The most revelatory morsel of Cate Blanchett's latest interview with Variety, promoting her next film, Carol, is not that she's had relationships with women. Rather, it's her comment about labels:
"Pressed for details about whether she's had past relationships with women, she responds, 'Yes. Many times,' but doesn't elaborate. Like Carol, who never 'comes out' as a lesbian, Blanchett doesn't necessarily rely on labels for sexual orientation. 'I never thought about it,' she says of how she envisioned the character. 'I don't think Carol thought about it.'"
Blanchett's lack of consideration for labels reflects a larger cultural trend in the 21st century, of not being tethered to identity in the same way previous generations have. Just last week, for instance, Miley Cyrus explicitly refused labels about her gender and sexuality. The irony in this case was that people, from writers at the Daily Dot to fans on Tumblr, called her "genderqueer," to which she took to Instagram to refute: "NOTHING can/will define me! Free to be EVERYTHING!!!"
Who are labels for, really? From Blanchett's indifference to labels to Cyrus' outright refusal of them and an undercurrent of young people who find labels confining, it's clear many people are tired of being put into boxes. But if anything, as the reaction to Cyrus' words demonstrates, people are labeled anyway, even if it means dishonoring their own identity preferences. This is especially true of sexuality, since sexuality (unlike gender and race) is not necessarily visible.
Let's face it: Labels aren't just for the individual, but for the society that so desperately needs to define and place that individual in it.
The birth of identities: As even the most novice readers of Michel Foucault know, identities are cultural constructs, representing the historical period in which they are born. They are specifically useful to categorize people, and build communities.
It's in this reflex that the concept of homosexuality, as an identity, was created before that of the heterosexual. The homosexual identity came about in the late 19th century, as psychoanalysis and the medical industry emerged. The point was to diagnose, treat and "cure" homosexuality (which was considered a disorder by the American Psychological Association until 1973) while signaling it as different from heterosexuality.
But despite all these labels and categories, at the end of the day, a person's gender expression — or how they present their femininity or masculinity (or both) — says nothing about what they prefer in bed.
The pressure that Blanchett, Cyrus and countless individuals face to define their sexuality with a label is one born from two components. The primary one is society's need to categorize a person; the secondary one comes from the LGBT community, the minority group in the midst of fighting for its civil rights, which advocates for these rights through making its members visible to the mainstream culture.
Out with the 20th century, out with the labels? It's not just labels around sexuality that are becoming less appealing to people. In this century, it's so Raven to express reluctance or explicitly refuse labels around race and gender. With the latter, the identity categories are morphing to reflect this cultural trend away from fixed categories, with the birth of queer, and with the latest lexical additions of gender-fluid, gender-nonconforming, bigender and agender.
Identity labels are tied to the time period in which they emerge. What is apparent in 2015 is that some people are moving beyond the confines of the 20th century toward a more liberated sense of how they define themselves, either by appropriating less restrictive labels, choosing and swapping them as well please or by rejecting them altogether.