I had a bit of an epiphany this morning, or at least a thought, which might be worth sharing.
I’ll begin with this: I grew up with norms and social constructs relating to sex and gender that were deeply fucked-up. That’s not this morning’s epiphany, though. I’ve known that for some time. Over the last, oh, thirty years, and particularly the last ten, I’ve attempted to work against the various ways that those norms and constructs have been harmful to myself and others. The patriarchy, as we only-somewhat-joshingly refer to the systems of power and gender in our culture, infiltrates almost every aspect of our lives, and I am still finding new ways in which my instincts are based on (or at least influenced by) ideas about sex and gender that I now believe are wrong.
But here’s the thing I realized this morning: there are people who don’t believe that they hold deeply fucked-up notions of sex and gender.
I mean, I kinda knew that, I guess. But I don’t think I’d recently thought about it in those terms: there are people who believe that the norms and social constructs of sex and gender that they grew up with are the right norms and social constructs: beneficial to themselves and others, correct to some objective truth about the universe, perhaps Divinely ordained, and certainly not fucked-up.
I wonder what that’s like.
I mean, I don’t really. But a thing about growing up in the 70s as YHB did is that we were being made aware that the Old Ways were wrong. Women’s Liberation and the Sexual Revolution and the Gay Rights movement were mainstream enough that pre-teens were at least dimly aware that Something Was Happening, even if we didn’t know what it was, did we. Then the eighties happened, if I remember correctly, and… well, my point is that I don’t remember a time when I felt like the values and norms and symbols and institutions I inherited were unproblematic. I wouldn’t have used the word problematic, mind you, and I spent much of my life deluding myself about the extent to which I had thrown off those things, but still.
But when I read things like the attempt to define sex as immutable from birth, I am occasionally startled to think that I used to believe that was true. And now I don’t. I have changed my mind about that stuff. I was wrong, and now, while I don’t really feel that I’m right, I feel like I am at least less wrong in those specific ways.
And, you know, at this point in my life, after forty-glob years, and as a matter of temperament as well as age I suppose, I have kind of given up on being right about things. I don’t think that my current understanding of sex and gender will be the same understanding I will have in ten years, or maybe ten months. Whenever I learn a new thing—most recently stuff about diagnoses of autism and identification as nonbinary, for instance—I am grateful to learn a thing and it doesn’t really shake my worldview. And when I learn that a things I thought were true are not true—f’r’ex about pre-adolescents and medical transitioning treatments—I don’t feel it as an attack on me personally and my entire worldview. I mean, sure, I probably get defensive for a while, but I think I get over that pretty quickly and move on to the actual learning.
But if I didn’t believe that I had been handed an upfucking from society to begin with, I would get a lot more defensive and in fact angry at people who wanted to change my mind. I can… not sympathize, exactly, but I can nearly imagine that anger.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,