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Walking Away From Labels

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Originally, the plan was to write an essay on what it's like to be a non-Christian during the holiday season. I was going to call it, "So, an Atheist, a Witch and a Satanist Walk Into a Bar..."

I had my interviewees lined up; two lovely, knowledgeable, kindhearted people -- both of whom are active practitioners. Between the Witch, the Satanist and myself, I figured we could deliver a fairly interesting study on the presumptive notions and prejudices that automatically occur when people hear these particular labels. I wanted to hopefully dispel some of these preconceptions by showing the people behind the labels.

So, we had one Witch, one Satanist and me, the atheist.

Me -- the atheist?

Suddenly I felt the pressure of all the articles I'd written for The Huffington Post -- all those proclamations of my spiritual independence. But was I really an atheist at the end of the day?

That was the Pandora's Box of all questions, and by opening it, the year 2012 spilled all over me: Was I really any of the things I declared I was during this time?

Yes, during this time I was all of those things. Sincerely, passionately and sometimes even rabidly. And so, I was an atheist -- until I decided I wasn't.

In the same way, the article you are presently reading has also morphed. It is no longer about atheism during the holiday season; it is about walking away from self imposed labels. Though, the second thought could not have existed without the original idea.

People like labels. Labels give us the chance to compare ourselves to that which is labeled. For example, a statement like "I am an atheist" sets up an instant dynamic; it creates an opportunity for reaction. Being that atheism is highly misunderstood, those reactions can be extreme. Love, hate, understanding, acceptance, condemnation, assumption -- whatever feelings come up, the essential understanding is this: You are labeled and therefore you are a product. As a product, I can objectify and dehumanize you.

When you are labeled, you are both a part of something and isolated from something else. It's a prison of duality. Once I labeled myself, I was no longer Dori the human. I was Dori the label.

In 2012, I labeled myself several things. I was a radical feminist, an activist against online romance fraud, a rage-against-the-machine anti-pink ribbon spokesperson, an asexual vegan who dated really obnoxious guys, a cancer survivor, a rape survivor and an atheist. I made a big deal about being all these things, and because I also labeled myself a popular blogger, my labels were the only easy method by which an audience of mostly strangers could define me. People found comfort in the fact that I was so solidly based in what they either loved or hated. The labels I stamped on myself afforded others the security of knowing who there were in comparison to me.

I don't feel the need to defend my labels anymore. I feel like those labels were job titles and that the jobs were completed. My shift is over.

I'd like to think that I helped raise awareness on the topics that I embraced so intensely. I'd love to think that a television program like Nev Schulman's "Catfish: The TV Show" has an even larger and more receptive audience because of the thousands of people who read my articles on Internet fraud. I'd like to think that someone out there decided that it was better to directly help breast cancer patients as opposed to placating them with worthless pink ribbon branding. If labeling myself inspired people to love me, hate me or just plain react to me, then it was worth it if the reaction stimulated awareness on the topic.

That's what it's all about. That's what my job here is. To stimulate, to cause reaction, to catalyze. My job is not to stagnate -- it's to evolve.

As far as atheism goes, as my daughter says, "It's too reality based." Smart kid, that one, but she's got a point. I need a break from all this intensity, all this realism. I want to lose myself in a sacred chant. I want to once again recite the mantras that blow the lid off this reality TV show called "Life On Earth." I just want to say "Thank You" to the sky without having to explain to everyone around me that I'm not saying it to God so that I can prove that I'm a proper atheist. I'm not a proper atheist. I'm just me. Just here. Occasionally labeled, sometimes foolish, always in transition.

For all of you who faithfully read everything I write, I thank you. Thank you for riding with me, for enjoying my ideas, for inspiring my blogs, for writing me so many emotional letters, for encouraging and supporting everything I do or say -- thank you. I'm grateful for your time, I'm even grateful for your disapproval because it gives me the opportunity to discern and analyze.

Goodbye 2012. If the world doesn't end on Dec. 21, then I'll see you all on the other side where I promise to create, sustain and destroy my own labels, again and again.

...or not!