Minding the Shallow End

03 Aug 2006

I spend a fair bit of time trolling the blogosphere and just want to note that I'm amazed at the number of political blogs out there. I'm amazed to the point that I almost feel like dipping a toe in now and again and writing up my proposed solution to the whole Israel / Lebanon conflict, for example. But, you know, so many others do such a good job at that and my own soutions (while often novel) aren't really practical, anyhow. And besides, somebody's got to mind the shallow end of the pool, you know? Maybe that's my job here at BSUWG. And so, proudly, I ask you:

Anyone ever catch Ally McBeal way back when?

My wife and I loved the show -- especially Peter MacNicol, who played quirky attorney John Cage. Cage had his own special bathroom stall, complete with a secret room behind it.He also had a remote-controlled toilet flusher (because he hated to see "remnants") and would often dismount out of the stall like an Olympian off the horizontal bar. It was all great stuff. The bathroom -- a unisex facility -- was a clever focal point in the show.

Which leads me to my latest topic.

My wife knows someone ... or, maybe I have this all wrong ... She knows someone who knows someone who has some sort of a problem with the concept of gender.That's probably a little confusing by itself, so I'll elaborate in a moment.See, my wife and I get into these weird debates from time to time. They usually start by me being interrupted by her while I'm telling a story or something. (I kid ya, baby ... you know I love ya.) Anyway, I'll say something like, "At lunch today, I met this black guy named--"

She'll jump in right at this moment. "Why'd you say it like that?" The implication here is that I've done something wrong (viz. racist), and need to correct myself.

"Like what?" I ask, knowing full well what she's implying.

"Why'd you have to mention his skin color?"Aha! There it is, as predicted.

So, I offer a simple reply ... "I don't know. It's just that, well, he was a black guy, and I was noting that in my story."

...which isn't accepted."Yeah, but why is that an important detail?" she asks, again implying latent racism within me.

At that, I impulsively question my own unconscious: "Uh ... It's not important, I guess. I was just describing the scene, and that was part of the description. There wasn't any value judgment intended or anything."

Our 11-year-old is usually sitting at the table at the time, and absorbs all of this. Hopefully, it's somewhat educational and not utterly confusing. Usually, we'll fall into an in-depth quasi-semiotic meditation that strays so far off-topic that I'll forget who the black guy was and/or what he did that merited discussion in the first place.

"The preferred term," my wife will eventually say, "is African American."

"Well," I'll say, "that's not very universal, is it?I doubt any Jamaicans refer to themselves as African Americans."

Even my daughter appreciates this observation.

"Perhaps not," my wife says, "but here inAmerica, that's the preferred term."

"Well, it's still not logical. I mean, I didn't stop the guy and ask for a birth certificate. He could have been from another country, after all."

"In any case, you shouldn't say 'black.'"

"Actually, I think 'black' is just fine. What's wrong with 'black'?"(Indeed. What IS wrong with it? Anything?)

"Well, for one," she says, "black people aren't black."

"So?I'm a white guy, but my skin isn't white. It's just what we say, and we need standard ways to describe one another, don't we?"

I'll spare you much of the rest, as I'm sure you've all had this conversation yourselves. It usually devolves my going for the ol' reductio ad absurdum by doing away with any and all adjectives or pronouns in order to eliminate any perceived prejudice.

Only, it's not always simply a fictitious exercise in absurdity.As I was saying at the top of this post, she really does know someone (or, knows someone who knows someone) who has a problem with pronouns. The woman has decided, influenced no doubt by some undiagnosed mental deficiency (yes, there I go again, failing to remain objective), to do away with any gender-specific language. That's not so impractical, I suppose, if you're single and living isolated in a yurt somewhere. But, this woman has an offspring (See?, I didn't mention the sex.) that is being raised under this rather novel nomenclature. Imagine, if you will, a kid who enters society with no concept of gender. Should I have ended that with an exclamation mark? If so, feel free to go back and reinterpret it that way.

Alas, I do not have the official name of whatever androgynous philosophical school this belongs to, so I can't point you to the web site. (There must be one somewhere.) But, that's going to be one screwed-up kid when it grows up (IMHO of course). Am I wrong here?


BTW, the picture above is of course the amazing Tilda Swinton, who once played Orlando in the eponymous 1992 film -- a role that forever clinched her place of fame over K.D. Lang as my preferred poster child for this ridiculous blog entry.

Original Comments

Below, are the original comments on this post. Additional comments may be made via Facebook, below.

On August 5, 2006, Rhythmball Lynn wrote:

I remember when I was getting my MFA -- this instructor came to town to be interviewed for an available teaching spot. We all really liked him until he said that his biggest claim-to-fame where he was currently teaching was introducing the gender-neutral pronouns "hisher" and "heshe." Thumbs down from that point on. Crazy.
--Motormouth

On August 15, 2006, Kevin Wolf wrote:

Gender neutrality is a nice goal and a lovely thought - but we live in a world with two genders.

Get over it.

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