What is the difference between a label and a keyword?
Recently, I spoke with some other trans women about the pros and cons of labels. I was saying that labels can be a very powerful force for personal identification: by labeling myself, and choosing what labels to apply and how, I can forge my own identity out of its many disparate parts. I choose the labels ‘woman,’ ‘trans,’ ‘Chicagoan,’ ‘Jewish,’ ‘geek,’ and so on, and I get to decide what those labels mean for me.
Another woman in the group countered, “But what about when someone else places a label on you?” She said part of her problem identifying as ‘trans’ is all of the negative baggage associated with the word. Her feelings of discomfort were exacerbated by a generational gap: I was probably half her age, and the labels ‘trans’ and ‘queer’ meant very different things to her than they do for me.
Our different ideas of the emotional weight of those labels got me thinking about the semantics of the word label, and what other words might better describe how we create our identities.