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Labels: freeing or limiting?

Recently, talking to a friend about how many people in the BDSM community feel being a dom/sub/etc is part of their identity and not simply a practice, this idea crossed my mind. In my experience as someone who’s never fit the norm, labels have always been freeing.

Knowing I was autistic liberated me from the expectation that loud noises shouldn’t make me curl up in pain (and wear earphones and other muffling devices to counteract this crazy loud world cities are). Autism became a safe space, where who I was (the one in class always drawing because it was so hard to focus on a lesson that was meandering from the point and so fucking slow, the one who’d trip over thin air, the one who had no friends growing up) was okay. Where who I was okay. I don’t even think this is a matter of being different in some way, no one really fits into their family’s and society’s expectations well enough that they don’t have doubts about their own worth from it.

So knowing that there was a standard by which I passed? Damn, that was a relief. At the same time, it became easier to ask for accommodations, because I was entitled by my label to the consideration I’d always needed (but no one had even told me was on the menu, because of course it hadn’t been, the menu was neurotypical).

It also meant I could just stay home with my books forever, that I didn’t have to confront my fears and try new sports or activities. Or people. So the label that was such a comfortable home was also a very overbearing mother who didn’t think I could handle anything else in the world but staying exactly who I was forever.

And it wasn’t true. Labels are limits, but they aren’t unmovable limits. I tried new sports and dancing and I love them to bits, even if sometimes I wear earphones during class or just watch because dance spaces with music are particularly terrible if you have got an auditory processing disorder. But enjoying those spaces that aren’t accessible by virtue of watching bodies instead of listening to words is also a new way I can be myself—I have never been just words (as difficult as it might be to believe when you have only ever known me with punctuation).

‘Queer’ is another one for me, encompassing my neuroatypical oddities, my immigrant status, dysfunctional family dynamics and, of course, my sexuality and gender identities. I love the word to bits, because for me it means ‘Of course I’m weird, I’m one of a kind, to be authentic means you cannot fit me into any of those boxes of yours’.

But I’ll be real with you, ‘Queer’ also allowed me to push away all my doubts into the jumble of endless possibilities. My mixed feelings for men, my disconnection from my own body, my rejection of femininity wholesale (because it’d been imposed on me from an early age and anything to do with it obviously could lead right back to the cage of patriarchal oppression.

In my books, one of the characters has a similar attitude, rejecting everything associated with their omeganess because they are afraid of getting trapped and only being allowed certain things. Their bodies have other ideas, though, their desire and their biology make other demands. And it wasn’t until Cracking Ice that I feel I cracked the code for the issue and realised that renouncing everything outside the box of a label you have chosen is just as limiting as renouncing everything inside.

Freedom is not in a word (or words) that can never change. Some labels I’ll probably keep forever (don’t see myself renouncing the land of my birth, for example), but true freedom, I believe, resides in knowing I exist beyond them all and I’ll use them when needed and let became less important or irrelevant… or even be replaced if needed. Because my journey into knowing myself is far from over and no matter what name I’m known by or what identity I claim today, the only constant is that I’m expanding.

What are some labels that have served you? Even saved you? Do you feel safe stepping past them if you feel like it? Do you need to defend this safe space from people around you?

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