Drag Race season 8, was quick to call out his own experience with this issue, with his performance of No fats, no femmes, No Asians, highlighting how labeling continues to be a means of segregation. It creates a hierarchy in a community that thinks it has escaped oppressive social norms. Those who are, ‘masc’, are worshipped and those who are, ‘femme’, are deemed inferior.
There are definitely those of us who still strive to stay realistic, despite the prevalence of labels. User Maya Huskee, for example, used her DeviantArt dictionary guide to ‘lesbian labels’ to define the term ‘femme’ with an important reminder:
“Femme: A passive, dulcet, timid little thing with long locks of hair; prissy dresses; great big fawn eyes; a high, baby-doll voice; the courage of a lamb and the intelligence of a gardenia. But we’re all human, so don’t expect that stereotype of finding every femme to be submissive, faint-hearted little fairies. Plenty of femmes kick butt and are even the dominant over their butch partners.”
We thought it didn’t need to be said so bluntly, but we’re glad Huskee did. We really don’t know anyone, until we know them. Celebrating similarities is what should be put first. We already know we are different, after all.