I grew up in New York in a home where politics weren’t our primary focus. I had a single Mom and we were more preoccupied with what was in front of us; paying rent, putting food on the table, and just overall survival. We didn’t worry much about labels, we didn’t have time to. One morning in LA over coffee, as I sat on the floor of my apartment, I wondered if that was even possible anymore? I now lived in a time and place where labels were crucial. Who you are and more importantly how you are perceived is everything.
Do I really need to label myself to be understood?
I thought back to my first few steps out of childhood at a conservative Christian college. I got a full ride on a hockey scholarship and I wasn’t out yet and had no idea how intense this school would be. I knew a few Christians growing up, they were nice and always accepting of me, but I had never experienced Christianity on an institutional level. You weren’t allowed to curse without being fined let alone to be openly gay. While in college, I strongly resisted the urge to put myself in a box even though I was dating girls. The Christian kids told me I was going to hell and the small gay community there told me I wasn’t gay enough. This label was doing nothing for me. Due to financial factors and the folly of youth, I stayed there for four years.
8 years later, far from the east coast, my wounds from college had mostly healed yet I couldn’t help but ask the question: Are labels for me or are they for other people?
Labels have always seemed to be my enemy. Which is maybe why it took me so long to come out. When Queer became a term that we started using more, It felt ambiguous. I felt like it gave me the freedom to escape the stereotypes of other words more solidified in meaning and connotation.
Knowing full well everyone has their own relationship to queerness, I wanted to hear what other people thought about the labels and words that seek to define us and the moments we live in.
On a Saturday in early June, I found myself filming at Dyke Day in the middle of Elysian Park, which is basically the 4th of July for lesbians. Nearly every queer in Los Angeles is present, If you can’t find a date here good luck to you. I felt like celebrating so I had flown out my best friend from Oregon and my baby cousin from South Carolina to help me shoot the occasion. None of them knew how to operate a camera yet somehow it was much easier than the last project. We set up a little interview booth and it was just me, the camera, Lauren pressing record, Harper wrangling in the people and them graciously answering all my questions.
Sitting in the sun with my best friends interviewing perfect strangers I heard from some folks that labels can be harmful or confusing but can also be useful as stepping stones for some people in certain times. Izzi said it best, it’s when people aren’t defined by tokenism or stereotypes but are nuanced and real it makes people feel like labels are less important. Just that simple human representation through film can speak to an experience that one word or phrase never could.
Maybe labels are okay sometimes. At best they can perhaps be a temporary raft tossed down to us to get us through the confusing and tumultuous waters of youth and self-discovery. You don’t want to cling to it forever, but it can get you back to the boat.
And maybe I can let go of the labels people put on me and know that I’m still me, and I am understood, despite the rest.
Special thanks to Dyke Day and everyone who participated!
Director: Brit Phelan
Camera Operator: Lauren Baker
Helpful Friends: Aly Cayer, Sierra Prescott, Emma Vaughn, Lauren Tsou, Britt Bresden, and Sarah Harper
Editor: Jacqui Carriere, Cal Laird, and Xander Mozejewski
Colorist: Alex Heminway
Sound: Cody Skully