Labels and Sexuality

The heart of today’s newer generation of LGBT members beats a little differently than its predecessors. The stereotypical assumptions of queer people have started to fade as more and more of our youth choose to present themselves without trying to make a statement. This activist lifestyle seems to be losing its popularity, but there is always something to replace what we deem outdated. Instead of choosing an identity and advocating for it, the newer members of today’s community choose a more “you do you” lifestyle, rejecting labels and seeking to just be rather than be criticized or stigmatized for being categorized. No more is sexuality a structured entity containing stereotypes, but a continuum consisting of many ways of living your life and expressing yourself.

“I don’t need language, I don’t need a

categorizing word”

In ant interview last October with Oprah, Raven Symoné received criticism, not only for not identifying as a lesbian (despite her current relationship status with her female partner), but for going so far as not labeling herself as a black woman either; even Oprah was a little off put by the latter. After giving an ambiguous answer to Oprah’s question pertaining to what sexuality Symoné identified with, Symoné also went on to say that she didn’t need words or language to specify what she felt or who she chose to be. She firmly stated that she did not want to be labeled gay or black, but to be labeled as human, as an American, as an unlabeled person who can connect with anyone of any culture. And she’s not the only one who feels this way; YouTube is home to countless self-made videos on the same topic. One in particular makes a very good point, saying that we naturally like to categorize and label in order to help us understand the complexities of people. Just like our feelings, our sexuality too isn’t black and white, and the pressure to choose a label can be daunting to many who just don’t feel like they need to fit into a certain type. This refusal to take on a label is becoming more popular, but isn’t necessarily new. Walt Whitman is a prime example of someone who chooses to show all the signs, yet deny anything relating himself to a certain lifestyle.

In his collection “Live Oak, With Moss”, a series of twelve poems spread throughout his third edition of “Leaves of Grass,” Whitman alludes to many intimate encounters with another person. What’s so significant though is how suggestive it is of a homosexual one. There are no specific names for this person’s role in his life (like a wife or girlfriend), only the times he refers to this person as a lover or friend. He also 220px-Walt_Whitman,_steel_engraving,_July_1854frequently addresses this person with “you,” avoiding a gender. However, there are several times when he does use a gender pronoun. In his third poem he says “…for he I love is returned and sleeping by my side,” and that seems to say a lot to John Addington Symonds, who goes on to write and question Whitman about this, the “perplexity about the doctrine of ‘manly love’” and “propagating a passionate affection between men.” Of course, Whitman replies by denying such “morbid inferences,” and just to prove he’s not not straight, he states that he has six children. Although this seems like a cover-up, I can’t say Whitman knows what he is covering up for.

Like the modern day figure, Raven Symoné, Whitman too denies certain labels without explicitly saying what he is. It seems to me that Symoné chooses to stray away from labels in order to preserve her personal life and live without criticism from the subcultures she would be categorized in. Similarly, Whitman also tries to protect his personal life, but his professional life is on the line as well. There is no denying the irony of him voluntarily exposing himself in “Leaves of Grass.” There lays a similar undertone between the two, and the thousands of LGBT members today; that undertone that speaks of being a human without having to be labeled and associated with stereotypes, nothing more nothing less.

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