In September of 2009, Swartz wrote about his own sexuality on his blog, “Raw Thought,” in which he discussed society’s need for labels and how he, in fact, did not identify with them.
This new gay identity was projected back through history — famous historical figures were “outed” as gay, because they’d once taken lovers of their own gender. They truly were gay underneath, it was said — it was just a homophobic society that forced them to appear to like the opposite sex.
Along with the identity went an attempt at justification. Being gay wasn’t “a choice,” they argued — it was innate. Some people were just born gay and others weren’t. To a culture that tried to “correct” gay people into being straight, they insisted that correction was impossible — they just weren’t wired this way. (They even provided a ridiculous genetic explanation for how a species with a small percentage gay people might evolve.)
This might have been a good thing to say — maybe even necessary in such a homophobic culture — but in the end it has to be seen as simply wrong. Having sex with other people of your gender isn’t an identity, it’s an act. And, like sex in general among consenting adults, people should be able to do it if they want to. Having sex with someone shouldn’t require an identity crisis. (Nobody sees having-sex-with-white-people as part of their identity, even if that’s primarily who they’re attracted to.)
People shouldn’t be forced to categorize themselves as “gay,” “straight,” or “bi.” People are just people. Maybe you’re mostly attracted to men. Maybe you’re mostly attracted to women. Maybe you’re attracted to everyone. These are historical claims — not future predictions. If we truly want to expand the scope of human freedom, we should encourage people to date who they want; not just provide more categorical boxes for them to slot themselves into. A man who has mostly dated men should be just as welcome to date women as a woman who’s mostly dated men.
So that’s why I’m not gay. I hook up with people. I enjoy it. Sometimes they’re men, sometimes they’re women. I don’t see why it needs to be any more complicated than that.
Regardless of labels, it’s unfortunate to lose a man who meant a great deal to the Internet community. Swartz’s suicide did not come without prior mentions of depression. He first wrote about his struggles in November of 2007.
BuzzFeed FWD has more about Swartz’s legal battles and his advocacy work prior to his death.
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He wasn’t objecting to labels as such; we all use labels all the time, and so did he. The term “label” simply means putting a name to something. His argument is that our present obsession with categorizing everyone under the labels “gay,” “straight,” and “bi” is a bad thing. He objects to THOSE labels, not ALL labels. And he’s obviously right. Anyone who looks honestly at the variety of expressions of sex and romantic love can see that those labels are ridiculously inadequate, and their relentless social enforcement generates vast amounts of misery. Just think of all the teens who spend years agonizing over which of those labels is the “right” one for them, and the agony is all for nothing. I never knew anything about Aaron Swartz until now, and I admire him for his insight on this subject.
Yet, just as many (if not more) feel empowered by their labels. The world (and the world of sexuality) becomes an obscure place without labels. Notice how he uses “man” and “woman” in his post: don’t these labels enforce social dogmas about the man-woman binary that cause “vast amounts of misery” for transgendered people? It is clear that he is ambivalent about particular labels referring to homosexuality, yet feels comfortable using others.
Despite the fact that dis suicide is a tragedy, I do not agree with him. Humans need labels, we flourish with labels. We like things organized. He doesn’t have an issue with a label, he has an issue with the implications that label makes. The fact remains that it is foolish to expect people not to label one another.
He didn’t refuse to be labeled. Notice he uses labels like “men” and “women.” The fact is, as a society, we are mediated by language. Whether you want to call them “signifiers” or “labels”, it is how we navigate the complex symbolic order that we find ourselves in (and, in fact, they constitute this order.) Sexuality isn’t the Kantian “thing-in-itself” - it is structured and interpreted by historical and cultural forces. Swartz is wrong when he says “people are just people” - a meaningless tautology if I’ve ever seen one.
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