50 Shades of Gender

Not too many years ago, there was one dichotomy that was simple, clear and firm: Male/Female….Man/Woman….Girl/Boy. Budding families used the phrases, “What do you want, a boy or a girl?” “What did they have, a boy or a girl?” “We have a girl and a boy.” Suddenly, those phrases are naïve simplicities. What was once a simple dichotomy is now a continuum. For now, (and counting), there are at least 50 shades of gender among which Facebook members can choose as their entry on the line: Gender. I am amazed. How did I miss this tectonic shift?

A shade sampler: agender, androgyne, bigender, Cis, cisgender, FTM, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, gender questioning, genderqueer, intersex, neither, pangender, non-binary, trans, transsexual, transgender, two-spirit. There are about 32 other variations within these examples. Who knew? Was this always so, and unadmitted? Or is this a newly acquired sensitivity and insight here in the 21st Century?

This blog and my book”see my book” are studies about the search for authentic identity. Certainly, sexuality is a significant component of any healthy authentic self. Just this component alone has made the search more subtle and difficult than I realized. Is this a legitimate issue or is it just mass confusion by a generation that challenges all assumptions? No caveat is safe. Even what we once thought to be biological certainties and classifications are now part of the “no assumption can stand” crowd. From personal, to social, to cultural, to worldly, no assumption from the past goes unassailed. Such a fluid world is one difficult to live in. Assumptions once simplified. Assumptions once gave some comforts, givens that gave daily life a smoothing effect. I think the questioning is legitimate, but the living of it, certainly is more difficult.

The daily struggle of this new age thinking has to be near overwhelming. What is my shade of gender? What shall I eat? What are the political issues that I reject or embrace? What do I recycle? How do I prevent global warming? How do we solve world hunger? How do we help the homeless? How do we stay healthy? How do we save and protect the environment? What about endangered species? What is a fair economic model? I am overwhelmed by the questions, let alone the search for answers.

When does fatigue set in? When do we cull our battles to a manageable few? Each of these issues have their proponents. And these proponents and their media just won’t let you alone. Their drumbeats are incessant. They each want your ear and your effort and your money. I think this generation is one drowned in a cacophony of important assumption questions that just won’t relent. I’m not sure that even with 50 shades of gender identity available (and counting) that anyone who considers themselves a continuum rider will ever find a comfortable and precise point upon it.

50 shades of gender is only one example of the increased parsing of every component of our existence. Perhaps, once, we all gave passing thoughts in private to these issues. But now, each of these private mullings has an advocacy group that seeks to advance their cause and make it ever more public and confrontational until their ideas are met. A positive example of that is all the years the handicapped suffered inconveniences in silence, but now through public and active protest have secured many features of public life that make their lives easier and more humane. But when every cause wants to enlist every person, we are an overwhelmed populace.

Again, I come back to media and their scripts. Each of these life issues (and perhaps all of them have legitimacy) create scripts and media that command your attention and seek your involvement. They are difficult to ignore. How much can you absorb? How much can you participate? When the challenge to all the world’s assumptions gets down to the level of biology and even questions what we once thought to be unequivocal givens, we have added a burden to life that may be unsustainable. When whether I am a man or a woman has been shaved into 50 thin slices, been given a spectrum of fifty points of light, fifty fine gradients, I am a human suddenly on shifting sands that I once thought solid ground.

For those of us who have only two points on this spectrum, male and female, at least this part of life is simple and we can get onto other concerns. But for those who do struggle within this spectrum, I’m not sure how you struggle with any other issue, until you resolve this one. Doesn’t everything else depend on resolution of this most primary of issues first? For someone who advocates finding one’s own true and authentic self, I am sympathetic to those who suffer this dilemma because its resolution, in order to have an honest footing, must precede everything else.

Are we in a world now where there are 50 shades of everything? Can’t we get it down to 4 or 5? When everything is so parsed, is there any certainty? Rather than making a tough decision, we seem to simply add more options. Authenticity, if achieved, is a comfort zone. You feel within yourself. You have arrived at some answers. When you have 50+ choices about whether you are male or female, you may never get passed the starting point. There may be millions of people for whom authenticity is a life-long unrequited search. Too many options keep spreading out before them. The choices become evermore evanescent. This can’t be healthy. This can’t be productive. Life becomes one long discussion. Examination, at some point, must end. Living authentically must begin.

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