Let's Talk Identity Labels

Updated on January 18, 2018
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Tracy is a lesbian mom of 5 children and has been writing since the tender age of 7. She works from home and publishes an LGBT-focused zine.

Where Do You Stand With Labels?

Since coming out into the LGBT world, I have learned quite a bit about labels; some people embrace them and find them completely necessary to their existence, and other folks are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum and despise the use of labels. Some people even find them useless and limiting. I tend to be somewhere in the middle on label usage and prefer to only use labels for the sake of clarity when educating on the topic or explaining myself to others.

To quell the curiosity of those who have been brave enough to ask me questions, I’ve used labels for myself to try to define where I fit into this vast array of identities, or lack thereof anymore. I personally find that labels are quite confusing these days, as there are now so many, and everyone interprets them differently. I believe they’re all as unique as the individual claiming them.

There's a Difference

Gender and sexuality are two completely different things, both necessitating separate sets of labels, and don’t assume gender and sexuality go hand in hand. There are also relationship labels that would define what type of relationship someone prefers. Last, but not least, there are even more in-depth labels that help to add more clarity as to what type of sexual identity someone prefers.

Let's Get This Straight

A gender identity would be the way an individual defines how they view themselves, their mind/body connection, and it has absolutely nothing to do with who they choose to share their life with. There are numerous ways someone can choose to define their gender, and some prefer not to define it at all - in essence, they just are and prefer not to limit themselves to any label. Common gender labels would be:

  • Male
  • Female
  • Transgender - Transitioned from male to female “MTF” or female to male “FTM” with or without sexual reassignment surgery.
  • Cisgender/biogender/biological - These three are the same, meaning gender assigned at birth or that they identify with the genitalia they were born with.
  • Nonbinary or agender - These generally are the same, and mean the person doesn’t claim a gender or doesn’t identify with either.
  • Bigender - Identifies with both male and female genders.

The list goes on and more labels are added as more people begin to comfortably identify with their inner selves.

Sexual identity, like I said before, is separate from gender identity. Sexual identity is how someone would define who they are attracted to or prefers to share their life with, and is not to be confused with what kind of relationship they would choose. These labels are vast and can be interpreted differently depending on who you’re asking, but common sexual identity labels are:

  • Heterosexual - Male and Female
  • Lesbian - Female to female.
  • Bisexual - Interested in both male and female or also their gender and another gender, usually only 2 genders, hence “bi”.
  • Transsexual - This one has some gray area, but is usually defined as a MTF or FTM who is attracted to an opposite or same sex partner, or it could also be any gender that is attracted to someone who is transgender.
  • Demisexual - Someone who needs a strong emotional bond with someone of any gender before it can become intimate.
  • Asexual - Not interested in sexual intimacy.

There are different labels for the types of relationships and these are not limited to any gender or sexual identity. Some common relationship labels are:

  • Monogamous - One person sharing their life with only one partner exclusively.
  • Open - An exclusive couple sharing intimacy with another person randomly, usually just for pleasure, but not having a relationship with that extra person.
  • Polyamorous - Multiple people sharing a relationship together or separately, all informed, comfortable, and willing participants. In polyamory, some can share intimacy with all or only one or two. The level of interaction among participants is varied and contingent on who is comfortable with what. A monogamous person can be in a relationship with a polyamorous person where the monogamous person is only with one person while the polyamorous person might be with several other people.
  • Lesbian - A female in a relationship with another female, can identify also as gay or queer.
  • Gay - A male in a relationship with another male; however, they can also identify as queer, and gay is not only limited to males.
  • Polygamous - Usually one male married to several females, or vice versa, although the latter is not as common. In polygamy, the females usually are not intimate with each other in this setting; however; there are no “rules” per se and they do whatever they want to do.

Yet again, the list of labels and variety of relationships can go on and on.

Labels also can be a bit more in-depth and can include what kind of person someone is, coordinating with their gender and/or sexual identities. I will limit this to just lesbian-coordinating labels because I could write an entire book on just labels, but you’ll hopefully get the idea:

  • Femme - Feminine.
  • Butch/stud - Similar in that they are like a tomboy or masculine.
  • Chapstick - Feminine, but not into all the makeup, fashion, hair styling, getting their nails done, etc.
  • Lipstick - Definitely all girlie girl.
  • Androgynous - Not identifying as either feminine or masculine and not being bound to either, more fluid in their attire and appearance.
  • Dyke - More masculine.
  • Bull dyke - Very masculine and this tends to always be a derogatory label.
  • Gold star - Has not been exclusively intimate with women, and this one is not just limited to lesbians.

Again, this list is limited and can go on and on. Some of these labels are very offensive depending on who you ask.

In any case, if you must know or would like to understand, it is always best to just ask if you are comfortable enough with a person to get on that kind of personal level with them. A lot of people find there is really no need for a label and they just do whatever they are comfortable with and do not feel the need to explain or define it.

Let Me Explain

Just for the sake of clarity on the topic, I’ll go ahead and label myself as a cisgender female (born with female genitalia and assigned a female identity at birth). I have always identified as female and am comfortable in this identity. I am a lesbian in that I am attracted to only females. I am in a monogamous lesbian relationship with another cisgender female lesbian. I would be considered a femme lesbian in that I look, dress, and act like a female 99% of the time. I use and prefer feminine pronouns, she/her. I wear makeup, fix my hair, am comfortable in a dress and heels, etc. “Typical” female if you must. Most people are not aware that I am gay unless they ask me or see me out with my partner. I take on the mother role in my relationship that includes children, and my children refer to me as “mom.” I tend to be somewhat submissive, but this isn’t because of my identity; it is simply my personality. My partner is more dominant, so it works. I have mostly feminine hobbies; however, my hobbies aren’t limited to just feminine hobbies.

My partner identifies as a stud. I would label her as a femme stud, but if you were to as her, she wouldn’t identify as femme at all. I believe I am the only one who truly sees all of her femininity in the privacy of our home. She dresses in male or androgynous clothing 85% of the time. She wears scrubs for work that are designed for females and show off her feminine features, although she does not wear the “feminine” colors and prefers blue, black, grey, or red. Her hair cut is not feminine. She does not wear makeup or feminine jewelry. I don’t think I’ll ever see her in a dress or heels, although she has begrudgingly had to wear them to appease her family during gatherings or events. Her hobbies and interests are also masculine for the most part, but a lot of mine are too, so I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is limited to only masculine identities anymore. She responds to both male or female pronouns, although does clarify that she is female, mostly at work. It is for this reason I would label her as a femme stud. She has no desire to transition to a male. She is dominant for the most part, and treats me like a lady. She is protective of other femmes and also opens doors, pulls out chairs, makes sure they get their plate first, etc. I think the best label for her demeanor would be a gentleman.

Identity Labels Are Unique to Every Individual

As you probably have discovered, the world of labels is vast and rather complex. At best they are confusing and can be interpreted differently in different situations by different people. It is for this reason I believe a lot of people avoid them all together, but if you know the basics perhaps it can lead to a deeper understanding once you truly get to know the person behind all the labels. Maybe one day we won’t even need labels because there will be no need to explain, but for now I find them helpful, at least in an educational sense.

© 2018 Tracy Sheppard

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