Labels are useful. Labels are shorthand that swiftly conveys one’s stances on various issues, from the delightfulness of Doctor Who to the importance of getting to make one’s own reproductive decisions. They can also convey one’s affiliations, whether ethnic, occupational, or some other group to which one belongs that has an effect on one’s thinking. Those uses don’t have to overlap, and the degree to which they don’t is often telling. One can be a racist without being a Bircher, or a Whovian without belonging to the Doctor Who Society of Canada. And indeed, most causes and fandoms and ethnic affiliations have far more people expressing interest and sympathy with them than enrolled as members of specific association devoted to those things. The population of the United States with Amerindian heritage vastly exceeds the number of people that check the American Indian box on census forms.
And then there are people who refuse labels altogether. Sometimes, this is because the existing popular discourse does not describe the kind of person they are, so none of the existing labels are accurate and new ones are, until they catch on, not effective. Eventually, they can become better known, and enter the lexicon of at least particularly aware subcultures. Once upon a time, “genderfluid,” “introvert,” “cis,” and “allistic” were nonsense words; now, they are useful identifiers, often self-ascribed, that enable conversations that would have been more difficult and time-consuming without them.
This essay is not about those people.