The Labels We Give, The Labels We Receive

What a week America has had!

First, the bombing of the Boston Marathon, then the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas, and finally the death of one Boston Bomber suspect and the arrest of another.  As someone with many family members in the Boston area, including Watertown—some a quarter of a mile from the action—where the suspect was finally captured, I am incredibly relieved to know that the only thing that happened to my family was the fear that ran through their minds as their hometown was put under lockdown.  Thank you Watertown Police and all those involved who ensured a swift arrest with no civilian casualties.

Now that the manhunt is over, the fact-finding mission begins.  With news coverage almost exclusively broadcasting every minute detail into the life of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, many labels have been attributed to the young man who remains in critical condition.

Boston Bomber

I read an article today in Cosmopolitan called, “My First Year as a Woman.”  The piece focused on punk rocker Tom Gabel’s transition from male to female.  Now living as Laura Jane Grace, the musician always felt uneasy in her masculine body and had identified with being a female from a young age even though she was born a biological male.  Today, she is proudly raising her daughter with her wife Heather—they were married before Laura came out as a transsexual—and is finally happy with who she is.  Though her young daughter still refers to her as “Daddy,” Laura no longer deals with the demons that haunted her when she was living as a male.

Laura Jean Grace

A Parent’s Love: (left) Tom and daughter Evelyn before the transition, (right) Evelyn putting on Laura’s makeup

What exactly do a punk rocker and a suspected criminal have to do with one another?  More than you might think.

Both of these stories got me thinking about how individuals identify themselves and how others identify them.  Whenever you are asked to introduce yourself, it’s common to give your name and some personal detail about yourself.  Some people speak about their occupation or family and others their hobbies.  “Hi, my name is Bob and I’m an architect.  I recently designed a building in Denver, one of my favorite cities in the country.”  On the other hand, your buddy might say, “This is my friend Bob.  He has a German Shepard and loves to go out for sushi.”  What may seem like a trivial detail to you, a friend may find incredibly interesting and worth sharing.  Sure, you might describe yourself one way and your friends and family may describe you differently, but it doesn’t mean that the clashing identifiers are right or wrong.

When it comes to Dzhokhar and Tom/Laura, we only know what we can logically assume.  Dzhokhar may very well be a terrorist who sought to do harm on an unsuspecting audience, but he is also a son who has a deeply concerned father in Russia who wants to know  about his son’s well-being.  Though Dzhokhar’s actions, in my mind at least, can never be justified, this young man is a lot more than just a terrorist and slowly, the media is uncovering the person he is.  On the outside, Tom looked like a man, but on the inside Laura was desperately trying to make herself known.  As it turns out, most people were pretty accepting of Laura once Tom decided to embrace the woman he always wanted to be.  She had to identify herself as Laura for other people to do so; it’s not something they would have known to do on their own.

I guess my point is this: the labels that others give us are not as important as the labels we give ourselves.  No magazine or news channel or friend can ever truly know who we are or how many roles we play in our lives.  I myself identify as so many different things, each unique in its own right, yet none better than any other.

My Labels

But the really important question is: who are you?

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7 thoughts on “The Labels We Give, The Labels We Receive

  1. Laura says:

    Hello, Jessica. I’m an European young girl from Portugal, and I’ve been following the Boston attacks very closely. However, I could not let this pass without a comment from me. Of course the Boston attacks were awful. I could not even imagine if my parents were there and were killed. But I think what’s in cause in here is not the attack, it’s what happened after it. Why telling people to stay home while they were searching for someone, if in the Iraq War, hundreds of Americans are killed, deliberately, every day? They are not heroes, at least in my conception. Fighting for what, in Iraq?
    I can only speak for myself when I say that the identity of America has some beautiful things. Since fighting for the independence, ’till the need of a constitution and a flag which brings you guys together. That’s a feeling we don’t have in European Union, but only in our small countries – in fact, in European Union, we don’t even have a constitution. BUT (and this is my point) why haven’t I read a single article written for an American that tells us something like this: ‘sure the attacks were bad. But shouldn’t we think that WE, AMERICANS, are terrorists for the people in Iraq? Shouldn’t we think that we are doing the same there?’
    Which identity has a terrorist?
    I think the american people don’t recognize the dimension of what happens in the world. And it’s a shame, because I love the US as a country. And I really liked your article 😉
    Please don’t take it as a personal attack, since is not my intention. See you soon :*

    • Jessica says:

      Hi there, Laura. I do think that the American people are sheltered in this country by what is really going on this the rest of the world. The media here puts a slant on everything that is reported and I definitely do not believe we are getting the whole story when it comes to international relations and our role in the rest of the world. I have often wondered if we are doing more harm than good in countries like Iraq where we force our Western ideas of democracy as the only way to govern, but upon hearing different stories from friends and family who have served in the military in other countries, it’s hard to say what is the right thing and what is not when I am not personally there to experience it. You have some excellent points and I thank you for sharing them with me. It’s great to hear about the labels my mother country gets from those who are not from here. Thanks again for stopping by! 🙂

  2. Evez says:

    Excuse me Laura but that’s bullshit! So you’re saying it’s their fault? I wish all of you who state that Americans are terrorists themselves would be a little more carefully and objective on what they’re saying. Seriously. Immigrants (Muslims) terrorize the US and all you’re saying is.. oh well they are terrorists themselves. That is so sick. So you think they deserve it? How can you justify actions like that when you know innocent people got killed?
    Don’t take this personal but I think higher education and a little knowledge in what the military actually is all about would help you understand a lot of what’s going on in the middle east. You shouldn’t leave comments like that if you have non of both.
    PS. Loved this post, Jessica. And yes, there is no excuse for what that guy did .

  3. Evez says:

    Oh and by the way. I don’t know what part of the EU you live in but I pretty much feel like people come together here and build a wonderful community. Maybe you’d be part of that community if you stopped having a prejudice against others.

Don't let me do all the blogging, join in the conversation. Otherwise, I just feel like I'm talking to myself...

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