And the sylphs twirled in the skies
Cirrus clouds drifted by
I gazed up and cried
why oh why oh why
Labels, classifications exist everywhere whether you love them or hate them. To you, the rock might just be a rock. To a scientist that rock might be an igneous rock. To you, that cloud might just be a cloud. To a scientist that cloud is cumulus. To you, that stick is a stick. To me, that stick is a wand.
That person looks like a person. That person’s skin might be black, brown, tan, etc. They might love men and women, men, or women. That person might be a woman but knows there was an error somewhere, maybe Loki’s curse, and they were meant to be a man. Maybe their sex is a man but hates being gendered. He wants to wear dresses or skirts and can still fix a car or toss a football.
“He is a cisgender heterosexual black male.” = A person whose skin is dark brown or black, whose sex is male, whose gender and presentation of male fits into society’s definition of male, and who is attracted sexually to members of the opposite sex.
The first reason this matters is clarity and precision of language. It matters because these words, classifications, and labels allow for more precise communication. It allows for dialogue. A back and forth of thoughts. One argument against taking the time to learn this language is that it’s “politically correct” and that just sounds dismissive and a waste of my time to acknowledge. If we can’t agree on terms and definitions we cannot have a meaningful dialogue.
Next, the clouds. Above every label is a cloud. Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Asexual are the most common labels of the gender and sexuality spectrum. There are a whole lot of others. Each one has a cloud above it. Each label has a cloud, and because each person contains within them multiple labels, several clouds hover above us all.
I am a 25-year-old (the millennial label applies), I am a woman, I am a lesbian, I am a Witch, I am pro-choice, I am an environmentalist, I value animal welfare. All of these things are clouds. Some clouds are huge, some clouds are small, and some clouds intersect, others drift apart. The biggest cloud is the lesbian one. Lesbians in films and televisions die frequently. Sometimes suicide, sometimes murder, but they almost always die. Due to the underrepresentation of lesbians in the media (especially lesbian women of color) when they are represented it is a significant thing. Other lesbians, some who are afraid to come out, some who are being harassed or abused, and the people who are homophobic all sit down to watch a show with a lesbian character. This might be the first time they see a lesbian. I mean, ever. Everything that character says are does enters the cloud. That cloud hangs over the label for better or worse. Often, unless you yourself identify as a label with a cloud, you don’t know about the cloud. You don’t know what is in the cloud. What you see and hear from non-lesbians, what you see and hear from that so-and-so at work, contributes to misconceptions, myths, and lies, and unfortunately, those things really darken the cloud.
Some clouds are so full of negativity they seem to perpetually rain down on groups of people. Trans women of color are routinely murdered. Over twenty per year have been murdered. People close to the transgender community noticed that there are probably a lot more of them, but it is hard to know because the police and reporters, in some cases, ignore or misgender the victims. Then those stories get covered up as just another murder of a person of color. That misgendering disrespects the victim and perpetuates transphobia.
But how you would you know any of this? How do you do know about the Mexican immigration cloud? How do you know about being disabled? How do you about Muslims?
What books do you read, and who wrote them? What movies do you see and who wrote, directed, or acted in it? What TV series, what newspaper… you get the idea. If you can’t make friends with as many diverse people as possible your next best way to get to know their struggles and journeys is to pick up books not about them but BY them. Read Janet Mock’s memoirs, read James Baldwin, how many Witches of color do you follow on Facebook or on a particular blog?
What do you know about the gods? There are hundreds of them. Who worshipped them, what do they represent what can they teach you?
Most importantly of all, if you don’t know Google and read. If you don’t know shut up and listen. That’s how you’ll find out.
Acknowledge your clouds, how light and fluffy they are, or how dark and dense. And be mindful that everyone has their own. Rather than offer an umbrella, sit with them under the clouds in solidarity.