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On the subject of labels

#dating #rant #bdsm #personality #labels #kink #newyork #nyc #onlinedating
Having travelled back to the UK for Christmas this week I am a little behind on writing up amusing date stories. As an interlude though I thought I would offer up a brief opinion piece on something I've been thinking a bit about lately. As the title suggests it is on the subject of labels. (Ok it ended up not being that brief... I got caught up in the flow...)




People seem to like sticking labels on each other, in fact it almost seems telling people they're a 'type' of person, or assigning one's own personality to a particular brand is becoming a modern obsession. Labels come in all shapes and sizes. You might say someone is an 'extrovert', a 'slut', a 'type A personality', a 'masochist', a 'liberal', a 'Republican', a 'control-freak', a 'border-line personality' etc etc. You might even get all wishy washy and type people by their astrological sign, or all pseudo-sciencey and assign someone a series of letters based on how they score on a personality test.

In some sense, using labels for people like we use labels for other objects seems like a reasonable way of making sense of the complicated world we live in. When interacting with our peers, it's useful to be able to predict how they will behave in different circumstances, and it’s an attractive idea that you can pre-empt someone’s future actions based on the limited things you know about them already.

However, I would like to propose that all existing systems of personality categorisation are pretty much always worthless bullshit.

While some labels may have value for quickly summarising a small number of personality traits, I think the general idea that personality types are a useful way of summarising people is like an infected thorn embedded in our social consciousness. It’s a way of thinking that has been around for so long that we assume it serves a function and its merits are too rarely questioned.

I wonder if the popularity of labelling people is due to a human desire to be in control of all the information in our lives, and if we can't assign everyone to neat little personality categories this messiness makes some of us uncomfortable somehow. Perhaps some folks just need to put those rubber stamps on people, however inaccurate or misleading, just because they don’t want to deal with the amount of thought required for gaining a real appreciation of all the nuanced characters they encounter out in the world.

I think it's fair to use labels to summarise behaviours, e.g. saying things like: "Dave has a masochistic side", or "Jeannie was acting slutty last night"[1]. However the critical thing is always recognising that a specific personality trait is just a small facet of any person, and to label a whole individual, e.g.; "Dave the masochist" or "Jeannie the slut" is a toxic way of thinking. Many people also lack a certain empathetic plasticity in how they deal with other humans, and once you assign someone a label it's as if they can somehow be written off; "Dave's a masochist. Masochists like pain. Something just fucked him up when he was young. I don't need to acquire any further understanding of Dave as I know what Masochists are like, therefore I know what Dave's like." Or more simply: "I don't like Masochist's, so I won't like Dave." It takes a certain kind of arrogance to make these assumptions, and it’s an arrogance that I fear is all too prevalent. We should never underestimate someone’s capacity to surprise us.

When I say personality categorisation is worthless bovine excrement, I'm not trying to imply that it’s impossible to put people into loose groupings based on similar traits. However, what we need to acknowledge is that personalities are made up of a very large number of behavioural tendencies. People's tendencies then fall somewhere along various analogue spectra, and can often shift position unpredictably. As I see things this makes it completely impossible to draw solid lines around groups of individuals and tease them apart from the grand fractal tapestry of human nature.

Someone might argue that there's some usefulness in trying to make simplified 'digital' groups out of these 'analogue' mixtures, but in my opinion a filing system where someone can be in one folder one day and a different folder the next is a waste of time. Why not just give everyone their own folder? Then add notes as you get to know someone and not before.

I think it's particularly important to stay away from personality labels when dealing with sexuality and sexual interests, just because there are so many prejudices floating around out there.

For example, when I talk about sleeping with someone on the first date, often people imagine that I must have been on a date with a certain "type" of girl. Sometimes the reflex response is "I'm not sure they'd be my type" or "I'm not that type of girl"... Fine you want to get to know someone before sleeping with them, I can see many arguments to support that, and I used to think that way myself. However, fuck the assumption that there's a specific "type" of girl who will sleep with a guy on a first date. Also don't think for one second that promiscuous behaviour can predict one single thing about the rest of their personality.

Of the people I've been out with[2], and the small subset that I've slept with on the first date, I couldn't put any two of these girls in one single personality category. In fact, there have barely been any similarities between them at all. Some might assume that my kinky sex profile might also attract a certain subsection[3] of the psychological strata, and that girls interested in being dominated might all have key traits in common. However, instead I have met a genuine diversity of individuals through my kinky profile. Several girls self-identified as "type A" personalities and considered themselves dominant in the workplace etc, but some girls were more quiet and submissive in their mannerisms. In fact most were just laid back normal people. Some dates might describe their personality as more dominant or submissive (as if they HAVE to be one or the other), but they often struck me as pretty well balanced. Thus, I have concluded that there are no hard and fast rules about the sorts of people interested in kinky sex, and no soft and slow ones either.

My general conclusion to this diversion then is that everyone really is an individual. Our multitudinous human traits make it impossible to meaningfully categorise anyone as a ‘type’. For some reason, people seem to like assigning themselves to categories. The simplest one being "Am I a good or bad person?" Fuck that shit, you’re just a person, you can be a person who does good stuff or one who does bad stuff, and that can even depend on the kind of day you’re having. You're just you and no label is ever going to capture that.

You may like this philosophy or you may not, but personally I can’t help but think that all this human complexity makes the world just that little bit more exciting to live in.


[1] The word 'slut' and prejudices against sexual active people deserve ranty asides all of their own, but for now let’s focus on the general notion of labelling people.
[2] The chapters of this book don't do any of my date's justice. I can only show you a few small facets at a time, and also it doesn't help that I forget a lot of the interesting details from conversations we had.
[3] Pun not really intended… but I’m going to leave it there anyway.

2 comments :

  1. Yes! Thank you. I've always touted human first, both in my personal life and in my stories. Labels are only used within the context of a person's wholeness. Personally I fit into so many minority categories it becomes ridiculous to explain it all. People are tokenized, minimized, and fetishized. Basically, the moment the label becomes greater than the person they become less than human. Others can stop paying attendion. They stop learning. They have no awareness of the world. Even if people share a label, the expression of each one is as unique as they are. It is merely one tiny perspective, a glimmer of flashing light on one tiny face of the infinitely-sided, ever-changing, and differently-reflecting diamond that is our wholeness. Breaking it into fragments means you'll miss a out on a lot of diamonds.

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