In a world of progressive thinking, every ally serves as a potential soldier against the Goliaths of oppressive thought. In the world of LGBT rights, these allies often present themselves as supporters in passing conversation, observers in being politically astute, or at other times romantic entanglements. In the media, these vocal supporters of LGBT rights are often heterosexual artists who are beacons to their fan base – singers and entertainers – from Madonna to Gaga, Elizabeth Taylor to Angelina Jolie. In our personal lives, “I don’t believe in labels” takes on a more intimate meaning. Mind you, I’m leaving out the actual straight and LGBT people who actually actively work for promoting LGBT rights.
We need our allies. In the LGBT communities, we definitely need support. But, I’m gonna call “bullshit” on the phrase “I don’t believe in labels” – bullshit for the moment.
Labeling ourselves in the spectrum of sexuality feels to many like a pointless exercise in some form of a political identity. To a certain extent, this explanation seems futile in expressing “who I am”. A direct line of questioning on sexual identity seems to be prying into one’s private lives. Must we admit to what exotic trinkets and visual stimulates we have tucked under our mattresses or in our bed stand top drawers? Sounds like and invitation to ridicule. Alas, it’s the stigma which exaserbates us. Divulging our sexual exploits is off limits for most of us.
A trend in the world of sexual acceptance is to say “I don’t believe in labels.” The phrasing seems kind, thought provoking, provocative and forgiving. But take into account the recent story of Nick Gruber, which various media outlets touted as Calvin Klein’s “Boytoy”. Gruber (22) already starred in several gay pornos before latching onto Klein (68). Their on again, off again relationship has been splashed in various magazines and blog ether. You can read about some of Gruber’s personal thoughts in this NYMag story and a more critical analysis in NewNowNext. Besides the considerable age difference, one questions what the younger Gruber can really offer the more mature Klein. One would wonder too, besides money, riches and a life of worldly comforts, what could Klein offer Gruber? It’s in the NYMag article, Gruber makes an attempt to define who he is… “I’m not gay, but I don’t believe in labels, I believe in love.”
I find this world of “labels” and what those “labels” mean to be in a world of conveniences.
But before I analyze those “conveniences”, let’s take a quick look at Gruber. Nick Gruber has been featured in various gay porn websites that advertise their male on male action as straight men having gay sex (here’s some images.. be warned). He has been linked to well-Hollywood connected John Luciano, nephew of famed mobster Lucky Luciano, besides other male lovers. Calvin Klein has been married twice. Once to Jayne Centre Klein from 1965 to 1974 and then a second marriage to Kelly Rector from 1986 to 2006. Klein revealed his bisexuality in a 2008 Vanity Fair article explaining he “experienced sex with men, with women”.
From this vantage point, it appears as if we have a young man who is quite sure of his sexual abilities in the form of commerce and we have an aging fashionista who’s seeking his former lovelorn of youth.
For Gruber, attaching himself to the labels of “money”, “wealth” and “celebrity” offer him just that – a world of mobility. For Klein, a man who’s name is a label, he’s reached tremendous goals through his fashions and designs, and no longer required the labels of being the conservative husband. Klein has reigned over mobility, he is established.
It is that convenience of progressive ideas, that we as a collective are some spiritual “one”, that labels shouldn’t define us, that Gruber desperately is trying to hide behind for future mobility and possibilities. He’s young. He’s 20 something. He essentially is asking any future paramour, whether that be male or female, to just… accept him. Take him in.
When is a lake, not a lake? Is it when it’s a river? A sea? An ocean?
When is a shake not a shake, but rather a smoothie?
When is apartment not a house and a mobile home not a modular home?
Labels define everything we describe. A lake, a smoothie, and a modular home all have one thing in common… they aren’t riddled in the burdens of stigma. They don’t define us (though some may take me to task on modular home). We don’t feel the need to second guess these geographical formations, drinks, or places of shelter as to what they are.
We live in a country of labels. We have a census bureau which asks us our age, our race, the amount of dependents in our homes. They allocate federal funding for education, law enforcement, and aid highway projects and other national economics. We have affirmative action policies to help promote minorities in a country that has had a history of doing just the opposite. We are a nation of that prides itself on ivy league schools, top college football teams, pro athletes, Academy Nominated Films, who’s banking where, and what zip code we live in. We are a culture of status. We are, in essence, label whores.
