Sorry for the impending wall of text.
The above asks were in response to this post, and leonelylion gave me permission to post them and write a response.
A lot of the above is well and good, but there’s perhaps a bit more nuance that we should explore, and there are some academic concepts surrounding labeling that I think are useful, and perhaps some other things we should look at. First: avowed vs. ascribed identities. An avowed identity is an identity that you adopt for yourself, whereas and ascribed identity is an identity that someone else places on you. In this case, Tom Daley hasn’t publicly avowed an identity with regards to his sexuality, and in the lack of an avowed identity, people are rushing to ascribe an identity to him. But this is nothing new - people have been desperately trying to label him as gay since he first gained international attention. I’m inferring from the video that he’s probably not comfortable with that label, and perhaps not with any at the moment, and that’s fine. People go through a process of avowing multiple different identities throughout their lives, and sometimes it takes a few before finding one that’s close enough. This is not to say that avowed identities are always better/more accurate than ascribed identities, or that ascribed identities are useless. A professor of mine on the subject used the example of his jewishness, or as he called himself, “jew-ish.” He received it as an ascribed identity from his parents, an identity which he had a varying relationship with throughout his life. But it wasn’t necessarily inaccurate, and had a role in perhaps the most powerful aspect of labeling - community building.
We can and do use labels to determine group membership, and that often has a role in building communities. Probably the most obvious such label in my immediate social circles is “gaymer” - people use it for a massive social shorthand. It means we can get together, talk about guys, play games, be super nerdy in each others’ company, and not get judged for it. In a city like San Francisco, it’s possible for such a specific label to work, while in many less-populated areas, people have trouble finding communities just with the label “gay.”
Labels also function to help us define ourselves to ourselves, which then allows us to not only have a stronger sense of self, but also to take more control of how we communicate with others. Giving ourselves labels allows us to engage in impression management and identity negotiation. Tom Daley seems to be going through both of those processes at the moment - trying to form our impression of him, and then negotiating between how he wants to be seen, and how we want to see him. These are all important aspects of interacting with others, and aren’t possible without labels.
Labels are also important in helping us recognize and analyze power dynamics. I’m pretty certain that if all identities and labels ceased to exist tomorrow, the people who currently have power and privilege would still have power and privilege - it just wouldn’t as easy to identify why or how. I’m also pretty certain that if all labels were to disappear, that the majority culture would completely assert itself over minority cultures, because there would be no identifiable reason to represent or market to minorities of any type in the media - just go for what has the broadest possible appeal, and forget all niche marketing.
In short, erasing labels doesn’t erase cultural inequality. Granted, there are some very negative aspects to labeling, and there are things I’d like to see change in the future. I was labeled gay and beaten up for it going all the way back to 1st grade, and that’s something that I’d very much like not to have happened. But labels are a necessary part of interaction across cultures and languages, and are something that humans probably won’t be able to get away with until someone develops cheap, reliable telepathic communication.