FU A/S/L: I'm starting to care a little bit less about labels

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Aurora
Fry's saying what we're all thinking.
Fry's saying what we're all thinking.

Labelling seems unique to computer-goers of the Internet Era, specifically, Millennials and even some Gen X and Gen Yers… From AOL chatrooms to Open Diary to MySpace, and now Facebook, we've labeled ourselves freely and with abandon.

It's important, we reasoned, when you're taking to a stranger on the internet, that they know some important things about you in a succinct manner. A/S/L — age, sex, location. What religion we are. What our political leanings are. Our sexual orientation or gender presentation. Our favorite quotations or song lyrics. Things about us that are symbolic of our personalities, our likes and dislikes; our whole self. It's a form of branding, and for years we were proud of it.

While I was on Facebook, I noticed that I was the only one going through a labeling crisis. You see, I was having trouble pin-pointing what word to use to describe my (all over the place, vacillating, radically queer, conservative) religious leanings. "Spiritual Henotheist" just wasn't cutting it anymore. So I turned to the Facebook profiles of the decade older friends I had acquired from the local Episcopalian church. And guess what?

None of them had anything listed for their religious beliefs.

It was as if it didn't matter.

For most people (as is evidenced by bigotry and wars around the world), religion is a pretty big frickin' deal. But for someone who didn't grow up in the internet culture that I did, it wasn't that religion wasn't important, it was that coming up with the perfect word to describe your religious leanings (or any list of ways to define yourself on Facebook) just wasn't important in the context of social media.

It brings back a sense of nostalgia to put so much effort into crafting a perfect representation of myself on my social media outlets. It probably does for a lot of people my age, or people who aren't my age but were internet-savvy long before it was cool.

It's something I learned as a queer person — labeling oneself can help you understand yourself better, and in that light, it can be freeing. But in other ways, it's confusing, and you get to a point where you think, why bother with labels at all?

While I'll still probably formulate my Facebook profile to be a reflection of me pretty far into the future, it's starting to matter less. If you ask, I'll tell you what I am.

What I am is me.

A person who deserves respect.

Regardless of my A/S/L, my sexual orientation, gender presentation, religious or political leanings, or my favorite bands. I'm just me.

  1. Henotheist is a good word! Thank you for teaching it to me! It is interesting to me which of my friends feel that their religion (and alma mater, and favorite books, etc.) are important on Facebook. I hadn't really noticed before…

    • I was just going to comment about the awesomeness of "Henotheist" also. I love the things I learn around here.

  2. Isn't "henotheist" so great? I can't remember where I found out about it but I love it. It's definitely interesting to see what certain people will or will not define on Facebook (especially now that "liking" something gets you strings of annoying things on your newsfeed…).

    • That annoys me. I wasn't exactly an early adopter of Facebook but I was on there early enough that 'liking' pages for all sorts of things was the standard way to add those interests to your profile. As a result I'm now 'following' a ton of pages for things like "I eat breakfast for dinner" or "I flip my pillow to get to the cold side" and suddenly they started being used to spam my news feed and I had to remove them all.

  3. I suffer from not really getting over the high school labeling. I had this idea of who I WANTED to be in those days and spent a lot of effort getting there. It wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I felt comfortable with me being all that I am, encompassing all that I find interesting, and I didn't realize I had gotten there until an older man recognized the line of music tattooed on my arm (he did hum it out first) as being a part of Vivaldi's Cello Sonata in E Minor. I've played the cello for 17 years, so it seemed appropriate to me. He told me that I didn't seem the type to enjoy (or play) classical music. And I realized that, even a short while prior, I had that same idea. I had to look how I wanted to be and, ultimately, had to be how I looked. How terrible an existence! It's been years now and I've come to a similar conclusion as you – labels are okay, but we needn't confine ourselves to just one, or just one definition of one.

    • Oh man, high school labeling was the worst! I had all these ridiculous images proclaiming pride in various labels on my MySpace profile. One of them ended up getting me into some trouble – people thought it was too weird and didn't understand the meaning behind the label. I got so into categorizing everything about myself that I sort of ended up a label junkie. Even now, it's funny to look at my "about me" up here for this blog – how many of those things are simple, go-to labels? It's pretty interesting the one we stick with.

  4. Aurora,
    In reading your profile blurb, my imagination was caught up by the idea of your chihuahua/husky mix! Anything more to share about that? Maybe you already have and you can direct me to the archives. Thanks,
    Tamara

    • Tamara – our Chihuahua/Husky mix is slightly larger than your average Chihuahua by about one or two pounds, but he has a Husky's coloring and double layered coat. His tail curls a little bit like a Husky's does, and he has one blue eye and one brown eye. My fiancee got him from a Husky rescue before we met and she even went so far as to get testing done to confirm it, since even she was like "No way!" He's really part Husky!

      • You know, I misread your dog's ethnicity as "Cthulu-Husky mix" at first … and cannot shake this disturbing image.

      • Thanks for filling in the blanks, Aurora! I was telling my husband about it at lunch and he got a very bewildered look on his face for a moment and (almost) set his burger down. Followed by, "Oh. Oh? Nuh-uh. Yeah? No."

  5. Wow, that takes me back. I remember the days when confusingly we were told to never, ever reveal any personal information online because crazy stalkers could (and would) find you in real life, and yet every conversation started with "A/S/L?"

    I always thought it was funny that online we often keep identifying information secret and yet many of us share a huge amount of personal information, from your favourite books, movies etc. (and guilty pleasures you may never admit to in real life) to religion, gender identity and even sexual preferences.

    And then in real life it's the complete opposite. People I've worked with for almost a year know my name, my age, my address, my phone number, my families names and what towns they live in…but I don't think they know my religion, or much about the music I like or the books I read, my gender is presumed from being married to a man.

    And yet somehow they are considered to know me better than anyone online ever could simply because we have our conversations (about the weather or what TV you watched last night) face to face instead of through a computer.

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