Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Binary Categories

"[When we try to subject people to binary categories]...we call into question the very ground beneath their feet. Gay or straight? Men or women? Male or female? Transgendered or intersex? We know the reality of the situation.....that every time you draw a line, it slices through someone's tender flesh."
-Raven Kaldera

"Wouldn't it be wonderful to take all the evil people and put them over there, then we wouldn't have to deal with them. And all of us good people would stay right here. The problem is that the line separating good and evil cuts right through the human heart."
-Alexander Solzenitzen

When I read the first quote (posted in March on Facebook by a woman I respect greatly, Robyn Ochs), I immediately thought of the second, which has been my friend Lianne's signature quote on our diet board for what feels like years. I think "the line separating" us into one thing (gay, female, etc.) from another (straight, male, etc.)--if it even exists--is just like the line separating good and evil. It "cuts right through the human heart." It's a lesson I learned early on in my journey into myself.

As I learned more about the T (Transgendered) and I (Intersex) members of our LGBTI & Q community, I discovered that I'm not the only one who feels safer when everyone can be categorized into a little, labeled box. In some sense, all of us are a bit "OCD"--we want everything to be black and white. We feel more comfortable believing that everything is binary and there are only two options. You are either one or you are the other. Period. No grey. You are either a man or a woman. You cannot be both, and there is certainly no "other" category. Or so we want to believe...

Of course, human beings are no more easily categorized as "gay" or "straight" than they are "good" or "evil." It takes time to come to understand that--to realize that whether we're comfortable admitting it or not, we all lie at some point on a spectrum, and that point can move (sometimes more than once) during our lifetimes. I believe our sexuality is fluid. To some extent, I believe our gender is, too (though our sex is not, at least not without help...). But it is certainly on a spectrum. There are those that take femininity to the max (I'm thinking RuPaul here, personally. ;) ). There are those that take masculinity just as far, and then there are those of us in the "middle." The tomboys, the metrosexuals, the butches, the femmes, the genderqueer, the slightly masculine women, the slightly feminine men. (For more info, check out these interesting charts comparing the western gender spectrum and the gender spectrum present in some other cultures. You might also find this article from the NY Times interesting.)

Though the concept of gender being on a spectrum like sexuality was new to me, that wasn't too hard for me to accept. I have super sporty girlfriends who are very masculine in appearance and personality, and I certainly knew my share of guys "in touch with their feminine side" in drama class. What was a bit difficult for me was the idea that one's gender doesn't, in fact, have anything to do with your sexuality. When I think about it, it does make tons of sense--while there were a couple of gay men in my drama classes (some of whom didn't come out until well after HS), most of the guys who were "in touch with their feminine sides" exclusively dated women at the time, and are now married to women. I can't tell you what they believe their sexuality to be, but I figure they lie more towards the heterosexual side of the spectrum in spite of being somewhat "feminine" in their gender expression. I've now come to embrace the reality that those who express a gender outside the norm are not any more likely to have a sexual interest in the same sex as those whose gender is inside the norm.

It's sometimes a lot to take in--the concept that things aren't black and white. I have a really hard time with it in my life in spite of the things I've learned. Some of my friends have personal interests that are anathema to me, yet I adore them, which is a big challenge for me. My affection for them forces me to learn to accept these friends as they are and admit that I can love someone who does things I think are bad. It stretches my soul and my capacity to love, and I think that's a good thing.

I think it's beneficial for all of us. But if you don't feel ready to do some soul stretching, please keep in mind that your desire to keep things in binary categories just might "slice someone's tender flesh," and act accordingly.

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