Commitmentphobe.

When you get to a certain age, people start asking questions like, ‘when are you going to get married and have kids?’ which is startlingly intrusive and presumptuous enough without considering I’m single.

When I was nineteen, I fell in love. I’d just finished school with a great final mark, was in the middle of a gap year studying acting part time, and had, for wont of a less cliche expression, the world at my fingertips. I was getting praise for my performing, my singing voice had finally started to flourish after seven years of struggling to get a note out of it for lack of confidence, and I had secured a place in a BA Media and Communications for the following year, which I intended to take my time with as I pursued acting.

I stood on a precipice, violent winds of too many choices thrashing at me.

This boy was older than me. Old enough for society to call him a man, and he certainly thought of himself as such. I, personally, wasn’t quite so convinced. I don’t mean that disparagingly, though: I liked his boyishness, the fact that at the age of twenty-seven he didn’t own a bookshelf, and slept on an up-market version of a blow-up mattress, and lived in a slightly dilapidated duplex in a student suburb. And I liked that he came from my home town, and we knew some of the same people, and he sailed boats. Even though he towered over me, and his physique was, well, intimidating (by which I mean he was muscle bound in a way that would make Adonis jealous and Narcissus turn his head from the pool) I didn’t feel threatened by him: I felt safe.

I wanted to marry him. In that nineteen-years-old way, I wanted to marry the boy from my town.

He wanted to get married, too.

Just not to me.

He explained to me that even though he thought I was beautiful, and liked me very very much, he was looking for a more adult relationship than he could expect me to give (note: he chose to broach this subject moments after I had slipped into his bed and we’d shared our first kiss. No tongue). He wanted to have a family. Quick smart.

I did point out that there was something of a flaw in the logic of planning kiddiewinks before you’ve found a willing womb and passing up something tangible and present in favour of something, well, hypothetical. As most men tend to when I assault their flawed world view, he acknowledged that I was completely correct, dug his heels in, and refused to budge on the matter.

He was twenty-seven at the time, which is, incidentally, how old I am as I write this blog. And I still don’t understand his logic, but it seems to have worked for him: he was married within six months, and has, like, twelve kids now or something. I occasionally Facebook stalk him, and they’re all very cute, but Dear Lord thank you so much for shoving me out of the way of that bullet!

Not that I don’t want kids. Not that I don’t think Sailor Boy isn’t an absolutely charming and lovely man (and he is, he’s an absolute darling of a human being), but sweet Jesus, I have so much to do before doing that.

When people talk about this idea of ‘spending the rest of our lives together’ I always feel a little uneasy. It’s not commitment phobia or anything, on the contrary: I love the idea of partnership. But this life these people describe, with a tongue-in-cheek white dress, a mortgage, a Labrador, and two kids, looks more like a death together to me.

Again, I want those things. But all in good time, people, all in good time. Weddings, mortgages, Labradors and children are not the hallmarks of commitment. Sure, you probably shouldn’t do them without commitment, but they are not commitment itself.

I want to live nocturnally, breathing the vibrancy of a thousand cities and their music and their art and their theatre, and know that none if it would be so moving, so profound, so disturbing, so enlivening, if it weren’t for having shared it with that guy. I want to hire a cabin in the Scottish Alps and have the whiskey hit us too hard because we’re not used to the altitude and wake up not sure what we did but sure it was transcendent. I want to wander villages in southern France and invite an accordion-playing busker to drink red wine with us and tell us stories that may or may not be true, but agree that it doesn’t matter, because life may or may not be real, so let there be wine and cheese and accordions because we can see and smell and hear and feel those. I want to wonder the next day if it happened or if the little busker were a wine-dream, and scratch our heads trying to remember the wisdom we’re sure he imparted. And when there’s no wine, and no whiskey, I want to feel the bass tones of life’s concerto rip through my guts and his guts simultaneously, and feel the lurch and the head-spin and the rising and the falling and the major and the minor, and stand transfixed, unable to breathe, as one movement comes to a close and another swells and takes off.

