I am a gay man. I am a Colorado Rockies fan. I am a lover of the show Arrested Development.

All of these things are labels. Together they paint an (odd) picture of an entire person. Each time I take one out and replace it with another (remove Rockies fan, add Donna Summer) an entirely different picture emerges.

I’m interested in how these labels intersect. 

I want to know how people choose their labels — which are mandatory and which are the ones they choose to utilize. 

In fact, I do love Donna Summer. (R.I.P.) Her music evokes a more innocent time in my life, and every time I hear a song like Sunset People or Heaven Knows, i am transported there. That is true about me.

But if you put the labels “Gay Man” and “Donna Summer Fan” together, am I, Bill Konigsberg, what you’d expect to have emerge? 

We control some of the labels that are put on us. For instance, if I don’t want anyone to think that I am a “Disco Dolly,” I could hide the fact that I love Donna Summer (too late). Other labels we can hide, but the repercussions are major. If I hide the fact that I’m a gay man, bad things can happen for me. And of course, if they are found out, then I have the label of “Closeted Gay Man,” which comes with all sorts of other meanings and images.

These are the issues that drew me in as I wrote “Openly Straight.” What is a jock? What is a geek? Can you be “Label Free” or is that just a fantasy? If you have no discernible labels, to people just “fill in the blanks” and make them up for you?

What labels do you choose to give yourself? Which ones are hoisted upon you?

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2 Responses to Labels

  1. Kathryn says:

    “Toot Toot, Yeaaahhh, Beep Beep!” I share your innocence of that era. That was a time that I was “Brainiac Fat Girl”. Not many people cared to know me. Later, when I became “Brainiac Hot Girl”, it was pretty much the same. I never gave myself those labels. I was always uncomfortable with them. But that discomfort made me aware of how labels can be unfair or deceiving. Without the pain and discomfort, would I ever have realized that?

  2. bkonigsberg says:

    Sigh. Labels are tough. I’ve found that I’m as guilty if not more of labeling those around me than of being labeled. It’s just such an easy shorthand, yet it’s so damaging as it tends to dehumanize the object.

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