The casual intolerance of the 2000s

A few months ago, during a car conversation with a new friend, we got onto the topic of homosexuality and gender queerness. In the middle of a reasonable discourse between two progressively-minded people with educational backgrounds in sociological issues, he pulled out the classic, “You know, I have nothing against homosexuals—I have gay friends and everything—but I think I would be upset if I had a kid who turned out to be gay.” Classic. First of all, any sentence that begins with “I have nothing against certain (often oppressed) group of people, BUT…” is probably about to slip down a slope pretty fast. “I’m not racist, and I have nothing against black people, BUT, really racist statement XYZ.” It is also almost always accompanied and defended by giving examples of their personal connections with people of said group: “I’m not _________! I have __________ friends!”

This is the watered-down and relatively socially-accepted homophobia/racism/sexism/xenophobia/classism of our generation. It is no longer ok to admit that you hold such politically incorrect feelings in an outright and aggressive manner, but somehow it is accepted if you tone it down to a more passive personal “opinion”. You demonstrate that you “accept” that these people do exist and you may even go so far as to befriend them, but, as it was in the case of my friend, you can stop at allowing the “other” into you personal life or family. It’s along a similar path as “I’m fine with gay people, as long as they don’t come on to me.” Puh-lease. Give me a break. That smells of narcissism AND insecure heterosexuality. I’m not going to even open that can of worms.

My conversation partner and I were new friends at the time, so while I tried to probe into why he felt this way, I did refrain from losing my indignant shit all over him. He basically seemed concerned that he wouldn’t be able to relate to his hypothetical gay child’s experiences, and in some ways this is valid. He’d have the job of daily privilege checks: constant acknowledgment of his own hetero-normative entitlements (which hopefully don’t really exist anymore by the time he manages to pro-create.) Furthermore, if the primary and secondary school years are anything like they are now fifteen to twenty years down the line, I would be concerned for the welfare of my gay/gender queer child as well. Despite the vast progress that has been made since the 1970’s, in more isolated areas, these kids often have to blaze their own equality trails (with or without the support of their families), endowing them with responsibilities and tribulations that they should not have to wield and navigate as children/teens.

Nevertheless, this was not my friend’s primary concern. He was worried about relating to his hypothetical gay son in the romance/relationships department. Like, how could he possible advise him on dude-chick relations if his son was more mixed up with the dude-dude stuff? Totally foreign territory, man. Right. Because gay relationships are so radically different from heterosexual ones. I am not saying that they are identical, that would smell of an attempt to “normalize” gay relationships to a homophobic world by simply throwing a pair of white dress-clad plastic cis-women on the top of a wedding cake so as not to frighten the “straights” by changing anything else up (Just two women getting married! Don’t worry, they are both still being “given away” by their respective fathers! Same old straight wedding, just with a little copy and paste! ctrl + X “man” ctrl + V “woman”. Nothing to see here! Carry on!) Ahem, however, I feel like advice on loving and caring for your partner in a heterosexual relationship could probably carry over to a same-sex partnership. Believing otherwise maintains and reinforces the “otherness” of homosexuality, queerness and gay relationships.

Anyway, to sum up, I have just gotten sick of statements like these. Worst of all, of their being tolerated as “personal opinions” rather than the homophobic, racist, sexist bullshit that they are.

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Gotta start somewhere… how about a little ramble on gender!

In numerous discussions throughout the last few months (honestly, more like the last few 22 years), I have found myself feeling pressured to “just accept” the world in binary terms. I’m not talking “good” vs. “evil” or “Pepsi” vs. “Coke” (neither, thanks. Just tap water), but “men” vs. “women” (if any words in the English language necessitate quotation marks around them, these two are definitely up there… along with “free trade” and “The American Dream”… ahem, but I digress). Far more often than I would like, I feel dragged into the oh so simplifying and excruciatingly annoying world of “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus!!” Yay! Like I totally just don’t get men! I wish I could, like, understand why they do all the things they doooo!! Ugh men suck, amiright girls??  Soon enough it becomes one giant Dr. Phil session about helping men and women to finally understand one another.

Before we all go into male/female group therapy and start hugging each other and swapping hand-written affirmation cards high school retreat style, let’s back up and take a quick look at this whole “difference between ‘the sexes’ thing.” Are we saying that men and women are fundamentally different in certain concrete ways? If so, how/why does that happen? I would be in the camp that it is mostly due to socialization, a form of socialization that is very detrimental to any progressive goals for my corner of the world. Want to claim that it’s biological? Natural? Well then that gets really sticky… Because you must start with binaries: “men” vs. “women.” Ok, fine. Then what makes a “man” a “man” and a “woman” a “woman”? Genitalia? Hormones? Chromosomes? An affinity for the color pink? Now try to classify everyone in your society into those two rigid camps: “masculine/male” and “feminine/female.” I assure you that you will run into problems very quickly. I for one wouldn’t go quietly/comfortably into either. What about Transgender “guy” “A”? Let’s assume this little fragile classification doesn’t collapse immediately and Trans guy “A” decides that he identifies fully as “masculine/male” and marches into the corresponding box. Will we now put all Transgender “guys” into that box? I don’t know about you all, but I have a sneaking feeling that this plan will go very wrong very quickly.

I think (not to say that this is a highly original train of thought… some readers [should there be any…] might be yawning and rolling their eyes in “duh-ness” right now) that one way to improve the societal issues that we feminists are always dragging on about would be to abolish this idea of “binary genders”. Accept that people are people, and we exist on a spectrum of genders, sexualities, physicalities, etc. Accept that people may feel most comfortable in several different identities at once, or none at all. Eliminate this binary, this either/or, this ridiculous fascination with “men want this, whereas women want that,” “men think this way, whereas women think that way,” and it will become easier in turn to eliminate the gender hierarchies/power struggles that have been created over the course of history. Not to mention, I think we would all breathe a little easier once free of this binary corset that all too often restricts our capacity to explore and express every aspect of ourselves. Of course this is all over-simplified, and I am by no means well-studied in this area, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about it because the “natural differences” between “men” and “women” thing just really gets on my nerves and doesn’t make a bit of sense in my mind. Perhaps I should blame it on the fact that I’ve surrounded myself with so many gender queer people who hate to be assigned a stringent category, and on my own struggle with my personal gender identity and not feeling comfortable residing permanently and entirely in either one of the two socially established and characterized “feminine/female” and “masculine/male” boxes.

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