Friday, June 16, 2017

Generation 'X'

As reported in the Guardian, Oregon has become the first state in the U.S.A. to allow the third gender option for driving licences and IDs. So, instead of the usual 'M' for Male or 'F' for Female, gender fluid persons can now mark themselves with the letter 'X'. X seems a curious letter to use – wouldn't an S, U or W designate fluidity better? (When presented with a form that asked Sex? as an adolescent, and come to think of it still today, the immature desire to answer 'Yes please!' was almost overwhelming.)

The letter X has many connotations and meaning, depending on context, many of which are negative, from Nazi symbolism and poison, to pornography and death. Films used to be rated X, implying violence or sexual content, and the letter is still used to designate extreme forms of pornography (XXX); there's the X-Files, associated with mystery, the unknown and the forbidden; it is the sign of Satan; the crossbones of the skull and crossbones symbol is an X.

On the other hand, it has less nefarious meanings too: in maths, it is the unknown factor and the axis on a chart; to Romans it was the number ten; there's Christ on his cross; the X-factor (though to me it's the epitome of evil); XX and XY designate the male and female chromosomes; it's a size of clothing; X marks the spot on maps... the list goes on: in short, its broad array of meanings means it's a confused symbol (here's a blog from Psychology Today exploring the many meanings behind the letter X).

Anyway, the letter X is the least of the confusion. There's a whole plethora of jargon for third gender people. Not only is it confusing – for them and us – but many of the terms sound like the stuff of sci-fi (a mix of Burroughs, Dick, Ballard and The Matrix springs to mind; a line from a gender fluid person who "expresses multiple genders at the same time" sounds like it came from Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly): third gender, non-binary, intergender, agender, bigender, gender fluid, amalgender and xenogender are just a few of the terms...

And I have a strange feeling that technology is to blame; the loneliness, anonymity and avatars of the online world and social media, where we can be who we like, has spilled into 'real life'; politics and schools and traditional media have no choice but to follow suit.

(Bear with me – imagine a sci-fi film, called Battle of the benders genders, set 1,000 years in the future. Countries and borders have vanished, race is a thing of the past, the real battle is between the genders. There's a world war, men and women lose, the third gender is victorious. We all have to wear matching white outfits, we all look odd, bitter and unhappy. The Miss World contest is banned, as is Woman's Hour on Radio 4 and International Woman's Day; in fact books and art are banned and burned as the world embarks on its bland genderless future where we live in blissful unhappiness being told what to think.)

At the risk of sounding transphobic, all this third gender stuff is absolute nonsense (for the first time in my life I find myself siding with Piers Morgan, whose recent TV debate with Fox and Owl, two gender fluid young people who say "I never felt truly comfortable in my body. I struggled in my teenage years with puberty and was confused with myself and didn't know if I fit into this world", neatly summing up every teenager in the world, caused a storm on social media). Worse than that, it's dangerous.

In my day there were two genders, male and female. This is still a biological fact. I don't care if you wear blue (boy) or pink (girl) clothes, or are a truck driver (man) or work in marketing (woman), if you have a penis you are male, if you have a vagina you are female. Fact. (There are a small percentage (0.5) of people born intersex – though to me it's a congenital disorder, an anomaly akin to being born with three fingers, two hearts or one eye; blimey, even the term hermaphrodite is now outdated – presumably one day Jeffrey Eugenides' fine book Middlesex will be banned). What you choose to do with your genitals is your business (sex is another jargon minefield – are you androsexual or gynosexual)? If you have a strange feeling that you don't belong or never felt comfortable being a man or woman, that is an emotional feeling, not a biological state.

What if I've always felt uncomfortable as a middle class, British, white, male human (which, naturally, I have)? What if something inside me says to me I should have been born in the Galapagos Islands as a turtle in the year 1784? Can I get rights to live like a turtle, laze around on the islands all day, go swimming and become an Ecuadorian citizen? Nope. Tough luck. To a certain extent, we are what we are born and have to make do with that.

48% of trans people under the age of 26 have attempted suicide in the UK (compared with 6% of non trans people). No wonder – I'd be suicidal working out which category I belonged in. Probably just the one called 'depressed'. I don't think the statistic is even to do with them being trans or suffering from transphobia – it's do with them being mixed up, confused and weird. You know, being a millennial. But instead of simply being a frustrated and confused teenager full of angst for no apparent reason – aside from hormones, now they have an explanation – of course, it's the dissatisfaction with the gender I was born with.

It's a playground fad that has got out of hand – even my daughter (just turned 11) speaks of gender fluidity whereas twenty years ago she would have just said tomboy. Indeed, long before that, actresses such as Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn donned male suits and ties and would now be described as gender fluid – but back then they were being individualistic trailblazers. Today they'd just be part of the new in-crowd, getting categorised and pigeon-holed and likes on Instagram.

Political correctness is a form of censorship and fascism which rewrites the past and stigmatises those who don't adopt the latest correct jargon (almost impossible to keep ahead of with the latest race terms let alone gender). It's Orwell's Ministry of Truth where the past is rewritten or forgotten, and Newspeak which redefines language (though now it's in a more complicated form, rather than simpler). As Orwell writes, "language merely reflects existing social conditions". It's impossible for us to see out of our own epoch, to see the past for what it was, and the future for what it will be. We've been through this before, right? Rights for women, blacks, gays... wrong. This is completely imaginary and ludicrous, like teenagers wanting Jedi to be classified as an official religion.

