WHAT TRANSGENDER REALLY MEANS (to me)
Last weekend we hosted an old friend, her husband and their transgender child (male to female, she) who are considering moving to Santa Fe from Texas.
I mention the gender issue if only to convey my thoughts and feelings on the non-binary movement and my belief that we all should make an effort to be accepting of each other, despite our contrasting and complementary quirks, preferences, beliefs, behaviors and values.
As I was discussing with Enzo & Maddy in The Shed at Hacienda Dominguez & Chelenzo Farms the other day, the trouble with trans-anything is that it is an inconvenient truth. If a person doesn’t fit conveniently into a category (man or woman; boy or girl) we get confused and have to make an effort to accommodate.
The advocacy and practice of new non-binary pronouns (they/them) is a good example, but even that minor accommodation is too major and inconvenient for many.
Granted, the cognitive dissonance that ensues is a bit troublesome. For although we consciously choose to address someone by their preferred pronoun, our intentions can be readily thwarted by how we are used to perceiving and categorizing someone, everyone. It is so much easier to understand and accept one another when we compartmentalize our experience and interactions with others.
Which is why I find that the trouble with trans-anything for many - is primarily a matter of inconvenience.
Very much like language is a tool of convenience for all of us - whether it’s by professional, cultural or geographical association, groups naturally agree upon a set of sounds that translate into words with meaning (language) in order to conveniently communicate with one another. When some new term or word lies outside those set of rules - confusion, frustration and misunderstanding can ensue, which in and of itself does not invalidate the new word or term.
As an example, how many times have you winced when you perceived someone’s mispronunciation or you yourself were corrected for mispronouncing something? Alas, for innocuous and sometimes frivolous reasons, we hold onto beliefs and rules, because otherwise it confuses our perception of reality or drags us through that mucky-muddy quagmire of righteousness.
Likewise, having to communicate with someone who speaks another language, but does not speak our own, is inconvenient; and for many that means forcing others to “speak our language,” if only because it is simply too inconvenient to learn theirs.
However, diversity is the fulcrum of “humanity,” by all senses of the word: our existence and survival, buttressed by the universal principle of benevolence and the vital importance of the humanities as conveyors, interpreters and conservationists of our collective experience.
Hence, the preservation and our tolerance of different languages is vitally important to conveying who we are, where we’ve been and where we might be going, because together we tender an infinite variety of beliefs, values, perceptions and idiosyncratic experiences.
And, it’s all good. Sure, there’s plenty to argue about here, but I’ve long believed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, reality is relative and quite subjective, and what I know, is that I pretty much know nothing.
And when it comes to truth, well, I’ll let Sir Richard Burton answer that for me, with an excerpt from his poem “The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi,” which conveys the Sufist philosophy he had hoped to introduce to the West:
There is no Good, there is no Bad;
These be the whims of mortal will.
What works me weal, that I call good;
What harms and hurts I hold as ill.
They change with place, they shift with race,
And, in the veriest span of time,
Each Vice has worn a Virtue's crown,
All Good was banned as Sin or Crime.
To elaborate on my case here, subtlety and nuance are critical aspects of the human experience, nothing and no one, is truly “black” or “white.”
There are many examples of words between cultures for which their is either no exact translation or which convey a slightly different almost-inexplicable sentiment that must be understood within the context of tradition, values and experience.
For example, Brazilians say “Cafune” to describe “ tenderly running your fingers through your lover’s hair”; in the Philippines they say “Gigil” to describe “the urge to pinch or squeeze something that is irresistibly cute;” and in Inuit speakers say “Iksuarpok” to convey the feeling of when you’re waiting for someone to stop by your house and you keep going outside to see if they’re there.
Although it may not be a common sentiment and expression for Americans it remains a vital one for many Latinos and Latin-Americans. And so, once again, it is simply a small example of why the acceptance of inconvenient differences is so important, not only in terms of language, but especially when it comes to the perception and definition of oneself and that of others.
It is simply an inconvenient truth that although we are all only human, we are all likewise quite different and we don’t always conveniently fit into a hole, if only because inside we feel like we are really a square.
Hence, what “transgender” really means to me is that it is simply a label, just like every other label we apply to one another: male, straight, gay, American, Latina, professional, graduate, mother, blue collar, white collar, brother, sister, New Yorker, New Mexican, so on and so forth. Each one of these labels and ways of describing others and ourselves is merely a minor part of the multi-faceted person of who we really are; no single label can ever simply represent the truth of our whole being and existence.
But where there is acceptance and understanding, it behooves us to make an effort to accommodate such differences. The fact that many big cities, NYC perhaps being the best one here in the States, prints governmental information in several different languages is a good example.
And this is where ironically the evolution of the Bible, as most Christians know it, i.e. the Old and New Testaments, offers some helpful guidance as well.
Prior to AD, that is Anno Domini, or the “Year of our Lord” (Jesus Christ) was born, much of the Judaiec world followed the collection of scriptures that would eventually be known as the Old Testament (by Christians). Until only about roughly 66-110 AD, when the Gospels were written (collectively known as the New Testament), the oversimplified overarching guiding principle that characterizes the Old Testament was “an eye for an eye.” In other words, all things being equal, God dictates that justice is served when transgressors are punished when they break the rules and don’t conform (once again, vast oversimplification, but for a good reason).
But then, Jesus comes along. He breaks the mold, he advocates we should be accepting of everyone, especially if they are different and non-conforming; we should treat others as we would like to be treated (kindly); and we should not rush to judgment and dole out punishment because someone doesn’t conveniently fit in a category.
Overall, Jesus taught that we should try to be understanding, sympathetic, compassionate and forgiving of others. All of this sets very high standards in so many respects, but it was clearly this new set of post-BC rules that made life inconvenient for many, but ultimately, better for all.
And I think these now 2,000 year old new rules are a great way to approach the modern day transgresor, or “transgender” person, if we have to label them after all.
Speaking of the rules, kudos to Kalifornia, my homestate, the one that constantly breaks the mold to make life better for all, for passing a new law that requires stores to have a non-binary section for children’s toys and housewares, in other words, a selection that does not force kids to choose between baby blue or pink.
This important legislation is just another example of how labels facilitate convenient lives, direction and understanding. In this case, the blue and pink labeling have long supported consumer habits, making it easy for parents and grandparents to decide on what to buy our children; the unnecessary differentiation spurring us to buy more than is necessary, because clothes, toothbrushes, lunchboxes and like, all serve the same basic purpose regardless of their colors or whether or not they are decorated with fairies or superheroes.