Double Features: Gender and Generalities

The real trouble with gender is it’s shallow. Masculine, feminine, or non-binary, so much of what we end up talking about is mostly appearance. Arguably every concept of identity other than the self alone is simply how others see us, not who we are. At the same time, we are social creatures who do engage each other and we can only appreciate what we can somehow experience. So we must see and hear what we can and try to understand. This is the essence of empathy and without it the single biggest similarity between any two people will always be how little we actually know about anyone so long as we continue to place value in such limiting concepts. What we need is to let go of relying on generalizations of groups of people to understand individuals.

Sure, there are components to what we call gender that matter. I’m not writing this to argue that it means nothing, only that gender is given more meaning than it deserves. We all have varying tendencies to conform to certain patterns of behavior, including how we groom, dress, eat, talk, and even pass our time. Some of it is based in our biology – hormones, mostly – but most of it is taught. Taught because of old ideas of who and what we each should be. Yet before it all we are separate creatures in a complex web of life connecting us to more than just communities or even humanity. What is necessary is to reframe the very idea of gender as less a specific code of conduct and more a very basic generalization with some vague use, especially for the less mindful or worldly.

Gender, it seems to me from all my introspection and reading on the topic, used to serve a social ordering purpose that helped keep communities productive that might have degraded otherwise. What’s needed to understand how something so reductive and general could be useful to the whole community are two factors: that humanity’s success has largely been marginal for most of our history, with a great deal of inefficiency and regular setbacks, and the difficult fact of life itself that in the end continuation is all that matters for the sake of a species’ evolution. There is no dues ex machina to save a species that evolves into a corner or has bad luck – whatever works, no matter the apparent morality, is what goes on.

Morality is a human creation, and while it may never decide exactly who carries on the lineages and who doesn’t, it very much seems to distill those principles we can understand and promote that increase the number of people who do pass on their genes and knowledge overall. If you return to the notion that we are social, it makes the most sense that that which is best for all of us are deeper insights into how to treat each other that do not rely on who we are or the things we do which do not directly affect the well-being of others. Instead, we must trust that the best value in anyone’s identity is found in letting us each be and not forcing anyone to try and be something else. Either we can add to society in some way or we clearly subtract. Only rarely are people so anti-social and unproductive as to be a total detriment, and to the extent we do not yet know how or why this kind of person comes to be, there is still value in that existence, too, if only as a living subject of consideration and study.

What can I say? That seems infinitely better than demanding shallow compliance to whole patterns of behavior based on the needs of the shallowest among us when instead we can demand gender be only a baseline to begin the conversations that truly reveal who we are underneath.

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