I'm exaggerating? Hardly. Words get banned before our eyes; if you don't keep up to date you're blasted on social media. Germaine Greer gets banned from speaking at a university for her transphobic comments. This is the opposite of freedom of speech or expression. This is think what we think or else. This is the thought police, totalitarianism. And this is just the start. Be afraid. 

Previously on Barnflakes:
Satorial sexism
Gender bender
Portland & Austin: tales of two cities
Notes on afflictions

Elsewhere on the web:
It’s dangerous and wrong to tell all children they’re ‘gender fluid’
– The Spectator


Caspar said...

I agree with you, Barn, so I suppose we're both liable to be regarded by most of our peers as anything from unfashionable to positively reactionary. As for drafting Melanie Philips in to support your argument by means of that link, that in itself is probably thoughtcrime in some people's eyes, but God help me, I even agreed with her too. Your argument - and hers - is sound: to deny the self-evident reality of human biology in order to indulge a few people's delusions is insanity. The idea is so clearly insane that you'd think it could never gain currency among the broad mass of people, but apparently that's not so.
A case in point: A few years ago, on a Guardian online discussion board about Caitlin Jenner, I had a comment 'moderated' - ie; censored. I'd offended by calling Caitlin J "a bloke in a dress", which to the best of anyone's knowledge at the time is exactly what s/he was. S/he has since said that s/he has at some point had surgery on his/her genitals, which would seem to indicate gender reassignment (I can recall when this was called a sex change, which phrase has long since fallen out of use for some reason, probably political). But I've not heard any suggestion of his/her having undergone female hormone therapy, which would be a part of that process, so who knows. Anyway, I asked the Guardian moderators why my comment, which was simply stating a fact that was perfectly true (at least as far as anyone knew at the time), was censored. Moderators are not supposed to correspond personally with commentators, but on this occasion one of them told me that that part of my comment had given offence. She didn't use the term 'hate crime', but it was clear that that was how my comment had been viewed. She also enlightened me to the apparent fact that "sex and gender are not the same thing", which is (appropriately enough) bollocks.
Of course, apart from pissing me off a bit, no harm was done, but this episode did made me realise how quickly and quietly potentially dangerous ideas can take hold. Even at a supposed bastion of free-thinking liberality as the Guardian, a healthy scepticism about someone's claim to have altered his physiology at whim was in this case ruled entirely out of court. The Guardian's attitude to the claims of Caitlin J was utterly unquestioning and cowardly, while their attitude to me was in contrast quite harsh. They were doubtless acting from the highest motives, thinking they were defending a persecuted minority, which sounds like a noble thing to do. But this was actually far from noble.
What next? Once upon a time it was a comedy staple that mad people were always declaring themselves to be Napoleon. Perhaps some day soon they'd actually be encouraged in that view, and addressed accordingly, while anyone foolhardy enough to suggest that this person wasn't Napoleon would be sent for reprogramming. (I'll stop here before I start composing leader columns for the Daily Mail.)

Barnaby said...

Glad you are in agreement, Casps! You are taking it to its correct illogical conclusion with the Napoleon delusion. Not sure you can call them mad though – hasn't the word been banned?

Caspar said...

Probably! There I go, 'othering' other people again.

jbideas said...

If I go to leave a comment on your blog it asks me to choose an identity. The irony of this made me forget what I was going to say.

Ok, now I remember. Who cares? If people want to be identified as something other than male or female then let them. Whom does it hurt to do so? And who are we to say that one's feelings are not biological? When we can artificially control feelings with chemicals and electrical impulses who are we to say that people are not born with abnormal chemical processes that drive their feelings? Yes, we used to say "tomboy" and now we say something else but the fact is that a girl who feels more like a boy is still a valid feeling that is not driven by whim. And the fact is also that such people are a true minority because the normal range is that women do women things and men do men things with small overlaps. Such people who feel completely alien in their birth gender are fully aware that they are not normal.

So marginalizing them and making fun of them and not allowing them to try and find whatever identity they think best fits them is an example of society picking on its weakest members. Why not simply let them be?

And this trend of trying to say that we are heading towards 1984's Thought Police because those who choose to engage in hate speech are being shut out of venues they wish to force themselves upon is equally ridiculous. It's argument from an absurd premise of all speech is sacred and should never be restricted. But we know full well that speech is restricted a million times a day. At work, in the pub, at soccer practice, etc...people are keenly aware of what they can and cannot say to avoid unpleasant consequences. Thus when someone broadcasts their intentions to show up and give a speech full of offensive content and they are shut down before they get there I don't have much sympathy. No one is preventing them from figuring out another way to get their hateful messages broadcast but there is a major major major difference between community protest against hate speech and government censorship of speech.

I am sorry but if I whip out my dick and start pissing all over the people at the pub I very much doubt I will get much sympathy using a censorship claim on my freedom of "expression". The absurdist all expression is protected crowd SHOULD argue that I not be touched or bothered when I do that. But I doubt that they will with any true sincerity.

With all the actual systemic problems we face transgender people are a diversion that distract needlessly. Censorship on the other hand is something worth fighting against but it is important not to allow the worst among us to use freedom of speech as a weapon to demand a spot at every podium. Sorry, just as in the pub, you don't get to whip it out and piss on everyone else.

jbideas said...

also no one is stopping you from trying to be a sea turtle if you honestly feel you are one. Every human is free to abdicate their responsibilities and run away from the obligations they incurred when they felt human. Go to the beach and swim away and eat kelp and see how far you get.

This argument is another example of absurdity and is trotted out frequently. We are talking about the human spectrum here and the fact that now as we progress in our understanding of biology, neuroscience, biochemistry, and biodiversity, we are gaining more understanding of the non-binary state of gender despite outward appendages or lack thereof.