Disclaimer: Yes. This is a repost from two years ago (thus the references to Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal) but things haven't changed that much in that time and I was thinking about this very idea the other day and realized I'd already covered this ground a while back.
I was confused.
A friend casually laid out that another friend was "queer." In my grasp of the language, that meant she was gay. I was confused because her boyfriend was a friend as well so I asked him, "Is she gay? Bisexual? I never knew that..."
A week later, they're all making fun of dad because no one updated him on the new meaning of "queer" as being an umbrella term for a sexual perspective that is specifically non-hetero or cisgendered rather than narrowly reclaimed as gay—whatever the fuck any of that means. And dad was kind of pissed because the random changing of terms followed by condescension when confronted with someone not in the loop was infuriating. But the condescension was really what was infuriating.
"Fine," I said. "I'm heretofore redefining the term 'pedophile' as a 'lover of chocolate.' Why? Because I can, that's why?"
Yes. I realize I can't unilaterally change the meaning of pedophile.
New (undisclosed) definitions. Confusion as how to apply them. Condescension. Anger.
Pretty crappy cycle considering that the point of an evolving language is communication not power dynamics.
The mental picture (provided by my wife) is that the kids are taking dad to the future and want to get there now but can only move as fast as dad can move and he is slow and confused. Being a white man in his fifties, I guess I'm the dad in the metaphor and while I'm confused I'm also not about to cede the discussion to people still living like seven-year-old children and hoping their laundry gets done when mom comes down to the basement. A millennial who has never held a job or lived away from his or her parents doesn't get to lecture me on jack shit.
This is not a blanket condemnation of millennials, merely an old white guy's assertion that 98 percent of everyone under 25 hasn't lived enough actual life to know what the fuck he or she is bloviating about.
So, instead of lectures, let's ask some questions, cuz dad needs some clarification, or he's turning this station wagon around and heading home.
Just the past two weeks I've learned that "sex" is the biological designation determined by birth and "gender" is the culturally appointed or accepted designation. I've learned that "race" is not a choice but "ethnicity" is. I've seen the belief that sexual preference is encoded in the DNA be co-opted by the transgender community to reaffirm that there is no such thing as "transracial" (but based on definitions there might be something like "transethnic") by claiming that regardless of the physical biology one is born with, male and female is determined by how you feel rather than what equipment you have but ethnicity doesn't get the same treatment.
I've read an article that condemns Caitlyn Jenner because she didn't live most of her life as a woman and that the claim that she has the brain of a woman sets feminism back decades. I've also read countless articles claiming that race and sex are not as fixed in biology as we think. I'm seeing the lines of identity crossed and condemned, crossed and applauded, crossed and no thought to what it actually means to choose identity rather than be born into it.
I've also seen that youthful condescension. Even from folks my age.
As if the very idea of seeing a biological man decide to surgically change himself to become a transgender woman is so completely different than a biologically white woman deciding to use skin darkener and hair product to change herself into a black woman and how dare you even compare the two, you troglodyte!? Racist! Homophobe! And this arrogance of zealous purpose tends to throw out those big words in an effort to shut people up rather than actually discuss complex and adult issues because questioning the existing paradigms is bad and looking more deeply into issues of how we operate in society together is wrong!
Yes, friends and readers, I do see the differences between the two examples. I'm not a fucking idiot. The most pervasive argument is that Caitlyn was born a woman (in a man's body) and Rachel wasn't born black. Unfortunately, while there is increasing (but certainly not conclusive) evidence of genetic predispositions of sexual preference, there is no evidence that transgender folks have the same claim. This makes the defacto argument moot and opens up the questions I'm asking. And being offended or pissed that I'm questioning an orthodoxy without any evidence to back it up is no different than being pissed that I think your belief in a resurrected man saving your soul deserves some scrutiny.
Why do marginalized groups doubt the same claims by other marginalized groups?
A sizable contingent of African Americans are very vocal in both their rights to avoid bigotry and their rights to be bigoted toward the LGTBQ community. Feminists who argue that they have struggled far longer than Latinos for basic civil rights. Undocumented Mexicans who argue that they deserve amnesty, but not Muslims. Christians claiming infringement on their religious freedom while blocking the building of mosques.
Call me a throwback to a simpler time but I see nothing but rank hypocrisy in these arguments. Equality and equity for everyone means exactly that. Everyone. The pathological need for a pecking order seems so self-defeating it blows my mind. So many spend so much time crying that it is their specific niche that has been the most victimized that actual common sense change gets ignored while we bicker. If I didn't know better, it's as if the fight was more important than ending the war. But we are Americans and we like nothing more than to fight wars.
Choice equals responsibility for the choice, so what exactly are we born into and have no choice (no responsibility) for?
While the science is inconclusive, I believe that sexual preference is encoded from birth. The science says that there are specific differences between the genetic makeup of gay and straight individuals and cautions that a host of other factors (including environment) contribute to this. That said, why exactly is it important that being gay is not a choice? The argument seems to be aimed at people whose minds aren't going to be changed anyway. Those of us who support everyone's right to fuck who they want (you know, with consent and obvious age restrictions) couldn't care less if being gay is a choice or a genetic destiny. If I decide to shed my heterosexual ways of 51 years and have sex with men from now on, am I somehow less gay than the guy who has lusted for same sex love his whole life? Are my rights then less than his?
So what exactly do we choose to be when it concerns our identity? We choose how we dress. We choose how we speak. We choose the company we keep. We choose how we do our hair, to wear makeup or not, to shave or not, the music we listen to, the movies and television we watch, the books and articles we read. We choose who we date, fuck, fall in love with. And, because we choose all of these things, we are responsible for the consequences of these choices, right? Caitlyn Jenner chose the sexy dress for the magazine cover. Rachel Dolezal chose to change her hair into an African ethnic look.
Did Caitlyn choose to be a woman? Did Rachel choose to be black? Yup. Does that make Caitlyn a woman and would she still be a woman without the reassignment surgery? Does Dolezal's choice make her "transethnic" or just a poser?
And why does it matter? Does it hurt anyone if Caitlyn just decided she wanted to be a woman or Rachel just decided to be black? Is anyone, anywhere harmed by these choices?
The news of Bruce becoming Caitlyn didn't phase me because I thought "Cool for her!" But the condemnation of Caitlyn in the face of Rachel's outing or questioning of authenticity for either strikes me as completely missing the point.
Who does it hurt if everyone gets to choose who he or she wants to be?
Identity politics is a sham. It's fun and bizarrely competitive in the Victim Status Olympiad but ultimately forces us to fight about nothing of day-to-day substance. It's like arguing about who a real Chicagoan is or which team is better. Economic politics is where the real juice is but we'd rather fight over who or who is not authentically gay or black or American than focus on the very thing that fuels the most inequality in the world: money and access to it.
Who gets hurt if I decide to claim I am a black Mexican female? Yes, I understand that systemic institutional racism is harmful and that bigotry has fueled harmful cruelty but my choice to transform myself—trans being the prefix we use in this sort of thing—adds in no way to the systemic, institutional racism we know, nor is it a bigoted perspective on black, Mexican females. Quite the opposite actually. It seems unfair, it bothers people, it is annoying, it pisses some people off but it harms no one.
On the other hand, the myriad who are genuinely harmed by the economic injustice of financial segregation, gentrifying exclusion, and massive cuts to government assistance and education far outweigh the minuscule number of people harmed by a white woman deciding she wants to be black.
So stop hitting your sister—she can be black if she wants and your brother can decide that we call him Mildred—we're on this fucking trip together and no one wants dad to pull the car around and go back to the past.