What You Are Cannot Be Named

I saw a tweet yesterday that reminded me of another of my pet rants.

I hate it when people say “gays”. Gay is an adjective, not a noun. Gay people. Gay cinema. Gay x, y or z, but not “gays”. Recently, I’ve noticed gay people as guilty of this as any one else. When I hear language like this it sounds dehumanising to me. Listen how “the blacks” sounds. In Ireland recently we hear “the Poles” for Polish people. These are all people. And in England friends have heard reference to “the Irish”. See how different it feels when you put a person in that place: black people, gay people, Irish people. When we use those labels as nouns our common humanity is obscured.

As a gay man, when I hear people, queer or straight, use the phrase “gays”, it sounds exactly the same to me as “homosexuals”.

Words describe us, our activities, and our preferences. They do not define us.

What you are cannot be named.

I’ve been going to men’s groups over the last year, and it is common to refer to someone as “this man”, or “as a man” as if “man” is what I am. And I can see the strength and the value in that. But also that it is not the essence of who I am.

There’s a reason trans* issues are so disturbing for people. We usually see gender as fixed. I am a boy/girl and whereas all else (class, culture, skills, tastes, beauty, you-name-it) can be stripped away or robbed, this we perceive as unchanging. That’s one of the reasons people find it so important to label and fix their concept of another person’s gender. “Is that a boy or a girl?” “You’re not a real woman/man”. Whether it be our brains or our culture, some part of us can’t handle “gender discombobulation”.

I understand that we use labels as shorthand, whether it be for gender identity (man/woman), romantic orientation (gay/straight/bi/asexual), sexual activity (top/bottom??), religious affiliation (a Christian/ Muslim/ Jew/ Hindu/ Pagan/ an Atheist). Words are powerful tools. I am not advocating the abandonment of our labels. We need to be able to name ourselves, how we create ourselves in this world, and to name injustices and inequalities.

However, I think it is important for everyone to remember, this is not WHO you are; it is a mere description of what you do for now.

Watch these very interesting videos on identity:

Human Sexuality is Complicated

You Are Not A Person – Timothy Freke


2 thoughts on “What You Are Cannot Be Named

  1. Vincent in Ireland says:

    “what you do for now”…..that’s somewhat controversial.. let’s develop that theme..eh? xox

    1. Yes, let’s. I wasn’t suggesting that one’s sexual orientation is “a phase”. By “for now” I meant ‘in this life’.

      Am I going though an existential phase? Is this a rhetorical question??

      I will develop this thinking further. For me, in particular and at this time, it’s about druidry and paganism and folk limiting their indentities to their practices. People have a mass of Venn diagrams in their heads. I am this and this but not that or that.

      We can identify with our jobs (priest, nurse, police officer etc) and our social roles (grandfather, lover, friend), but what are you behind all that?

      One day you’ll die, and all labels will no longer apply. It all becomes story. It already is all story. To borrow a Christian movie title: The Greatest Story Ever Told.

      The nihilists will say there’s nothing. And the mystics will say there’s glorious mysterious Emptiness. Same thing but there is joy in the latter.

      A Druid friend shared a sentence with me a few years ago that feels somehow right here, although I don’t know if it supports what I’ve said above. There is only One Everything.

      From time to time, it’s useful and important to remember the Everything of the universe and how are lives are stories within it.

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