A few months ago I watched Dave Chappelle’s stand up show, ‘The Closer’ on Netflix. Unless you avoid media and news outlets altogether, you probably know that he received a lot of angry responses to that. Today, I watched a standup show by Ricky Gervais in which he talks about Transgender people kind of. No public outcry yet, but that’s likely because fewer people in the US think of Ricky Gervais. As comedians I understand why they tackle the topic…They’re insanely rich and there are few consequences with them pissing people off. I can imagine that for the Trans community these comedy specials are difficult to watch, I don’t find the jokes offensive, but people are easily offended these days. The elephant in the room is a lack of understanding though.
I don’t remember which grade we learned pronouns in, but it was a long time ago for me. 4 years ago, the word “pronoun” was as meaningful to me as the words footnote or drawstring. I rarely said it, never truly gave thought about the word. In 2020, “pronoun” became a term that I used more than I have since whatever grade I learned the word. My only experience at that point was hearing a gay friend of mine referencing this guy he was dating, as they. He was telling this story with multiple characters and omitted names, so it was really difficult to follow. To that point in 2019, I had no idea that individuals were identifying as “they” and naturally, I said “this makes no sense”. During that conversation I was wondering if he forgot that I knew he was gay. It seemed like such effort to constantly refer to this single person as they in this story that involved this guy cheating on him with another guy. Sometimes he said they singular, other times it was the plural they…same conversation.
To be fair, I have asked these questions to people and Google. I can easily accept respecting someone’s wishes, but the pluralized pronouns don’t make much sense to me. It could be similar to my 3d brain trying to perceive the 4thdimension, and I am simply incapable of this or something that makes perfect sense after someone explains it well. I don’t know. What I do know is, it’s a touchy subject and people aren’t really allowed to be fully ignorant about it openly. That said, I’ll say that I’m ignorant, I don’t understand, but I’d like to.
Barriers to Clarification
After asking questions to humans and getting all rude answers, I turned to Google. This wasn’t honestly that helpful either because each person that feels non-binary has a different take on the key word “feel”. One person said “sometimes I feel like a man, sometimes I feel like a woman, sometimes I feel like neither”. Another person categorized it by the fashion they felt like wearing. Another associated it with gender norms in society. To my analytical brain, that doesn’t make sense. I personally can’t fathom “feeling” like another gender, without having any of the hormones, body parts, or experiences to compare to it, or no gender at all. I wore a pink shirt yesterday, which is associated with feminine, but the shirt was in the men’s section. I do all the chores and cooking in my house, but I don’t believe that is inherently feminine or inherently masculine.
Barriers to Enlightenment
The other issue I have is the importance of societal norms in ones self-identity. Women wear pants, pantsuits, shorts, Jordan’s jeans you name it. I saw a guy the other day wearing a kilt suit, not sure if he was Scottish, but for all intents and purposes, it looked like a skirt to me. Furthermore, males and females can wear whatever articles of clothing they want and still be male or female. To that end, I can’t imagine “feeling” like a woman because I enjoy wearing kilts or colors generally considered feminine. I see that as a narrowminded society issue, not my gender being misaligned with my identity.
I remember when the Rachel Dolezal story first broke, I was confused that this White woman would identify as Black. I had to see what she looked like, and she was very convincing with braids and a tan, not so much from her childhood pictures. I was mostly confused by that being a choice considering the discrimination Black people face in America. I didn’t truly care though; she was doing her part to make situations better for Black people and that came from a genuine place of concern. I still don’t care on a “self-identification” level. However, I don’t understand how she could feel like a Black woman, any more than I could feel like an Asian man. I don’t think emulating is necessary to empathize with someone. That is likely my biggest barrier to understanding the pronoun selections. Not the only barrier though.
In addition to not understanding the identification portion of it, the grammatical aspect bothers me. Not because of the people, but because I’ve lived 38 years with them, they, we, us, and our all being plural pronouns. The only singular, gender neutral pronouns I can think of are “one” and “It”. I rarely hear someone refer to another person as One, and never heard anyone seriously referred to as an “It”. I can imagine how those terms may seem disrespectful, but “they” and “them” for a person that does not identify with their biological sex seems just as disrespectful to me.
Being Black in America gives me some perspective in how alienated groups may feel. In this case, I know what it means to be of African descent, but not African, and because of the superiority complex of the nation, labeled African American, not fully American. Many of us opt for Black to describe ourselves since our heritage is not fully known. It’s not the same at all as being trans, but it’s more of a view in than I would normally have.
That’s the first step to breaking these learning barriers. I believe that ignorance can only be cured with information, which is totally different than what humanity goes for now. People would rather attempt to cancel people for being ignorant or publicly shame them, which never results in understanding or acceptance…just fear and resentment. I can’t personally relate to ever feeling like something I’m physically not, and I don’t honestly think anyone else can genuinely feel this way either. That doesn’t mean I feel those going through that are somehow less worthy of love, dignity, and respect. I recognize they are living with something, I don’t understand what they’re going through.