Happy Transgender Visibility Day!
I’m one of those people for whom “they” and “them” feel about as fitting as “he” and “him,” but I’ve been pretty lucky in a lot of ways and it doesn’t really bother me other than in a few specific circumstances. Normally I don’t even bring it up, but I’ve been considering doing it more often, even though I feel generally masculine, for the sake of normalizing something that really shouldn’t be that big a deal, so that’s part of what I wanted to do with this post.
But the much bigger part of why this feels important isn’t about me, but about the absolute weirdness that comes from society confusing its heuristics and semantic shorthands with deciding it’s allowed to tell people what they “should be.
Because that’s what this debate always comes down to. The labels society developed are all terrible ways to actually map reality, and while many people, and some parts of Western Society, have begun evolving past a lot of the baggage those labels inherited… there’s still a long way to go, and gender is just the latest frontier of this.
In the old days being a “man” or “woman” meant you had to have A, B and C traits, or like X, Y and Z things, and if you were different, that meant you were less of one, which was always framed in a bad way. More and more people are coming to accept that this is nonsense, but we get stuck on things like biology.
It’s not entirely our fault. The problem is we were given shitty words, a lazy language, and told that reality follows the words rather than that the words are a slapdash prototype effort to understand reality.
We had to develop words like “stepmom” to differentiate “biological mom” and “non-biological mom,” except THAT doesn’t work all the time either, because stepmom implies that they married your dad, so what do you call the female that helped raise you that didn’t marry your dad? We all just shrug and accept this gap in our map because no one bothered to create a differentiating word for “person who carried you in their womb whose genetics you share” and “person who is female who raised you.” Too much of an edge-case, maybe, or the only people it affected were poor, or it wasn’t something polite company would acknowledge because the “proper” thing to do would be to cement the relationship through marriage.
Bottom line is it’s a bad language. It’s lazy. It carries baggage and artifacts. It imprecisely describes reality. And we should always keep that in mind, ALWAYS, when we disagree with people about basically anything, but PARTICULARLY when we disagree about each other.
Ethnicity is like this too. There are some useful medical facts that can be determined through heredity and genetic trends in populations, but for 99% of circumstances, the question of what “race” someone is ends up being entirely about social constructs. It’s about how they’re treated by others, it’s about their experiences and lack of experiences, and people fall through the cracks of our shitty, lazy language all the time.
23&Me says I’m 96.4% “Iranian, Caucasian & Mesopotamian”:
Does that make me “white” or “middle-eastern” on the US Census? When people ask if I’m Middle-Eastern, what question am I actually answering? (And no, just saying “I’m Persian” or “My parents are from Iran” does not tend to clarify things for them, because this is not something most who ask know themselves!) I’ve always passed as white (other than in airports, at least), so most of the time it seems weird to call myself Middle-Eastern, though my dad and brother are far more obviously from the Middle East, and my dad in particular has lived a very different life as a result of that. I get clocked as Jewish once in a while, but only once in a way that made my life feel endangered.
The point is there’s nothing at the heart of the generally asked question “what ethnicity” I am. Knowing my parents are Iranian would tell you some things about the kinds of food I enjoy and am used to, but not exclusively. I was raised Jewish, and that would again indicate some things about food familiarity and what holidays I’m familiar with. But when it comes to who I am, as a person, the pattern of thoughts and behaviors that make up me, it’s a nonsense question that, in a perfect world, I wouldn’t even have to consider. As with gender, I’m lucky enough that on most days I don’t have to, unless I’m filling out a form of some kind.
Back to gender. Because we were raised in a culture too lazy and biased to come up with words for “XY chromosomes” that means something different from “male presenting” and another word for “identifies with this bundle of cultural-specific gender stereotypes” and so on, we waste hours and hours, millions of collective hours, we waste blood and sweat and tears, on stupid debates about whether people should be called “men” or “women,” and the question of whether those should be the only two options takes the backseat, while the question of how much it actually matters compared to how we treat each other is talked around or ignored.
There are SOME non-stupid questions in that space. There are some non-stupid considerations that have to be navigated once in a while in society where something similar to the concept of “gender” or “sex” is important, particularly in medical contexts, dating contexts, physical competitions, etc.
But these are 1 in 100, 1 in 1,000, probably really 1 in 1,000,000 what people actually care about when you examine society’s insistence on how lazy we can collectively get away with being when thinking and talking about each other, and certainly don’t have any relationship to the various hysterias that lawmakers tend to leverage when deciding which bouts of cultural fears or ignorance are most politically expedient to them.
In my ideal world we all have pills we can take to transform in to any body shape we want anyway, or a menu in a simulation that lets us be anything we want, and anything that takes us even a tiny step in that direction is better than things that keep us stuck. Which means I’m always happy to call other people whatever personal-identity-labels they’d prefer to be called, even if I slip up sometimes due to pattern-matching visual gendertropes, or accessing cached memories of a person.
As for myself, over the course of my life I’ve responded to “Damon,” “נתן,” “Max,” and “Daystar,” and I honestly don’t really have a preference with what you call me; just how you treat me.