Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Labels and self-advocacy

This was cross-posted on The Asexual Agenda.

I'm generally in favor of accepting identity labels even if they seem strange or confusing at first.  But there isn't any fundamental principle that identity labels should never be questioned.  The underlying principles are: 1) People using the identity label for themselves have thought about it much more, and have likely already considered whatever "concerns" I might think of in the first minute, 2) Repetitive questioning of people's identities causes more discomfort than light.

Both of these principles rely on the existence of people who actually use the identity label for themselves.  If someone creates a new identity label, and does not use it for themselves, the label is fair game for criticism as far as I'm concerned.  That's the problem with this graphic, created by someone on AVEN:

It's clear that the creator wanted to come up with as many romantic labels as possible.  In some cases they made up new labels by joining known prefixes with the "romantic" suffix.  Here are my comments on a few of them:1
  • "Transromantic" is problematic.  You can't really be attracted to trans* people as a general category, because all they have in common is their history of being assigned the wrong gender.  It makes about as much sense as saying you're oriented towards people who grew up in single-parent households.
  • "Neutroisromantic" isn't problematic per se, but I'm unsure that people who are romantically attracted to neutrois people would really want to be known as neutroisromantic.  Maybe they'd prefer to come up with their own term?
  • Based on the colors, the creator seems to have confused "polyromantic" for "polyamorous".2  This is the sort of mistake you'd make if you just heard the word "polyromantic", but were not familiar with anyone who identifies as such.
  • "Lithromantic" stands in contrast to the other words, because it was clearly not made up.  It refers to people who don't need their romantic feelings to be reciprocated.  It's not really the sort of term you would make up independently, since "lithro" isn't a common prefix.
I'll admit that I find the concept of "lithromantic" a bit strange, but I won't say anything negative about it because there are in fact people who identify as lithromantic.  I'd rather let lithromantics speak for themselves!  In contrast, transromantics will not speak for themselves because there aren't really people who identify as transromantic.

The key is self-advocacy.  Identity labels are not sacred, but we trust in the self-advocacy of people who choose those labels for themselves.

Usually, identity labels only become problematic when they reach beyond self-advocacy.  For example, I don't like when people use "pansexual" because they believe that "bisexual" requires accepting a gender binary.  I don't like when people use "agnostic" because they believe that "atheist" means being absolutely sure.  Not that there is any problem in general with the terms "agnostic" or "pansexual".  But when these labels are used to say something about other people, that's fair game for criticism.


1. I am not trying to slam the creator here.  It's okay for people to create imperfect things, and the graphic is just a harmless discussion-starter.

2. Polyromantic is analogous to polysexual, which means attracted to multiple genders (though not necessarily all genders).  It is not analogous to polyamory, which refers to having relationships with multiple people simultaneously.