I don’t want a man to give me his heart. He needs that to keep breathing. No. I want to know the beat of it so intimately that I can live in step with it.

I want to live.

When I tell my children stories at night, I want them to be my stories, not shadows of an idea stamped on pulp paper and regurgitated into my children’s mouths so I can fool them into thinking I know something about life because I bought them a box-set.

And unless I’m comfortable lying to my children, I have to live the stories first.

P.s. Sailor Boy, if you ever read this, no hard feelings. 🙂

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Gender – Poltergeist*

*What I’m saying is, gender might be something insubstantial that we made up, but it still manages to throw shit around and break things.

I received a detailed and thought-provoking comment on my post Bending Gender – Until it Snaps, which made me realise I may not have been expressing myself clearly in that post.

So, some clarification:

When I use the term ‘sex’ in this piece, I’m not talking about sexual intercourse, I’m talking about anatomical gender, as in does someone have a penis or a vagina?

Also, I’m not at all trivialising gender or claiming it is ‘fluid’. Quite the opposite – gender is a huge (and, IMHO, VERY problematic) part of our constructed performative cultural system. It is EXTREMELY rigid, but that doesn’t make it REAL or innate. Gender identity (as opposed to the sexed body) is a socially constructed idea, and we are all to some extent bound by its expectations. Even if we choose to subvert it, we feel its ramifications, as Lacey Roop did when she was asked if she were a ‘dude or a dyke’. A man cannot simply chose to wear a dress casually in our culture without attracting stares. A woman can’t step out without makeup without being accused of lacking in pride in her appearance, as though a woman’s worth is only in her aesthetic.

(Check out Lacey’s quite frankly AWESOME spoken word performance Gender Is a Universe)

What I’m saying is that gender as a set of behaviours and cultural expectations is actually made up – it has no real basis, no relationship to ‘nature’. In simplistic terms, there is absolutely NOTHING about my body, with its breasts and womb, that insists it must be clothed in soft lines and flowing fabric and framed by long hair and enhanced by make-up. But this is certainly what the dominant culture expects of me. And I, personally, actually conform to that. It doesn’t bother me in my own life, but there was a time when as a ten year old child I cut my hair off like a boy and wore overalls because I was a rough-and-tumble kinda kid and dresses and long hair just weren’t practical, and at the age of TEN I was teased as a lesbian. Apart from being confused about why being a lesbian should be something to tease someone about (we were a very liberal family, and whilst I am straight, I copped the ‘lesbo’ teasing throughout my schooling because I am a little bit different) it shocked me even then, as a child, to realise that people would draw such huge conclusions from the way I cut my hair and dress. Our culture is profoundly gendered, and it is a problem because gender – the behaviours and dress styles and demanours we culturally associate with anatomical sex – is actually arbitrary, i.e. made up.

To further complicate the matter, when we look into the science of it and realise that anatomical sex is not even a fixed thing in nature, that this division between the male body and female body is, like gender identity, an arbitrary binary that we have imposed on nature and not innate to biology, then gender and all the cultural implications of it is revealed as a farce.

Sexuality is one such cultural implication. Seeing that gender is a farce illuminates sexuality as a similarly flawed concept, because it is dependent on gender. How many children suffer brutal teasing at school on the grounds of sexual orientation (in my case an orientation I didn’t even identify with!)? And when we understand that sexuality is just nomenclature, a collection of categories that respond to the presumption of the REALITY and INNATENESS of gender and anatomical sex, we see that homophobia (or, indeed, heterophobia, which I have seen in full flight! Or bisexual individuals copping it from the gay community for ‘not picking a side’ or from the hetero community for being supposedly promiscuous) is not only ridiculous on humanitarian grounds, but competely divorced from reality.

I would go so far as to say that gender is a construct designed over the milennia to control people, much like class systems.

