We humans love to categorize, stereotype and label. Our brains want to make sense of the world, so we assign meaning to everything around us.
Sometimes this can be pretty benign. A friend loves chickens and her friends knew it. But it didn't take long before she was the proud owner of not just 12 live hens, but also 4,582 chicken figurines, salt & pepper shakers, decorative plates and dozens of other chicken "art" covering every surface. She's now the chicken lady, poor thing.
Say "Germans" and people think "efficient, correct." Say "Italians" and people think "lovers of food, life and art." In Portland, if you say "Southeast" people think "hipster." Say "Pearl District" and people think "money." Say "Beaverton" and people think "suburb" or maybe "Nike." And so it goes. We label people and places and experiences so we understand them better and fit them into our vision of the world.
Here's the problem, though. When it comes to people, labels can strangle our understanding and freeze our perception of the world. Worse, it can make that person scary, abnormal and the "other." And that leads to only bad things...
Take lesbians. Portland has a big lesbian population, so people probably have a lot of generalizations (think dogs, Subarus, short hair...) So, here's a thought: if a woman has been with a man and had a child but is now married to a woman is she a lesbian? What is she then if she then falls in love with a man? Or a transgendered male to female? Or decides to be partnerless, celibate and just enjoy the company of chickens? Is she still a lesbian?
See the problem? We are so much more than one thing - and no one thing defines us, whether it's a political, social, sexual, gender, economic label. Humsans are so much more complex than that. I know Christians who are gay and vote Green party. I know wealthy Republican lawyers who help the homeless and friendless. I know lesbians who flirt with men. I know gay men whose closest friends are women. I know homemakers with PhDs and former meth addicts who are highly respected in their fields.
I am constantly surprised - and tickled - by people I meet. It usually happens when I make a snap judgement and my brain puts a label on someone, only to find she or he is so much more complex, quirky, profound, funny, loving than I thought. My brain gets a big slap and it makes me happy to be wrong once again.