Language is pretty powerful. Latching on to the right label and self definition can make or break a movement.

Think of how “pro-life” and “pro-choice” have redirected the entire abortion dialogue away from abortion and into Existence vs. Freedom… The labels are so definitive that I actually want to be on both sides! Who isn’t for life and choice?

On a personal level, labels have had a profound impact on my life. Back when I was in 1st grade, I was placed in the “gifted” program at my K-8 school and remained there until I graduated from 8th grade.  I got to join in special language arts and math classes for 8 years.  I truly felt smart the whole time. In fact, when I graduated from 8th grade I had earned the schools “Scholastic Award”… kind of like being the valedictorian only it was bestowed upon me by the teachers, not by any sort of GPA calculation.

Imagine my shock and horror when in high school the next fall I enrolled in Algebra class and utterly failed the first couple of tests. Likewise, my English teacher pulled me aside in the first few weeks of high school and told me I should probably transfer to the lower level.

What?!!! But I’m SMART!

You see, all those special “gifted classes” were loads of fun in grade school.  We built kites, model-scale homes and wrote plays.  But they failed to teach me even the basics of actual math and writing.

At home my mother confessed to my then 14 year old self that back in 1st grade I really hadn’t actually qualified for the “gifted” program like I thought I had. My tests at the time had come back pretty average, but my first grade teacher convinced my mother that she thought I excelled in creativity(something that couldn’t be tested), so she wanted to bump me in with the gifted kids anyway.

In other words, even at the age of six I was FABULOUS (probably the teacher’s pet and brown-noser too since getting on my teachers’ good side seems to be a recurring theme), but I wasn’t any smarter than the next kid.

By high school I had lived with the label “gifted” and “smart” for too long to give it up. So, I stayed in those daunting high school classes. I finally learned to earn good grades and 4 years later received acceptance letters to every university I applied to. I even received the highest “Golden S Award” from my high school teachers at graduation (again, not based on actual achievement but on making a good impression on my teachers).

I had been labeled “smart” or “intelligent” and I believed it. That’s all that mattered!

Imagine if that same 1st grade teacher who saw something “creative” in me had recognized the “gay” and allowed me a 34 year head start at living in THAT skin! It took me years of coming out before the word “gay” could flow off my tongue comfortably. Now I’m not only friends with it but also proud of it. Still, I won’t let it be used against me.

The great news is that  we can choose our own labels at whatever age.

The entire gay movement right now is battling almost exclusively over the label “marriage” and yet we’ve failed to get out of the defensive posture. We allow it to be labeled “gay marriage” and a “lifestyle” without realizing the second class nature of those labels.  Let’s start calling marriages “Christian Marriages,” or “Mormon Marriages,” their religion a “lifestyle choice” and term the believers as “openly Mormon.”

My life is just that, a life. It’s not a gay life. When I got my drivers license I didn’t get a “gay drivers license.” The marriages licenses of my friends are marriage licenses, not “gay marriage licenses.”

Harvey Milk once said that if he turned around every time someone called him a “faggot” he’d be walking backwards.

Remember: It’s not what they call you.  It’s what you answer to.