The issue is hotly debated within our community. While some of us embrace such characterizations, others believe them to be nothing more than overt generalizations, acting to reduce a person into a stereotype. I happen to like labels…and although I also agree that labels are generalizations, I believe they have a function in our society. Take gender, for example; the social and cultural construct of gender, assigning the term female or male to those that share similar qualities are also labels. Having a label of female or male allow us to make certain assumptions about a person without ever knowing them. The same is true for the term “queer.” That is, while escaping from the binary conforms of gender as female/male, “queers” have nonetheless labeled themselves as those who do not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions – this same rationale holds true for the “do not label me” people.
Now, let’s scale this back to the lesbian community. Whether you're checking someone out on Tinder or in your local lesbian hangout, labels can help you to quickly, albeit superficially, make a determination about someone’s personality. For example, if I see someone with a short hair cut, cargo shorts, combat boots, no makeup and great arms, I will instantly label them as butch and consequently, top and/or Dominant (though I know that sometimes it’s just wishful thinking on my part). This cursive assessment shapes my immediate future interaction towards this person. It is even more helpful when someone labels herself because we can evaluate how she identifies, without feeling that we are projecting our own stereotypes. I identify as femme. If you see me out of context – i.e., not at Club Lezbos – you’ll likely think I’m straight. But if I was wearing a “femme” label, then you could correctly make the assumption that I’m a lesbian. Since lesbians never adhered to the hanky code, labels are the next best thing ;-)