Publications
Micro Labeling: Approach with Caution
Written by: Maya Henry
Edited by Joyce Huang and Eeman Aleem

The LGBTQ+ community has never been immune to controversy. From the inclusion of the asexual umbrella to Pride’s defense of working with police to the very nature of LGBTQ+ people, nothing has ever been one dimensional. In recent years, however, turmoil within the vast community has grown in regards to a relatively new concept: micro labels.

Micro labeling is a fairly nuanced term that refers to the identities of those within the LGBTQ+ community that can not stand on their own. Meaning, micro labels fall under a more vague category. Though vigorously debated, the four true macro labels of the community are considered to be gay, queer, genderqueer, and asexual, making every other label, from lesbian to abrosexual, a micro label, for one can not be a lesbian without being gay, and one can not be abrosexual without falling on the asexual spectrum.

The question brewing within is not, ‘are identities such as demiboy real and valid or not?’ They certainly are. Instead, the hot-button question is how far can labeling go before it becomes more detrimental than beneficial to the LGBTQ+ community?

Few challenge the idea that the expansion in language from “gay community” to “GLBT,” and later “LGBTQ” that took place in the mid to late 1900s was an instrumental step forward in the equal rights movement. The line regarding labels is drawn at the increasingly specific labels that have grown more popular in the past decade, labels that many find exclusionary and damaging to the unity of the LGBTQ+ community. Such labels include demisexual, the attraction only to those who one has an emotional connection with, and bigender, the gender identity of two or more genders at the same time, though there are dozens more.

The growing popularity of micro labels has its downfalls. For instance, they can alienate older LGBTQ+ generations who did not grow up with such specificity. As Chloe Edwards discussed in the Courier, “if you don’t have unity, the community is going to fall apart,” referring to how Edwards’ use of micro labels confused and frustrated older generations who were perfectly accepting of more broad labels. The pressure to further label oneself can be damaging and opens the door for prejudice within an already disenfranchised community, such as the disconnect between the bisexual and pansexual communities. Bisexuality is generally regarded as the attraction to more than one gender, be it with or without preference. The emergence of pansexuality, the attraction to multiple genders with no preference, led to a surge in both biphobia and panphobia, with some claiming that bisexuality is exclusive and others claiming that pansexuality is anti-bisexual. Some claim that if it weren’t for micro labels, such an issue would never exist in the first place.

But for all of the unfortunate things that micro labels bring, they can gift and empower others with much-needed specificity and internal honesty. Niche communities can be found, and the nagging feeling that something isn’t right with a broad label can be cured. As I myself was first exploring my gender and sexuality, terms such as demi girl and bisexual felt much more homely than the broad labels I use now. Without micro labels, I and so many others would still be disoriented and afraid of the dysphoria we were facing.

Sexuality and gender aren’t a one size fits all policy. The labels that are perfect for one person may be too specific, while not specific enough for someone else. It is just as easy to understand why one may revel in micro labels as why one would detest them.

On another end of the spectrum, many members of the LGBTQ+ community are fully against labels of any kind, and some such as journalist Jonathan Rauch have outspokenly proposed that all those who are not cisgender and heterosexual identify simply as “Q.” As Rauch wrote for the Atlantic, “[any variation of LGBT or LGBTQ+] carries an unintended message as well: an embrace of the identity politics and group separatism that have soured millions of Americans on progressivism and egalitarianism.” Others, however, argue that as long as we exist in a world demanding labels of those deemed different, it would be cruel to erase the labels that bring many joy and a sense of belonging.

In an ideal world, micro labels wouldn’t have to exist because heteronormativity wouldn’t dominate society. But this perfect world is decades, if not centuries, away, leaving the LGBTQ+ community and its allies with a tentative compromise: approach micro labels as a choice to be embraced or ignored, but always respected.