I can’t keep up with today’s labels.
I’ll admit it. I used to be a label queen. Started during high school with Calvin Klein jeans and preppy IZOD alligator shirts in every imaginable pastel hue. A few Ralph Lauren Polo shirts too with that little guy riding a horse near my left nipple. They cost more, which normally draws me in (Sucker!), but they also suggested a person was too preppy. In all my adolescent confusion, I still knew I didn’t want to be called Biff behind my back. As the ‘80s came, I sought out Paul Smith, Marithé + François Girbaud, Guess and WilliWear to enhance my wardrobe along with a colourful collection of Swatch watches and boat shoes under the Zodiac brand. I couldn’t bear to walk through Target and quickly retreated if I happened to find myself in the Haggar or Dockers section of a department store. Some labels good, some labels—or the lack of all labels—bad.
Fashion evolves and I aged out of some brands. (Take a Guess...) I welcomed Hugo Boss, Claiborne, Ted Baker and, most recently, Eton to my closet. One of the big differences between then and now is I don’t have any real sense of whether a brand like Eton is truly fashionable. I like what I like and I’m still gullible enough to think a pricey tag means something. As tempting as it may be to go all Minnie Pearl and leave a price tag dangling on a did-I-just-a-drop-car-payment-on-that-shirt acquisition, I let my clothing choices present themselves. No alligators or mini Hilfiger logos anymore. No red carpet commentary as if someone wants to know. I no longer need to lead with the label.
To some extent, that goes with my sexual identity, too. I identify as gay and I assume people can ask (they never do) or figure it out (easy peasy, I’m betting). But I’m getting the sense that my chosen label has faded and, along with my age, made me passé. When I was coming out—and, ooh, doesn’t that clause make me sound even more passé— Lesbian (L) and Gay (G) were the options—one for girls, one for boys,…enough to muck up all that sugar and spice and snips and snails. Some advocated for the inclusion of Bisexual (B) while others derisively considered the big B as for semi-closet cases, persons in transition. (We’ve let that go, haven’t we?) And then came another group in transition, those identifying as Transgender (T). Add to that some slang, often slurs taken back and embraced by the LGBT “community”. Fags and faggots. Queers. Dykes. More recent slang, which I’ve blogged about being completely unnecessary: gay AF or gay as fuck and bromos. Just typing the last two gets me riled up again. For a young person to scream that he’s gay AF may feel like a proud or even challenging stance, but I find it insulting to the generations that did all the earlier work. I’d say the people at Stonewall and those who pushed for non-discrimination and AIDS progress in the ’80s would be more deserving of the “gay AF” title if the expression itself weren’t so silly. Gay is gay. Let’s step away from our mirrors and stop asking who is the gayest of them all.
But, more seriously, somewhere along the line, non-heterosexual people felt boxed in by a string of letters, even as it grew to LGBTQI. (Maybe the problem was that the alphabet cluster didn’t form a catchy acronym. Hey, Pat Sajak, I’d like to buy another vowel.) Gender and sexual identity have become more fluid and, yes, more complicated. Last night I went attended the first in a series of workshops for men about body image. The invite stated the following:
This group is open to self-identified men (trans men, cis men,
and other men), non-binary and gender-queer folks who also
identify as two-spirit, asexual, gay, bi, queer, and/or
as guys who are into guys.
It’s a different world. More to learn and more landmines, not just for people who see themselves as straight or heterosexual, but for folks like me who only had a small cluster of letters to choose from. None of the above terms are new to me, but I still have to do a quick Google on a few to figure out how each is distinct. And when I look at the invitation, I (timidly) wonder why intersex and pansexual didn’t make the cut. I know I’ve seen other terms as well, often in the comment sections online when one “gay” person is putting down another “gay” person. A label can be something one embraces to feel better about who he/she/they is/are but it can also be used as bait. Misuse it and they/he/she will pounce all over you.
For me, I’m sticking with gay. Not that I'm knocking any other term in any way. I’ve always liked the fact homosexuals stole a word meaning “happy” even if it’s often hard to align the term and the feeling. (And when we sing “Deck the Halls” and get to the line, “Don we now our gay apparel,” I find amusement in thinking of all the brands in my closet. Works every time—even if it shouldn’t—to make me smile. Voilà, instant gay!)
I spent years struggling with my identity, at first barely whispering the G-word. It’s taken decades for it to come out of my mouth in a casual manner when I’m with a group of strangers. “Gay” is what I've grown into. It's what makes me comfortable. It is the label that works for me.
Along with Hugo Boss.