We have many phases in our lives, each one leaving its unique imprint on our character and the future decisions we make. I’m not talking about toddler-, teenager- or young adult-type phases. I’m talking Justin Timberlake fan girl- to emo, badass eighth-grader-type phases (you know who you are).
I personally had many phases to say the least. Some, I am more proud of than others.
One of my less-glorious moments was my Teletubbies phase when I was 2 years old (OK, maybe it was 4). My parents somehow allowed me go as Po for Halloween on multiple occasions. I have since learned that he was in fact a she, but that’s a whole other story.
Anyway, my phases generally got better from there, well at least more explainable. I slowly progressed through Indian-gangster and nerdy-runner to self-proclaimed photography extraordinaire. And that was just the seventh grade.
I definitely wasn’t cool enough to be hipster, and my attempts to call myself one were very quickly shot down by society, and by society I mean the cool kids at my high school.
Getting back to the point, my most recent phase began as more of a fashion statement. I became anti-label obsessed. I suddenly didn’t like the idea of being attached to a brand. I didn’t like the idea of being someone else’s walking billboard.
For whatever reason though, this phase was very different than the earlier ones. This phase came at a time in my life when I was learning a lot about myself and somehow “labels” were all I could think about. Soon, however, labels weren’t the kind that read Louis Vuitton or Ralph Lauren. They were labels for every aspect of my personal identity, and I quickly noticed the labels that were attached to everyone around me, whether it was vegetarian, Mormon, liberal, conservative, slut or whatever else.
I didn’t like it.
The problem was that labels began defining people rather than people defining their labels. While we have many aspects that each blend beautifully into our personal identity, attaching labels transforms our interest or habits into sharpie signs written across our foreheads. At Duke, we see it all the time. We constantly define our peers by their greek affiliation, race or even sexual orientation.
Why do we find a need to attach so many labels to everything? Why do those shorts have to be pink or salmon? Why does Po have to be a boy or girl? More importantly, why do we care?
Just recently, with talk of the Sochi Olympics in full swing, and more specifically the concerns regarding LGBTQ rights in Russia, a friend and I began talking about the implications of gay athletes and eventually about Tom Daley’s recent coming out.
If you missed the news—and by news I am referring to the 100-plus updates of half-naked Tom Daley GIFs across your Twitter feed—Britain’s poster-child from the 2012 Olympics told the world just a few months ago that he is in a relationship with a man.
He made the announcement in a beautifully candid five-minute video on his YouTube page.
There was, however, something interestingly different in this celebrity “coming out.” Never in his entire video did Tom mention the words “gay” or “bisexual.”
This bothered many people, especially many members of the LGBTQ community, including my friend, who described it as a cop-out: a deliberate attempt to distance himself from either the gay or bisexual communities.
I, however, found Tom Daley’s omission to be a beautiful choice.
And to be perfectly fair, the kid is only 19-years-old. I’m pretty sure your sexuality is still changing at age 19, the way your balls are still dropping at age 13. You know what directions they are headed, but still aren’t so sure how far they will go.
Some things take time.
Sometimes we strive for certainty when there isn’t any and fall into whatever category falls closest. This isn’t a problem exclusive to sexuality: It’s a problem present throughout our culture, in religion, race, nationality, politics and every other aspect of our personal character.
Why are we forced to choose? Why are we forced to define ourselves by a word?
We live in a society that loves pie charts, statistics and checked boxes, which help in our mental organization, but only fuel our obsession with labels.
While others may label us, they can’t define us, just as the media’s labels for Daly can’t define him.
We are more complex than single words could possible describe.
Dillon Patel is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs every other Monday. Send Dillon a message on Twitter @thecasualdevil.