SIB will be posting musings, advice, and her thoughts here on a weekly basis. Be warned, this IS a sex column and although there won’t be any steamy visuals (it’s not porn, ya know?) the text WILL be NSFW.
Labels. Many people believe that there are important social constructs that are supported by our ability to classify someone. For example, referencing someone as a liberal or conservative conveys a lot of information about that person’s point of view and can give us context for some decisions or choices that person may make. However, there is something to be said of the sociology of labeling theory. Many people use labels to help develop a sense of self. However, society often uses deviant labels to suppress or control “undesirable” behaviors. This is highly prevalent when discussing sexuality in the US. Many people who are labeled with these deviant roles experience a social stigma from others and also many times may struggle to be accepted by others. Of course, what some communities label as deviant may be the norm in other communities. That is an important distinction. It isn’t that the people engaging in the “undesired” behavior are inherently wrong, but rather their actions do not conform to the social norms that the society has collectively accepted. I am not a Sociology expert, but I think bringing up this topic is important to start a discussion. How does our sexual identity impact our role in the greater society?
This is one of the reasons I was so excited when Gutter approached me to write about sex and sexuality here. The more we open conversations about these sexual behaviors and identities, the more people will understand about them. It is only through understanding and demystifying the actions that they will be seen as simply different rather than deviant. Since many times labels are social constructs and can be fluid, it is inherently odd to use sexuality as a label. For example, there is not more than one group of females (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc.); instead, they are one gender – female. The label is pointed at the behaviors, not the person.
Society wants to stress the label to show these people as outsiders who must be forced to conform to the social norms. One of the dangerous results of this has been creation of laws which diminish the role of the people who identify with these categories and engage in these behaviors. Also, sometimes, reaction to people who will not conform can become violent, which exasperates the issues. These unfortunate consequences force many people to live their lives in silence and not be able to declare their sexual identities publicly. “Coming Out” can affect income, friendships, jobs, etc. and many people are afraid of the backlash that embracing their sexuality may have on their lives. But should our sexuality be public? Why do rights or laws distinguish people on such a delicate subject that most of society isn’t even willing to have an honest discussion about?
On the positive side, many groups have embraced the labels and taken ownership of the categories to publicly show that there is no stigma that should be attached to their sexuality. They are not deviants. They are the same teachers, lawyers, police officers, administrative assistants, CEOs, military officers, etc. that you encounter every day. Because of this movement and willingness of people to open up and take a stand, we are seeing changes in our society. In some of our states, marriages are now legal for same-sex couples. The military has repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We have many positive and high profile people who are “Out and Proud.” But we still have a lot of work to do. We need to continue this conversation and take sexuality out of the stigma status. And hopefully, someday, I won’t have to wear a mask on my Twitter feed and I can face the world without fear that my job would be in jeopardy.