Hip Hop music, in the 80’s, demanded social justice, shouting of the vulgar ills of the urban experience from the likes of Public Enemy and NWA. Today, the Hip Hop genre focuses more on clothing, product placements, chasing bling… before you can hashtag your sponsor, Hip Hop was announcing their arrival to those sponsors. We are more associated with labels now more than ever.
We are a country of labels.
Red state, blue state, maybe on a sunny day you live in a purple state…
So for those who say, “I don’t believe in labels”, to the issues of human sexuality, I have to ask… have you done the work? Have you really thought about what that means? We are a society of labels. Some are simple and some have a sting. Human sexuality has that sting.
Gruber and Klein are an extreme example of how hiding behind “labels” really is just an abuse of power… or the abuse to get power.
When my friends say, “I don’t believe in labels”, I first and foremost understand that to be a form of support – or rather, some form of a vague invitation. There have been others who have used this phrase with me who weren’t friends, maybe future sexual conquests, who used this phrase as a sort of invitation to keep me tantalized or obnoxiously confused.
Sure, it’s rather crude to say in light conversation, “yeah, I’m a dude who would suck a dick” or “I’m a lady who sometimes loves the company of a lady”, but isn’t there a more mature way people can communicate their respect for one another and honesty without being so damn veiled in secrecy?
The blacks hosed down in Birmingham, Alabama in the 60’s didn’t have the luxury of playing bohemian guessing games with the color of their skin. You’re black, you were in the back of the bus. You’re black, you can’t drink this water or sit in this restaurant. You’re black… you don’t belong. There was no ability to change your color to avoid discrimination and abuse.
It took me until my early 30’s to realize some of queerest queers, the loudest drag queens, the most obnoxious “fags” stomping at the parades, making the noise, “acting up” were perhaps the visual extremes, but really the champions to the cause of LGBT rights. They would not be ignored. They were not making engagement “convenient” because their lives were not convenient. They had been and have been willing to take the punch for all of those who can’t come out of the closet, who can’t admit to their romantic encounters, who can’t speak up because all they see is stigma and shame. So the next time someone professes, “I don’t believe in labels…” ask them, “exactly what do you mean by that?” Because, half the time… it’s bullshit.
To compound matters, even “straight” identity is trying to get subtle modifications in progressive thought media in allowing for some fluidity. Joe Kort, Ph.D, who is a certified sex therapist, relationship therapist and contributor to the Huffington Post wrote a recent article called “Why Some Straight Men Are Romantically or Sexually Attracted to Other Men”. Kort has all his bases covered in terms of pathology: sexual abuse, sex addiction… and my favorite simply titled “father hunger”. Something left out was, ummm, perhaps a dude might just be, well, a little gay? Shocking declaration, I know.
Now, I realize someone may say, “well jeez, I’ve been saying ‘I don’t believe in labels’ for so long that now I don’t know what I should say?” Try saying, “you know what, I’m not gay but, I get it” or “you know what, I’ve actually been with the same gender before and I didn’t die” or “I’m bisexual” or “I’m gay” or “I’m straight – but I’ve got your back”. Just a few ideas.
If you want a more open America, try opening that door yourself… my friend.
Because the vagueness, especially if there is a romantic entanglement, is a form of bullying. It’s picking the status of being sympathetic or a martyr over being honest… being real.
How can we get real change and fight for human rights if people are just… well… bullshitting each other?
“I don’t believe in labels”… well, I do.
To take things a step further, most of us aren’t even having that conversation of who we are sexually. According to computational neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire, the top five most googled forms of porn are: youth, gays, sexy mothers, breasts and cheating wives. These forms of porn are all very specific. People are specifically labeling WHAT it is they want to see. Whether it’s a naughty housewife pleasing a fraternity of men, or a fraternity of men pleasing each other, people are at least INTERESTED in all forms of sex… and all kinds of sex.
Labels… it’s something we google… we’re all about… labels.
So until that day that we aren’t label whores, there is no discrimination, and LGBT couples can get married in all 50 states… until that day, try figuring out what label best describes you… cause I already get that you’re human.
With nothing but love… Ginger.