Sweet photo, right? My friend, Bob, gave me the prompt and my friend Bob is about as sweet as I am; sugar right up until you screw a pooch we care about. A pooch on which we have money, in which we are vested, be it direct or indirect. A pooch on which we'd stake our lives. Bob has. I have, but I'd bet a limb or two, Bob's anted up a whole lot more to the table than I.
Quick story about Bob, and I have no idea why this is relevant. Maybe we'll find out. You don't think I outline this shit before I start writing, do you? We're all lucky if I get a grammatical edit in before I hit that green button.
Until late December, 1996, I had an idea of Bob. A base perception, probably a little more; I really liked the guy. But that was all; a base perception and I'm embarrassed about that. To me, Bob was ethereal, struggling in a world I can't even touch. I could view it, feel it, smell it, and die of heartbreak from the heartbreak. But I wasn't in it, Bob was. One day in early December I took a test for a job which I failed abysmally. The failure was so extreme that the ten questions relating to financial reporting and accounting, were indelibly etched upon my infantile brain. When I got home, having failed this test, I asked my first husband who I could talk to. Do we know any accountants? Surely we do, no?
But but but
Get over yourself, Heather, and call the man. And I did.
To this day I will never forget Bob's explanation of a contra account. I said:
You are fucking with me.
So the Bob, the accountant (really?!) gave me every answer I needed. To be safe, I read four semesters of accounting - 101 - 102.2 on the fire escape of my next husband's apartment. It was cold out there, but I was chain smoking. I had a little under three weeks in which to prepare for another probable defeat.
I passed. I aced it. She didn't bother to change the test. Really? Really, Teresa? Really?
'Underestimate me. That'll be fun.'
'Underestimate Bob. That will be extra fun.'
When Bob gave me this prompt, all of the above is not what to came to mind. I didn't know that was coming until I started typing (try it sometime). This is where I was heading, what's come before should land hard by the time I'm done.
What is a gender box? You do know, even if can't see or articulate it; you know. We all do.
When I was in college in the early eighties (shut up) I had a sociology class that introduced the concept of Baby X. I had fits. I was pregnant (not sure if I knew yet). I was clear that genetics notwithstanding, Baby X had merit. I had fits because I was apparently alone in this belief.
Here is The story of X. You read it. Any response you have is just that, a response. This story is a talking point. Baby X is the point from where I launch the conversation about the Gender Box.
Go read it. I'll wait. If not, you'll just have to keep up.
Our culture, my culture, the Culture of White America, has a set of beliefs which have been cast in stone by God himself (it's the addendum to one of the Ten Commandments, but I'm not entirely clear about those commandments as I haven't actually seen the stone). I can't really speak for other cultures because I'm not of them. I am aware of a few tribes that have been either lenient or do not have that second stone at all. In this case, a 'tribe' is a collective of people that is different from your own.
There is a gender rule on that second stone. At birth, each baby is presented with the Rules and Regulations which apply to that business going on between our legs. 'If you have a vagina, here is the most up to date edition of the Vagina Guide, Rules, Regulations, Expectations, and Consequences.' There is another just like it for babies born with a penis. That's all, just two books as only two genders are accepted in the Great Book of People.
Periodically a baby is born with both a vagina and a penis. It's not going to look like what your imagination just flashed on the screen in front of you. That's a whole other discussion. Sometimes a baby is born with an easily identified set of genitals but when that baby hits puberty, the anticipated changes don't match at all. In case you're wondering, pinpointing the percentage of androgynous persons has become very difficult. As controversial as it may seem, the definition of androgyny has expanded to allow for a rapidly multiplying population of people who do not, for one reason or another, fit the gender assigned at birth.
The social construct called The Gender Box, addresses, attempts to define, allows safe harbor (hopefully) for all people who experience difficulty or discomfort with the expectations of the manual assigned at birth. This a broad construct. The thing which is The Gender Box is very, very tiny. Even though the manuals are about the size of the current King James Bible. Small print.
In October, of 1998, Matthew Shepard was beaten, tortured, and tied to Buck fence and left to die outside of Laramie, Wyoming. Matthew Shepard remained tied to that fence for eighteen hours before he was found. He was identified by his parents by a dental brace. He died five days later having never regained consciousness. The murder rocked the world, the article informs, and I suppose it did for a bit. The Westboro Baptist Church attended his funeral as per their usual. They were in Newtown as well so I'm having trouble believing their primary motivation is gender based. In Newtown, CT, they informed the family members of 26 people, mostly children, that their loved ones were gone because they sinned.
Matthew Shepard was murdered about a decade after Harvey Milk. We didn't make a lot of progress in that time but what did change was a thing called a Hate Crime.
HEY! ASSHOLE! IF YOU OR YOUR HUSBAND STILL THINK ALL CRIMES ARE HATE CRIMES... I have no other words for you except to suggest that you look inward at the damage you cause your own tribe. Yours are not free of gender questions. You just beat them to death before it gets too out of control. Not much different than what was done to Matthew Shepard.
Back to The Gender Box. I have a personal problem with the rulebook I was handed at birth. It doesn't support who I am. It has, in fact caused epic and everlasting damage and all I did was operate outside the walls of that box. That's it but the price, man, the price.
First marriage ended due to my experience of my situation. We never blame the husband for this shit. I had the audacity to have just about zero tolerance for wifely expectations. I had the audacity to run my life in a way that didn't much fit the box in the eighties. The marriage became a battle for control. Of me.
This is one of the most hurtful statements I ever had to hear when I was married to my second husband:
"I guess we know who wears the pants in your family." This statement denigrated me but it castrated him. There is no point discussing my experience in the workplace. It's a damn good thing I'm fierce.
Many men and women struggle with those expectations until the day they die. Many lead terribly unfulfilled lives trying to live up to those rules and regulations.
If I started the conversation about unacceptable choices and gender identity crisis, we'd be here for a few weeks, but you can see where this is going.
Instead, I'll circle back to The Manly Art of Knitting. We see a man on a horse and there are a couple of responses that come to mind:
- Oh Gawd, another Brokeback moment.
- What the hell's that fag doing on a horse?
- Shit man, you're gonna poke your eye out with that thing!
This last one is exactly what I thought when I saw the illustration except didn't I didn't think it had much to do with gender. It was mostly a maternal reaction to shit my kids do. Like knit while sitting on a horse which may or may not decide the small cactus to the left is Satan Incarnate and likely to kill them both. You just can't sit a horse like that without both hands and the unexpected jolt is often mighty extreme.
I had another right after:
Oh my god, that is so freaking sweet. Also, a poor call on my part. Would I think it was sweet if the rider was a woman? Probably not. I'd probably think:
Wow. THAT is awesome. We can have it all.
We are, all of us, steeped in these myths and the only way out is to listen. Mostly to the stuff going on in our own heads.