Are Labels Necessary?
by Belinda Dronkers-Laureta on May 11th, 2016

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

August 17, 2012

Are Labels Necessary?


At a recent fundraising event we met a couple whom we hadn’t seen or had contact with for about six years. We caught up and, as parents are wont to do, we asked about our children. How are they doing, have they finished school, are they in their chosen careers, are they married? The couple’s daughter, we were told, has had relationships with both men and women and can’t make up her mind which she prefers. We asked: “Is she bisexual or questioning?” To which the couple replied: “Does it need a label?” And we said . . . Yes.

That answer requires an explanation.

If You Are On A journey Of Discovery, You May Not Need Labels

Sexual orientation ranges along a continuum. In general, adolescence is the time people learn about themselves and sexual orientation is part of that learning. While going through the learning process it probably is not necessary to put labels on what you are feeling; you feel what you feel and there is no need for you to articulate precisely where on the continuum you are. This becomes especially true when you become certain where you belong and find a community of like-minded people.

The majority of adolescents find that the gender they were assigned at birth and the corresponding expected sexual orientation are aligned. Such is the power of that expectation, that in this society for most people sexual orientation is binary: men are attracted to women, women are attracted to men. But sexual orientation is not binary at all, in fact, it has many layers of complexity that we are still learning about.

If You Are Trying to Communicate, You Probably Do Need Labels

API Family Pride’s vision is to foster the recognition and acceptance among Asian and Pacific Islander families of the sexual and gender diversity within our cultures. To accomplish this we need to communicate with a binary world and to communicate we need a common language. Here is where we need labels or, more accurately, we need definitions. Every field of knowledge develops a vocabulary to communicate more efficiently and effectively its discoveries among its members. Our task and the task of others who also work toward LGBT acceptance is more difficult. We need to communicate to those who are not members of our community and are often hostile to it.

We distribute a DVD with two documentaries one of which is called: “There Is No Name For This.” It is a common enough complaint: how do you tell your parents that you are LGBT when their primary language has no word that clearly describes who you are and the only descriptions it contains are pejorative approximations. During much of the 20th century being LGBT provoked negative and even hostile reactions. It is a sign of progress that the three most often discussed sexual orientations: hetero- homo- and bisexuality provoke less hostility than before. But they do still provoke reactions, at times violent ones, and still a plethora of other sexual orientations remain unfamiliar.

Definitions Must Be Carefully Used

We know that definitions pigeonhole people and that pigeonholing carries with it a host of presumptions. We also know that it is not possible to neatly pigeonhole each manifestation of the sexual diversity along the continuum. That may not be necessary, because our goal is to make people understand that sexual diversity is complex and not a danger to society. We believe that we need a critical mass of definitions to make that happen. Yes, that means we need labels.

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride


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