In this episode I wanted to have a look at identity. In particular the labels that we put on ourselves.
Now I know that our labels can be helpful for us to language our identity.
And I see so many folks online asking about their identities and how to define themselves. Feeling anxious, depressed, shamed or like imposters as they try to find that magical box to fit in.
The way I see it is that the language we use to define ourselves is double edged.
It can help us relate to and connect with other folks who share the same labels as us. Help us feel like part of something bigger by being in a community. While at the same time offering clarity to our individual experiences.
But our labels are also aggressively used against us. They are weaponised and used to ‘other’ us.
So today what I really wanted to explore was embracing our individual identities regardless of a label.
***A little disclaimer that I’m not saying what anyone else should do in regards to labels. I encourage you to define yourself in any way that helps you feel good.
I have had many deep thoughts and realisations as I’ve figured out my own self and wanted to share my perspective based on my own experiences. Because it’s not necessarily one that I’ve seen around a lot.
You may or may not agree with what I say and that’s ok friend.
Why do we even HAVE labels?
This is because as I said, labels have a lot of power to both help and hinder us.
When someone calls us by the right word we can feel affirmed.
And when someone uses a word we don’t align with, it can cause us harm.
This is because I think we give so much power to a label.
I think it can be easy to rely on it a little too much to affirm who we are.
When in reality, regardless of the sound we use to define ourselves, it’s not what’s actually making us who we are.
It doesn’t take the label ‘non binary’ to BE non binary. Whether it’s used or not it can still be who you are. – QUOTE
This has been an evolving realisation I’ve been having.
My journey to empowerment with and without labels
I know early on when I first came out as non binary I had a whole lot of stuff come up for me.
I felt shame at having identified as a girl/woman for so many years (even when I know it wasn’t right for me).
And I was adamant that:
- Being recognised by everyone as non binary and not a woman was going to affirm who I was.
- That having my chosen name on all my things was making me more myself
- And that only they/them pronouns meant I was valid in my identity.
But what I’ve come to realise is that all of these things that I felt would affirm me were largely beyond my control because they relied on others to fulfill my needs and validate me.
Instead of me validating myself regardless of the situation.
I was making myself powerless.
Now when I had this realisation it seriously blew my mind.
Because I hadn’t realised before, that if I believed in who I was, then that’s who I was.
It didn’t matter if someone used she/her pronouns on me because that couldn’t change me.
I’m lucky that when I changed my name I moved to a different state so everyone where I live has only ever known me as Bowie.
But I used to get anxious that the folks from up where I used to live might use my old name.
Until I realised that that’s ok too. Because that also didn’t change who I was.
I’ve lived through some pretty tough stuff and regardless of my name at the time of the experience, it didn’t change who I was.
This has been a really helpful realisation to have.
Now I’m sure I’m not the only person that has had a complex experience with labels.
They are pretty loaded with meaning when you think about it.
They can come with a lot of pressure and a lot of stereotypes too.
How do I handle being labelled?
Now I get that what I shared may be hard to hear.
We are all at different stages of learning and understanding ourselves.
And our personal approaches to the experiences we have may differ also.
It’s all good.
For myself I am now aware that I can be who I am without the need for a label.
Sure I still share that I use they/them pronouns and I use the name Bowie and I say that I’m non binary.
Because I am also those things.
And I definitely appreciate when my correct name and pronouns are used too.
It shows respect, care and some understanding towards me and my experiences.
But, I know that if I don’t get called ‘them’, I’m still myself. I’m not less of who I am because of it.
This is the point I want to make.
Regardless of the language someone uses towards you or even whether you have the right language for yourself or not.
The labels and words you decide work for you, don’t actually make you, you.
You are already perfectly yourself without them.
Learning to trust yourself and that you know who you are, even when you may not have it completely figured out gives you power.
No one can tell you who you are.
Not your family. Not your friends. Not a partner. Not the government.
Only you have that power.
How can we manage being labelled?
Now as I said, this may not be the easiest concept to embrace.
Even thinking about it may feel impossible or untrue.
But I can tell you friend that it is possible.
That’s not to say it’s easy though. It’s definitely not easy.
Because it may require you to go against things that you’ve been taught.
It might mean you need to have some tough conversations with yourself.
I know for myself that there were many times when I would be outraged that the pronouns I had asked to have used weren’t being used.
I took it personally. I argued with people.
And it was emotionally draining and just exhausting in general.
Now this is not to say that now I allow people to walk over me.
Or that I allow people to be disrespectful of myself or my community.
This is not the case at all.
It’s just that now, I don’t take their words personally.
Because their version of me isn’t me. And their version of me doesn’t change me.
Only I know the version of me that is the real me.
And I can’t force someone else to see me differently.
Understanding this is what I’ve found is important.
And it’s what helps me work in the spaces I now work, advocating for TGD rights and inclusion.
I want to highlight that it’s taken me 5 years to get to this point too.
When I first began I started by reminding myself that it was ok to be who I was and that what someone else said was a reflection on them not me.
And this is a place that you could start too.
Because regardless of what someone says, it is a reflection of them.
When we can make that distinction, it becomes easier to feel assured that we know ourselves.
Well it was for me anyway.
Again, it didn’t mean that I wasn’t hurt, especially in the beginning. But the more I practiced this affirmation when I had these experiences the less hurtful it became.
And it can also be challenging as it’s easy to get caught up in emotion when these things happen.
But even if that is the case, when you do have the capacity to think clearly again just remind yourself that what was said is not about you, it’s someone else making your identity about themselves.
Just as a side note here, because usually it’s almost always cis het folks making TGD experineces about themselves any way they can. But sometimes it’s not.
It’s also gotten this from cis queers and binary trans folks.
Which makes it even shitter to experience.
But it doesn’t make it any different.
Any time this happens regardless of the person, it’s not actually about you.
So back yourself and what you feel to be true about yourself (even if it changes later on).
Back yourself even when it’s hard, when you feel down, when you feel good and when it’s easy.
What if you can’t do this right now, for whatever reason?
Something that I have found that can happen is that when we don’t react or buy into the hurt someone is trying to cause us, they can get even meaner.
I see this happening a lot online where all the biggest toughies are hiding behind their keyboards.
This could happen to you. I know it’s happened to me.
And this might make it harder to manage yourself and where you’re at.
Especially if it’s more than one person.
If you find yourself in this situation, whether it’s online or in real life, know that you don’t have to stay in the situation.
If you’re able to remove yourself from the scenario to better manage your emotions, definitely do that.
If it’s online, don’t feed the trolls. If it’s in real life it can be tougher.
So do what you know is safe for you in those situations.
But no matter what is going on, it does not change who you are friend.
We’ve touched on a lot today.
- We’ve looked at how we use labels to define ourselves, language our identities and experiences and connect with others.
- The one step you can begin to take to help yourself when you get misgendered or someone uses your old name.
- By reminding yourself that you know who you are. And regardless of what someone else says, it can’t change you.
- Remember it’s a reflection on the person causing harm.
- And finally that you have the power to manage the situation you are in and keep yourself safe.
Just remember friends, even if you never told anyone about your identity. If you didn’t change a thing about yourself. Or did anything differently, it doesn’t change who you are..
And it doesn’t make you any less valid in whatever way you identify.
If you’re enjoying the show and know other folks that may find some benefit in having a listen, I’d be so grateful if you shared it with them or anywhere else where you think that it could help someone.
What did you think of this podcast episode?