Good Omens

Living a genderqueer life

Category: education

Alien from space

Queuing for lunch at work today, I had a conversation with two children, ages maybe five and six. It went approximately like this – I did a bit of abridging. All the while, imagine me concentrating very hard on not looking at the fifty adults standing in the line too, and not imagining what they are thinking.

Child 1: Look Dad, that man’s got yellow glasses!

Adult (tiredly): Well, indeed.

Me: What makes you think I’m a man?

Child 1: You’ve got hairy legs.

Child 2: So you’re a man.

Me: Actually that’s not true. All people with hairy legs aren’t men.

Child 1: But you look like a man.

Me: But I’m not.

Child 2: Are you a woman then?

Me: Nope.

Child 1 (victoriously): Then you’re a man!

Me: I’m not a man, and I’m not a woman. I’m transgender.

Child 1 & Child 2: What’s that?

Me: There’s other people than men or women.

Child 1 & Child 2: No there aren’t.

Child 1: I’m sure you’re a man. You’re just kidding me.

Me: You can be sure and still be wrong. I’m not kidding you, I’m not a man.

Child 1: What are you then? Are you an alien from space?

Me: That’s okay with me.

Child 1: But you look like a man!

Me: You say I look like a man because you’ve been told that people who look like me are men. That’s not always true.

Child 2: But I know you’re a man!

Me: You can’t know what anybody is until they tell you. It’s not about (insert Finnish child words for genitalia) and it’s not about what you look like.

Child 1:

Child 2:

Child 1: So are you just a human?

Me: Yes, that’s exactly right. I’m just me, and I’m just a human.

Child 1: BUT YOU LOOK LIKE A MAN!

Me: I’m in disguise.

Child 2: In disguise?

Me: Yep.

Child 1 & Child 2: Oh. (They take their food trays & go, glance at me over their shoulders, I smile amusedly, they smile bemusedly.)

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Abstract

In this blog post, some topics concerning the author’s current occupations are looked briefly into. Among these are the ongoing, final teacher practice taking place at Helsingin Normaalilyseo, the long Finnish winter turning slowly into spring, and the author’s joy in finding that so many people have joined them in signing the citizen’s initiative for an equal marriage law that started gathering names today. The initiative has in less than twenty hours jumped first from zero to ten thousand signers, then to the critical 50000, and is at the time of the writing of these words reached 84000 with no sign of slowing down.

It is argued that the author has grown a slight preference towards teaching Civil Ethics over Religion, and that while this change is by no means dramatic, it might have some impact on the career choices and educative-political views of said author.

Deep regrets are expressed for the swift deterioration in the condition of the author’s 60-year-old Russian double bass, which will be operated on at a high cost by the skilled staff at a Helsinki-based lutherie. Still, a positive attitude towards the immediate future and optimistic views on a possibly forthcoming insurance indemnity are professed to the reader.

My feminism

I’m in the middle of a three-week teacher practice period (the second of three, the two others being considerably longer and more demanding), teaching ethics to high school students. Today, we discussed feminism, and specifically feminist critiques of religion. As I firmly believe that the best way to tackle the challenge of objectivity is to be aware of and admit one’s subjectivity, I’ve been thinking a lot of how to explain my take on feminism.

This is what I’ve come up with.

My feminism is about a hope of a world where the (biological) sex has the same social function as, say, one’s hair color or right/left-handedness in today’s Finnish society: one can express oneself through these, but nobody would think of them as restricting or guiding a person’s life choices.

My feminism is about actively promoting the acceptance of the unconditional value of every human being, and actively working against the circumstances preventing this from being realized.

My feminism is about daring myself to question my own prejudices, and believing the best about every person.

After reading Žižek

The world is made from words.

Many people believe that words are something referring to an “objective” “reality”. I believe it is not so. I believe words refer to another words, which refer to yet another words, and back, making a web of words leading from one to another. I believe words are all we have, and words have power – they are power.

Every word we say is a political act of rewriting reality. Either we write the new reality to be the same as the old one, or we change something. And because the web of words that reality is, is constantly changing because of what other people write, even choosing “same as before” is shaping the world into something new.

As genderqueer, I experience the power of words every day, beginning with the morning newspaper. On its pages, my gender identity is constantly being made non-existent: in a gallup analysis “both men and women think…” In a clothes shop advert, “for women, men and children”, every possibility is thought to have been covered. The list of little words and sentences denying my existence goes on and on, and I haven’t even finished my Earl Grey…

So please, take care of what you’re saying. By including somebody in your use of any concept, you automatically exclude others. That can’t be helped, it’s just the way language works. Just be aware of it: there are no objective sentences, and everything you say is being used against somebody else.

Systems

I happened to read a piece of web “conversation” about “gender-neutral first names”. It wasn’t much of a conversation, really – mostly bashing other people with your words as hard as you can and then running for shelter. Something one nick wrote got me thinking: the person’s idea was that there are always exceptions to any system, but that it’s not the majority’s job to do anything about it. So basically, being genderqueer, I’m an exception to the rule that the only gender options available are Man and Woman, and that’s my problem.

When I studied philosophy for a while, I learned that the best system is the one where the most “exceptions” fit in. So, a good system is complex enough to allow for as many diverse situations as possible. The old “sex equals gender equals sexuality” system is clearly outdated, as it doesn’t allow for any other options than the Hollywood-esque Boy meets Girl; that is, if you’re a Woman, you love a Man, and the other way round. Looking from the viewpoint of this system, I truly am an exception. Which is fine by me, c’mon, this finally proves I am exceptional. But I also believe there could be a better option for this system. Let’s look at the rule again.

Why the second part of the mantra doesn’t work, seems to be something anybody (even my grandmother) could understand. Gender doesn’t equal sexuality, because boys can love boys, girls can love girls etc. We don’t necessarily understand why anybody would feel differently from us, but it’s clear that some people do, and it’s OK to more people every day.

But the other equation – sex equals gender – is quite a bit trickier to disassemble than the first. It’s like a Zen Buddhist koan, or locked box with the key inside – you have to get it to get it. And even if you do, that still doesn’t mean you have to allow for people being outside the binary. I mean, yes, many people know that there are transgendered people, in the sense of being X trapped in Y’s body. But you can fix that without breaking the binary gender system, can’t you? It’s just a matter of the right medical treatment. Biological man becomes biological woman, happy ever after, end of story.

How then to deal with the fact that many people believe that the two-gendered system is not enough? Maybe we just have to build a new, better system to show around. It would have to be one that allows people to be men and women if they want to, but also clearly states that that’s not all there is. We live in a world with seven billion people in it. Why force them all into just two little boxes, when there could be a free-flowing, dynamic space open for everybody? If the dualistic gender system wasn’t invented yet, would we need it?

PS. Two great resources here and here.