The context for this particular essay is simple confusion as to why Facebook, despite having recently introduced the ability to select from 50 different gender identities, was still giving me only the options for “male” or “female” I saw (and still see) no “custom” option.
For a horrifying moment, I thought the whole thing was a cruel and unusual hoax, but NPR (that hallmark of reliable media, lolz) ran an article from the perspective of the Facebook staff member that definitely tells me it’s a real thing that I’m just not seeing anywhere. The comments on that article are…saddening, to say the least. Remember that NPR’s audience is primarily far-left social progressives and economic authoritarians, so the fact there’s so much insensitivity present is…unfortunate, to say the least.
Ignorance, well, that’s to be expected. The principles of idealism that comprise a significant portion of both the foundation and keystone of no-holds-barred progressivism* have an unusual tendency to promote horribly misinformed perceptions of what it really means to be “different.”
It’s interesting, though, to note that Facebook’s decision to expand the options for “gender” selection to 50, while agreeably a step in the right direction, is still rather a slap in the face to those at the forefront of the multitude of equality, awareness, and visibility movements. This whole “identity” topic wasn’t even around a decade or two ago, nor were at least half of the words used in and around the general movement so much as in our vocabulary.
The issue of sexuality and gender identities having definitions (or, as the case may be, limited or no definition) in a public space has become relevant in a fervent, almost aggressive manner in a very short amount of time.
It’s a legitimate concern of mine that the great speed at which the gender identity visibility movement(s) is/are progressing and moving – or forcing themselves – well into the public eye is the biggest obstacle to its/their success. To even people who are educated and open-minded, it can seem from a distance that we’re clamoring to “express ourselves” in as many different ways as possible from “everyone else.”
I remember a time when “LGBT” was good enough. Then they added Q. Then, as we added more letters, we began simply telling people to just use the word “queer” for fuck sake because pretty soon we’re just gonna recite the alphabet and plus, what if you aren’t sure? We can’t have two Qs (queer and questioning) in the acronym. That’s just absurd. If you’re questioning, you might not be queer, but you’re definitely not “like everybody else.” And that’s fine.
I miss being able to simply agree that gender identity is fluid, the the very concept of “gender” at all is a social construct that exists independently of biological factors, but on that topic I’m afraid I can progress no further, as even I, with my extensive science background, am apparently incredibly misinformed to the point of what I once considered scientific knowledge being instead no more than “elementary school bullshit.”
I spend the vast majority of my time dwelling upon issues of neurodiversity and ableism, both of which are as serious as any other social issue that affects the fundamental civil liberties and human rights (and dignity) afforded people. No one would dare call me out for ignorance of the widespread and encouraged discrimination facing those with prevailing developmental disabilities. No one would dare accuse me of having no idea what it’s like to have emotional stability issues or learning disabilities or even a speech impediment, because I’ve lived it.
So…why does it seem okay to accuse me of being so far-removed from the gender-binary-nonconformist visibility and awareness movement? Is it this thing i apparently have called “cis-passing privilege?” That’s nice and all, and I appreciate the constant guilt-trips (joke, I have major guilt issues as-is), but reminding me I can “pass” as a “man” is (to me) the rough equivalent of saying “why don’t you just act like/look like/be a man?”
I know it’s seldom (not never, but seldom) meant that way, but I would never think of telling a genderqueer person to “just call yourself trans – it’s much easier to understand.” Because they’re not trans. They’re not trans-anything. If anything, they’re transcendent with regards to gender (see what I did there?) and attempting to understand their identity in terms of what with which you are already familiar is, while instinctive, ultimately ineffective.
Part of me wants to give up and just accept that it’s okay for people to choose whatever label they want for themselves – provided they’re a fan of labeling themselves, that is. I never have been, with myself or others. It’s also not okay to say people have to label themselves, that they simply must identify as something.
We humans have no obligation to justify either the state or nature of our existence to each other.
No, that does not mean it’s okay to say your gender is “Klingon.” Klingon is a fucking species (not a race – they’re not human) and at that, need I remind you, fictional. It’s also not okay to say you identify as a tree. You don’t. You can’t. The simple fact that you are communicating an assertion of your own sentience effectively nullifies any and all potential for you to be innately part of a completely different kingdom of life.
That, and it’s also insulting to people whose identities are complicated and difficult to describe or explain, but that ought to go without saying.
For the record, I am still very much questioning my own identity. The initial crises are well in the past, but I’m far from feeling comfortable with myself. Please remember this is the case with a significant number of gender-binary-nonconforming people, and that the best way to be supportive is to not try and “help” us “figure things out” – unless, of course, you have had similar experiences in your own life. Solidarity is always appropriate and welcomed.
*no, “progressivism” is not, strictly speaking, a real word. It’s also not inaccurate, as the grammatically-correct “progressiveness” refers to an abstract quality, not a school of thought.
JFB 13 Feb 2014