A few weeks ago, I was talking to my class about gender. We were reading the science fiction story, “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ. This class is all African-American students and one of them is a girl. My goal was to try and open their minds to the idea of gender, and how gender is a complete social construction. We did this to ourselves. These kids have car payments and babies and bills, so they weren’t really trying to hear what I was talking about. So, I tried to give them an explanation, a situation, of sorts, that would drive my overall point home.
“If a guy sees a girl, and she is wearing jeans and a white t-shirt and short hair, and he says, she looks like a guy, what if the girl says, no, you look like me. I’m a girl, so you look like a girl. What happens in this situation?”
“What?” One of my students said. Their brains were opening.
“What if a girl sees a guy, and the guy is wearing tight jeans and a pink shirt, and the girl says, you look like a girl, and the guy says, no, you look like me. You look like a guy. Who is right?”
“Uh…” It was happening. They were seeing the world differently than they had a few minutes ago. But one of them saw it completely different, and I’m pretty sure we came up with some ideas that the rest of the world never really thought of. The student raised his hand, I pointed to him, and he said:
“If I’m attracted to girls that look like guys, does that make me gay?”
I’ll never forget that moment.
The class laughed, only because it was an uncomfortable situation. Only because we were creating something new, a new way of talking and thinking about gender. Ok, fine. It probably isn’t completely new, but it was accidental and it was beautiful. What is the answer to a question like that? Is there a yes or no question? What we achieved, right there, in those three seconds that it took for him to utter that question, was that we showed the absolute complexity of sexuality, and why it isn’t black and white. In fact, it is very much green.
There is no answer to a question like that. Trying to figure out an answer is part of the problem with our society and sexuality. We believe that group A needs to act like this and group B needs to act like this. Yeah, sure, you can have a group C, but group C can’t play with groups A and B. They don’t fit, so they are shoved over here. These are all falsehoods, a system set up so that nothing ever changes, so nothing seems different. As a heterosexual male, I find the constant reassertion of other males boring. Men basically bounce down the street, screaming how masculine they are, with women acting as feminine as possible, trying to fit in their roles as best as they can. Can’t we act, I don’t know, normal?
Until we stop rubber-stamping everyone with a make and serial number, we’re never going to break out of these sociological molds that hold us back. How many woman are unhappy because they have to put on make-up every day, or wear a skirt, because they feel they have to? And how many men are depressed because they hate all their body hair, hate having to constantly be the “man” that someone told them to be? I’m eager to see our future children. Hopefully, they will be able to do whatever makes them happy as long as they don’t hurt themselves, a freedom to explore who and what they are without a constant fear of alienation.
Update: There has been a pretty interesting conversation about gender today on Facebook, Google+ and our blogs between me and my friend Erica. In a very real way, she’ my exact opposite, which is why I’m happy she exists. While I spend too much time thinking about how nice it would be to have no gender roles, I think Erica and plenty of other people are fine with those Gender roles, and dance in the happy rain of the roles. This isn’t a right or wrong conversation. I do think, however, that my life, somehow, has been negatively impacted by gender roles and what they do to people/have done to me. It is nice, through, to see that this isn’t the case for everyone. Where Erica just wants to go get her hair done in celebration of her womanhood, I want to yell at women who want to get their hair did because I’m not allowed to have long, flowing hair down my back. Obviously, I’m the one that needs the prescription drugs in this situation.