I agree that in the short term, helping people ‘reassign gender’ (in this case gender meaning anatomical sex) seems like the best solution, but the culture needs to shift in the long run, and I’m not convinced that gender reassignment doesnt actually hinder this shift by giving the culture a get-out-of-gaol-free card.

In summation, what angers me so much about this phenomenon is realising how much pain people suffer, believing that they are somehow wrong, when the standard by which they are measuring their ‘correctness’ is in fact a milennia old cultural LIE.

Bending Gender – Until it Snaps

So a while ago I posted a link to a docco about kids growing up with “Gender Identity Disorder” or “Gender Dysphoria.” Translation: kids who are convinced they’re the wrong sex. Something about it bothered me at the time, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. And the bothering bothered me, because (as I’m sure you’ve cottoned) I’m kinda liberal.

I couldn’t grasp why it should bother me so much that kids might want to change their gender. After all, I have zero issue with transgendered adults, and I’ve always upheld that kids have a whole lot more smarts and self-awareness than we give them credit for. If anything, I think the transition into adulthood, those perilous teenage years of surging hormones, might be something akin to chemical warfare on common sense: things that seem so clear to kids can be absolutely impenetrable to their supposedly wiser elders.

So why was I so uncomfortable with the idea of a ten year old male beginning hormone therapy?

Ten is young. Really young. But by ten, I’d had more than a few crushes. Had I the vocab for it, I’d have called myself ‘straight’ by then, if it had occurred to me to differentiate myself on the grounds of whom I wanted to crash-tackle in the sand-pit, as western culture expects me to do today (Whoops, there goes another piece of The Culture Sniper’s poorly guarded identity). I think it’s important to bear this in mind in this discussion of gender identity, because our conception of sexual identity is predicated on a sociocultural understanding of gender as a) real and innate, and b) fixed. So for a male, of any age, to identify as homosexual, he must first identify as, well, male. Ditto for a females. Homosexuality is an attraction to sameness, but sameness of gender can only be determined by the fixing of gender itself.

The problem is that gender is neither real, innate, nor fixed. Thus, insofar as sexuality is understood only in relation to gender, neither is sexuality real, innate or fixed. In fact, taking the logic to the extreme, it could be argued that sexuality as defined by gendered attraction doesn’t even exist.

OK, I’ve skipped ahead a bit. Let me rewind and explain where I’m getting these whacky ideas from.

I’d like to introduce you to two women: Judith Butler and Alice Dreger.

Judith Butler kind of accidentally founded Queer Theory in the nineties. Accidentally. I’m not sure how you accidentally found an entire arm of cultural inquiry, but there you have it. The interesting thing is that she accidentally founded Queer Theory by theorising not sexuality but gender. <;- Point in case for my claim that the two are inextricably linked, and by debunking one, you necessarily debunk the other. Anyway, Butler's central claim is that gender is 'performative'. This basically means that gender is not a noun but a verb: it's not that we ARE our gender, so much as we DO our gender. So I wear my hair long and put on makeup and high heels not because there is anything innate in my body that suggests or demands that I behave in this way, but because I have learned culturally that this is what a woman is. And by doing so, I reify, perpetuate and make the gender of feminine by doing the gender of feminine.

I do it because it’s done and it’s done because I do it.

There is absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t shave my head, wear flat shoes, and step out with a naked face. Indeed, many women do exactly that. And what does our culture say to them? Well, in the words of spoken word artist Lacey Roop, our culture asks “Are you a dude or a dyke?” as though choosing not to adorn ourselves with the cultural accouterments of this constructed idea of femininity can mean only one thing: not that she just doesn’t like lip-gloss, but that she must be gay… because sexuality is so bound up in gender.

It’s ridiculous, of course. I could shave my head tomorrow and I’d be no more gay than I am today. My sexual orientation has zero to do with my haircut, funnily enough.

