Monday, August 6, 2007

why labels are pointless

I have often wondered about the need to label people. Is it human nature to group people in categories to better understand them? For example, I can be labeled as a Latina, Mexican, Chicana, Mexican American, Hispanic, etc. But none of those labels define me. I am much more than all of those labels suggest.

I didn’t realize this until this weekend, but I had given my hairstylist a label. I labeled him as gay. A lot of my friends can be labeled as such even though I know they are much more than just gay. However, Gary really tested me.

For as long as I’ve known Gary, he’s preferred the company of men. When he first started doing my hair, he was a hardcore party guy, going out every other day, meeting new people left and right. Gary was the life of the party everywhere he went and guys were attracted to him like moths to a flame. Obviously, he relished the attention.

Gary and I have known each other for over 4 years now and he’s grown up a lot in that time. He doesn’t go out nearly as often as before. He saves his money, although he does make the occasional extravagant Prada purchase. But he’s calmed down a lot both personally and romantically. He’s tried to stay away from unhealthy relationships and he is making better choices in his life. I’m proud of him for his turn-around.

I was sitting in his chair while he trimmed my hair this weekend. I had just finished updating him on what was going on in my life. Because I was over talking about my drama, I asked Gary to let me know what was up with him. He said, “I’m dating someone. Someone different.” I asked, “Really? How so?” Gary said, “Well, I’m seeing a girl.” My jaw dropped. Incredulous, I asked, “You are? Seriously?” Gary replied with a chuckle, “Yeah, I am. I’m growing up and looking to settle down. I’m not getting any younger.” Now would be a good time to tell you that Gary is my age. Still shocked, I asked him, “How?” What I really wanted to ask was “How is this possible?” Gary replied, “Well, I knew that she was into me. I’ve known her forever. And the other day, we took it to the next level.” Hmmm…I had trouble processing this information. How could a life-long gay man just flip a switch and not be gay?

After confirming that alcohol had nothing to do with this hook-up, I asked him, “How serious is this?” He answered, “We’re taking it one day at a time.” I still wasn’t getting it but I wanted to understand. So the 20 questions continued. “Ok,” I said, “What if another opportunity presented itself, one that was too good to pass up, would you take it regardless of whether the opportunity is a man or a woman?” Gary replied, “Yup, it doesn’t matter.”

Gary then proceeded to reiterate the sentiment that he is getting older and feels a need to settle down. He wants to get married some day and maybe have children. I started to get the impression that he was with this girl because of these societal pressures, both of which are not easily granted to gay men. Perhaps he wanted to take the easy way out.

Finally, I spoke my mind. I uttered the words that I had been thinking the whole time he was telling me his story. I said, “But you’re gay!” With a maturity that I clearly had not yet attained, Gary answered, “I’m not ‘gay.’ And I’m not ‘straight.’ Why can’t I just be me? I’m just being Gary.”

I sat in his chair and nodded my head. He was right. For some reason, I felt the need to put Gary in a box labeled ‘Gay.’ Gary has the right to be with whomever he wants to be with and I am certainly not in a place to judge. Besides, he’s my friend. I accept him as who he is, whether this is a phase or not.

After a moment of contemplative silence, Gary stopped and looked at me in the mirror intensely. Then he said, “Let’s hope this doesn’t affect the way I do your hair.” We both laughed heartily, dismissing the stereotype that all good stylists are gay.

Mine just is who he is.


Madame M. said...

Very thought-provoking, definitely.

I'm really resisting the urge to say, "So is he Bi?" here, because it would show I haven't learned the labeling lesson.

Anonymous said...

wow. great post. but i still don't get what is going on with gary. sexuality is pretty much hard wired into you at birth, right? i mean, i can't imagine ever being attracted to a woman no matter how cool, smart, pretty etc i might think she is. is gary crazy i-gotta-have-you-right-now attracted to her? or is it more of an intellectual, this-is-good-for me type of a feeling? I dont get people, actually, most of the time so forgive me if this is obvious to everyone else. ~erika

sunchaser said...

I guess a lot of people do this because they can't deal with the ambiguity. Myself included at times. I have a friend who only talks about dating men and who I'd prefer to label as "gay," partly because there's always been this weird sexual tension between us.

In fact, if we we both got really drunk and were sleeping in the same room, I'm not sure what would happen!

lizzie said...

madame--i wondered that myself before i realized that it doesn't really matter. this is definitely an interesting situation.

erika--thanks for the compliment! i don't think it's obvious to anyone, even gary. i know that he's not sexually attracted to her at this time but he does not rule that out as a possibility for the future. my opinion is that this is more of an intellectual, this-is-good-for-me, THIS-IS-EXPECTED-OF-ME type of feeling. i feel that he may be denying his true self because he wants the conventional family dynamic. if this is the case, i know that he will figure it out in time and i'm ready to support him during his self-discovery. who knows what he's going to say the next time i get a hair cut?

i found it especially interesting that he never really described her to me or how the relationship feels to him. when i did ask, he repeated the whole "i'm getting older, i need to settle down" sentiment.

sunchaser--ah yes, i've definitely been there too. oh lordy, was that awkward! and the guy who was giving me this 'vibe' was dating my best gay. perhaps this is a phenomenon that is much bigger than my post suggests.