Kid #2

Beyond the Binary

This issue marks the end of my second year writing Kid #2! And I can’t help but think, Does any of it really matter?

We all like to think we’re ever-changing, evolving, but old habits sure die hard. I was reading through my old columns today —and no, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend you do the same — and realized I’m thinking the same obsessive thoughts I was thinking in 2017: about the future of the world and our state, how to live a moral and intentional life, the meaning of life, etc. I don’t think I’ve had more than 10 basic types of thoughts in my entire life. Those 10 ideas just twist themselves into different arrangements of different words.

I don’t really believe in fate or destiny, but I can’t pick a side in the nature vs. nurture debate. Because even though I can point to certain events that have shaped my worldview, it’s hard to view my past as determining my present.

We get asked all the time, “Who are you?” Or someone says, “I want to get to know you, tell me about yourself.” I never know how to answer that. Partly because those are BS questions that no one can honestly answer, but also because it’s hard to put into words. Maybe you like to paint, or you work in retail. Maybe you’re a particularly touchy person. But how can any of us describe our core, our essence? I usually respond with, “I’m an open book. What you see is what you get.”

It may be comforting to believe we have almost no control over our lives. It may be less comforting to hear that much of who we are depends on our socio-economic status. In that respect, fate is real, and the vast majority of our life is predestined by the circumstances of our birth.

Yep, in other words, astrology. I’m a Capricorn. When I tell people that, they say, “Oh, that makes so much sense,” so take that as you will.

No, what I’m really talking about is the way society shapes our lives. We tend to wade through life thinking about our personal issues. But often, if we look around us, we find those issues actually aren’t all that personal. Almost everything that goes wrong, or right, in our life can be attributed to larger societal forces.

I, like most of my peers, am at college because of the environment I grew up in. I had access to good education, my parents are college-educated, I didn’t grow up in poverty. Granted, this logic doesn’t necessarily apply to the smaller stuff. Most black men in America’s prisons can justifiably blame society for their situation, but I can’t blame society for not doing my homework.

Lately I’ve been thinking about one identity problem in particular: gender. Gender is a stifling, controlling and toxic institution. And when we think about gender, we tend to think of it as a women’s issue. Women are still the subservient gender. Feminity is still looked down upon, and masculinity is the ideal.

What I find most interesting is that masculinity is, to some degree, the ideal for both sexes. Masculine women do better in the workplace, and women who ascribe to the traditional idea of femininity are considered weak (look up “the female ‘apologetic’”). We throw around words like “bimbo,” “airhead” and“slut” all the time, and the subtext is that feminine women are less than. Meanwhile, feminine men are worse than less than. They’re “fags” or “sissies” regardless of their sexual orientation or any other fact about them.

I don’t know the average age of a Mainer reader, but I think it’s fair to assume most of you have at least a couple years on me. So I’ll also assume many of you either haven’t heard, or have a very loose definition of the term non-binary. I’ll explain it as best I can, not being a member of that community myself.

A non-binary person does not conform to the male-female gender binary, and uses they/them pronouns in place of he/him or she/her. They do not feel like they fit into the gender they were born with or assigned, so you may also hear the term trans non-binary, though not all gender-non-conforming folks use those terms.

So if a person doesn’t fit into the gender binary, is that a personal issue or a societal one? Is it a personal problem to struggle to conform to the strict, stifling rules of gender, or is society to blame for imposing those rules?

I think gender is one of the great societal issues of our day. And it’s time to smash the binary.