Cataloging Identity

People don’t fall into neat little categories, but as we try to communicate to each other who we are, we tend to identify ourselves with labels. Nerd, jock, rebel. Mom, uncle, brother. Accountant, mechanic, librarian.

But labels never stay so simple. We start adding qualifiers: computer nerd, fun uncle, children’s librarian. We don’t stick with just one label per person; someone can be a computer nerd, a fun uncle, and a children’s librarian.

This is similar to how libraries catalog books. For example, Kristin Hannah’s new book, The Four Winds, is fiction. It is also cataloged as historical fiction and domestic fiction. We don’t stop there, though; our library catalog also includes subject tags. The Four Winds has 13 subject tags, including “Dust Bowl Era,” “Women Farmers,” “American Dream,” “Texas,” and “California.”

All of these descriptions are helpful because, with just a few carefully chosen words, potential readers have an idea of what a book is about. Of course, reading the synopsis will give you more detailed information. And the only way to truly know what the book contains is to actually read the book.

The same holds true for people. You’ve already formed a basic impression of what a computer nerd, fun uncle, children’s librarian is like. To get a better idea, you could have a conversation with them. But to truly know the nerdy, fun librarian, you’d have to get to know them.

June is Pride Month and the LGBTQ+ community has an overwhelming amount of labels. It’s expedient to use just a few words to explain your gender identity and sexual orientation. However, phrases like “genderfluid pansexual person” or “asexual demiromantic female” are far less commonly understood than “rebellious mechanic mom” or “sporty accountant brother”.

If you’d like to brush up on common gender and sexuality terms, I recommend UCSF’s glossary. For a much longer and more comprehensive list, try PFLAG.org’s.

With Pride Month in the news and on our social media feeds, these terms become more and more common. If you don’t know what something means, don’t be afraid to ask or look it up.

And remember: books can’t be defined by just a few words, and neither can people.

Happy Pride Month, everyone!

 

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