OPINION: Lost in labels

Gen Z is obsessed with labels. Am I the only one who’s noticed?

When I lived in Pennsylvania, I was lazy.
Sounds harsh, but it’s true.
I cut my hair short because I didn’t want to deal with knots, I wore my brother’s hand-me-down clothes, and I lived in slip-on shoes and sneakers. I was content in who I was. I didn’t need a label from anyone.
Questioning my sexuality and gender never crossed my mind.
In 2015, Caitlyn Jenner came out as a transgender woman. Multiple sets of judging eyes turned my way. I became, “The girl who looked and dressed like a boy.” My first label.
I’ve been mistaken for a boy a few times, but that never affected me like the next couple months did. My best friend’s boyfriend started telling the whole school I was transgender simply because of my appearance. I felt everyone stare daggers into my back as I walked down the halls and look up immediately as I walked into class.
I became exiled. This wasn’t a label I wanted, but I didn’t have much of a choice. As rumors do, though, it passed as soon as some kid puked in the hallway and my time under the spotlight ended.
During those couple months, however, two things crossed my mind.
First, maybe I should change how I dress because everyone thinks I look like a boy. I spent way too much time looking in the mirror trying to figure out if I looked enough like a girl to go to school. I felt like a girl. It never occured to me that people would judge my gender on what I wore. It was the first time in my life I saw myself through other people’s eyes. I didn’t love what I saw.
Second, if I was trans, how could I survive the isolation? It drove me insane. There were people out there, struggling to express who they are, and it wasn’t just me who saw this. According to the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, 69% of teens are harassed for their gender expression in schools.
At the end of seventh grade, my parents told me we would be making the move to Colorado. A place 26 hours away and a major culture shock for me.
If I could ever find a place the polar opposite of my small town in Pennsylvania, it would be Monarch High School, a place more accepting than any other place I’d lived.
As I went through high school, I tried to become more confident in who I was, but I actually felt peer pressure to not be straight. My friends would ask me, “Don’t you think girls are attractive?” and “Are you sure?” They even made harsh jokes about being straight. I ultimately came to the conclusion that being a cisgender straight female is who I am, and I love it. But it didn’t end there.
One time, my friend told me I dressed like a “trendy bi person.” This surprised me. I thought I dressed like a straight person. Their comment reminded me of my time in middle school when I was given a label that wasn’t me because of others’ thoughts. After a couple more people said they also understood the comment, it sealed the box my friend made for me.
Questions swirled around me.
How many people thought I dressed like that? What does it even mean to dress like a straight person?
I would pick out an outfit and stare at myself in the morning wondering if I looked straight enough to go to school. I knew I was straight and didn’t want other people thinking differently. I have no hate against the LGBTQ+ community, but I just knew I wasn’t in it.
Then I realized a similarity between Pennsylvania and here. Everyone in my generation is obsessed with labels. Yes, people who label themselves can feel relief. But for some of us, society shoves you into a stifling box, giving you little room to live. You have to be Straight.
Or Bi.
Or Gay.
Or Trans.
Or Asexual.
Or use They/Them Pronouns.
There is something called a gray area in life. We can’t label it because then we complicate an already complicated world. How do you expect people to live their lives doing what they want if they need to be labeled? Or told what to be through peer pressure and rumors? Do we need to eradicate the gray area?
Some part of me wonders if this is a stupid trend we’re creating in high school. I also think sometimes I’m the only one who sees this. The fact that every single thing in this life needs a label, from what you wear to who you love. Then I remember high school isn’t the real world yet. Because let’s be honest…
The real world still has gray area.