So we can see that ‘gender’ as a facet of identity is a construct, and so we make distinct gender from sex, which in this discourse and for the purposes of this discussion shall refer to anatomical sex, i.e. what bits you got. But surely, I hear you cry, surely sex is fixed! And so this discussion of gender identity, whilst very interesting, is even more arbitrary than gender; a lofty musing for academics who have nothing real to contribute!

Perhaps.

But not.

For those of you who might have done a bit of reading in the field, I am not going to talk about Julia Kristeva at this point. Mostly because that would be drifting off in the stratosphere of theoretical mumbo-jumbo that a) I barely understand myself, and b) is difficult to demonstrate real-life implications with. Instead, I turn to Kristeva’s scientific alter ego, Alice Dreger.

Dreger works with people “at the edge of anatomy” , with a particular interest in intersexed people.

Intersexed?

Intersexed.

It means people who anatomically don’t fit into our neat little male/female binary. Men with a fully functional uterus. Women with testes. And any other combination you can think of. These are naturally occurring bodies, but because they don’t fit the mould – a mould that we seem to have imposed on nature – we think of these bodies as abnormal. Dreger’s central contention is that sex is not as straight forward as we’d like to think, that in fact it exists on a spectrum and beyond, on axes of a plethora of intersecting lines, and that this division between male and female is, well, kinda made up. That’s what the science suggests (dare I say proves?) anyway.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the crux of my argument.

Gender is a pattern of behaviours constructed in arbitrary response to sex, which is itself a far more complex thing than we have previously imagined: sex is not a neat little binary, but a complex matrix of possibilities. Thus, given our understanding of sexuality is entirely dependent on the fixity of sex and gender, it is difficult to claim that sexuality is anything but just another arbitrarily constructed sociocultural concept. (Cue usual rant about stupid anti-gay BS and fast forward to next point).

What does this have to do with transgender kids?

It comes down to this: how can gender identity every be a disorder if gender is made up? Is the child sick, or is the culture just, well, a bit screwed?

Of the kids that were old enough to be experiencing sexual attraction, all of them were attracted to the same sex. I wonder (and I really do just wonder: I don’t know or make any solid claim on this) if the real issue with these kids is a discomfort with their sexuality because the culture has told them that boys kiss girls and girls kiss boys, and ‘dykes’ are gross and ‘fags’ are some how lacking. I have to wonder if these kids would be so desperately unhappy with their anatomy that they want to cut it off or stitch it on, take drugs to stop their voices dropping, or bring out hair, and completely remodel their bodies if we lived in a culture that said, “You know what? Love whom you love. Wear what makes you comfortable. Love the face in the mirror.”

Certainly, as with transgendered adults, I assume not all kids diagnosed with “Gender Identity Disorder” have same-sex feelings. But again I ask, is the child sick, or is the culture? What exactly is wrong with a a child with female genitalia wanting to cut her hair short and wear pants and sneakers and heavy-metal band tees? If gender is arbitrary, the binarised sexed body an idea more than a scientific fact, and sexuality nothing more than a concept wrapped around other concepts, you have to conclude that there’s nothing wrong with it.

Instead we should be asking, what is wrong with a culture that trains its young to emotionally brutalise each other for something as arbitrary as a hair-cut and choice of footwear? What is wrong with a culture that essentially makes shit up, designs a game no-one can win, refuses to publish a rule-book, and then punishes the losers? What is wrong with a culture that has its kids so convinced there are right and wrong ways to be born, right and wrong ways to love, that these kids want to chemically and surgically alter their bodies, be it in pursuit of a new sex or a new nose or bigger boobs or a smaller belly?

What is wrong with that?

EVERYTHING.

So Gay.

I got into an argument today (I do that a lot) on someone else’s facebook.

Basically, it went something like this:

My friend posted a link to a FB group supporting same-sex marriage. I thought ‘Onya, Lex, I’ll like that,’ and so I did.

