Friday, June 23, 2017

Labels and Identity: coming out

Image may contain: 1 person, standingI've been thinking about labels lately. Labels can be harmful when people apply them to others without their consent, like insults. Labels that people use to use for themselves are a different matter. Some labels we choose and some we simply discover and then can choose whether or not to use publicly. Sometimes, they can be really helpful as tools to help explain our identity. A psychologist once told me that I shouldn't want a diagnostic label for the symptoms I was experiencing because people would judge me for it. She was wrong. I need to know how to identify what's going on with my mind and my well-being so I can know how to manage my mental health. It's just as important as knowing what's going on with my physical health. Getting the diagnosis of anxiety was so helpful, and though I did not choose to have anxiety, I definitely want the label. Anxiety is a thing I have, so I definitely want to know about it. I choose to tell people about it because I think it helps those I care about understand me and it can help destigmatize mental illness when I talk about it.  

Aside from "person with anxiety", I use several other labels for myself, most of which I've been pretty open about. Right now, my Facebook profile introduces me as a "Geeky Mormon feminist [who] Likes books, movies, animals, travel, cosplay, comics, language, art & more." Some of these labels are things I've known about and used basically my entire life, like Mormon, and most others have to do with interests I've had for years.

I didn't come pre-programmed with all the labels I use now. For instance, I haven't always considered myself a feminist (see this link for what that label means to me) and I adopted the label of geek sometime during college, I think. Some labels might be temporary, like "missionary" was for me (thankfully!). The year and a half when Missionary was the primary aspect of my identity was an intense time, to say the least. Transitioning back to seeing myself as a student (and everything else that had been suppressed while I was on my mission) was tricky. I still gladly use the label of Mormon, but it's been a relief to feel more like myself since I got home in 2013. 

Image may contain: 2 people, people smilingThe most recent label I've realized applies to me is bisexual. Like the label of woman or anxiety, this is not a label I chose. Like the label of anxiety, I feel that since it applies to me, I'd rather know about it than not. Also like Anxiety, I haven't known about it forever. In fact, I've only started thinking of myself using the label within the last year. Still, it helps me know myself a bit better. I've debated about making it a label I use publicly for a variety of reasons, which I might delve into further in a later post. For now, though, it's important to note that bisexual means that I'm attracted to people of my own gender and to people not of my gender. People who know me know that I'm in a monogamous relationship with someone not of my gender. Jacob and I have been married for just over two years now and I hope our relationship lasts to infinity and beyond. Having Jacob's support and acceptance in being myself is hugely important.

The point of this post is primarily to be a bit more open about my identity. Also, like with my anxiety, it's been helpful to find other people who have dealt with similar situations. When I was looking for information on what it's like to be Mormon and bisexual it was a bit hard to find many things that were already written. There was a lot more from gay or lesbian Mormons, which was also awesome, but not much that spoke exactly to my experience. Here is a list of resources that have been useful. I've found a Facebook group that made me feel not so alone, but when I was first looking, it was difficult. So in addition to being able to talk about who I am without worrying that I'm going to say something to out myself as bi to someone who doesn't know yet, I also felt compelled to write something that might be helpful to others in the future.

In conclusion, labels can be complicated, because people are complicated. None of us can be reduced to a single label or box. That's why I use a set of labels to express my identity. Other people will choose different methods of self-expression, and that's great, but this is my way. It's important to respect how people choose to identify themselves, as I think I've tried to emphasize in previous posts. At any rate, this post is already fairly long, so I'll finish it here.