Some hick then starts ranting in comments about how ‘I’m not a homophobe, but I don’t think gays should be able to marry because homosexuality is wrong and disgusting, but I don’t hate them, but they can’t have kids, so why should they get the same financial benefits as straight people, because the financial benefits given to married couples are designed to help them raise kids to make the nation stronger.’

I blinked once, twice, three times. I shook my head, I rubbed my eyes. I stared at his outrageous comments, far more outrageous than the most outlandish Pride Parade. Aside from the fact that his tenuous grasp of politics was just, um, WRONG (not an opinion, a FACT: superannuation has nothing to do with child-rearing, it is something we benefit from on the other side of menopause, and are we supposed to deny infertile couples the right to marry? Or people who just don’t wish to have children? Dipshit), he was also one of those morons who start a rant with, ‘I’m not a homophobe but,’ or ‘I’m not sexist, but women should stay home and raise their babies,’ or ‘I’m not racist, but the Asians are taking over the world,’ or some other bullshit.

Of course, I took the bait. We bit and snarled at each other for a bit until I finally realised that he wasn’t reading my or Lex’s totally reasonable arguments, just glancing over them and then responding with another tirade of the same crap. So, I did something I rarely do: I let it go.

So there I am, thinking I’ve taken the moral high-ground by letting the dog go to sleep and then letting it lie, when all of a sudden another guy starts posting comments on the reasons why he thinks gay marriage is objectionable, except this guy is queer. He thinks gays shouldn’t marry because marriage is ‘hetero-normative’ and originated as a contractual arrangement (it still is a contractual arrangement, really) and he’s so passionate about this that he has started a facebook group:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Queers-Against-Marriage/108080855895301

Now, I’m not sure exactly what HE means by hetero-normative, but I’m guessing the raising of children comes under that broad and undefined title…

Anyway, my own general perspective is this:

I will in principal support any group which is not itself by nature discriminatory, and I will support any person’s right to join that group. What I cannot abide is prejudice or bigotry, and I find intellectual self-righteousness dressed up as socialist philosophy equally difficult to stomach. Opposing marriage as an institution in all forms based on its heritage, whilst consistent (unlike our dipshit homophobe from earlier in this post), is as ludicrous as discriminating against someone based on their parentage. And going to such efforts to encourage people NOT to marry seems like a waste of time, resources and bandwidth to me. Seriously, if people don’t want to marry, they probably just won’t. This group isn’t protesting forced arranged marriages, doesn’t defend anyone’s basic rights, it is simply an outlet for philosophical wanking.

I’d love to see people channel their passion into something that matters. A person’s right to marry, regardless of the gender of their partner, is important. A person’s right to not marry is important, but this right is rarely challenged, and this isn’t what this movement is about anyway: they do not defend a person’s right to pass on wedding bells, they challenge a person’s right to ring them.

REDUNDANT.

The bottomless money-pit.

I don’t think I’d like to have a bottomless money-pit.

If I put all my money in a bottomless pit, it would all fall out in north-western Turkey, or somewhere thereabouts.

Actually, if I dropped all my money in a bottomless pit, the antipodes of which would be somewhere in north-western Turkey, it would probably burst forth on the other side of the world and then, due to the effects of gravity, it would shoot back through the earth and burst forth here. Then, once more due to gravity, it would shoot back through the earth. Of course, this time it wouldn’t burst forth, but reach a point somewhere underneath north-western Turkey and then, due to the effects of gravity, start hurtling back in this direction. This would carry on, my money shooting back and forth along an ever diminishing segment of the diameter of the earth, until, due to the effects of gravity, it reached an equilibrium and stopped. And then my money would be stuck in the middle of the earth.

This is assuming my money were heat-proof and didn’t just melt once it got to a certain really-hot-bit somewhere on its way to the centre of the earth.

Either way, I don’t think throwing my money in a bottomless pit is a good idea.