Nu Gender - People, Pronouns and Power Metal
On a recent trip to California I visited The Broad, a gallery of modern art in downtown LA. The gallery houses some amazing works from well known artists such as Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock, as well as a host of other pieces that I didn't really understand (stuff that looks like a child did it... though I'm sure it's all very technical and artistically brilliant). It also had a small room in which the walls and ceiling were mirrored. Illuminated by LEDs, this room gave you the feeling that you were floating through the cosmos. It was cool, the three hour wait was actually worth the 45 seconds you got to stand in there.
For me, however, the most interesting thing I found in the gallery was the toilet. You see this was my, and I assume several others, first experience of a gender neutral public toilet. There wasn't actually a male toilet, just a female and a gender neutral one (though there may have been a male restroom somewhere else in the gallery that I didn't see).
Inside the gender neutral toilet there was a single cubicle, a single urinal and the usual sink, mirror and hand dryer setup. Outside there was a small group of uncomfortable looking men, not quite sure whether or not they should go in. I recognized their discomfort because I felt it myself. When I had found the restroom I paused and wondered what to do. It was a strange and uncomfortable feeling.
I then found myself wondering if any woman had ever chosen to visit the gender neutral restroom over the dedicated female one. I doubt many had.
I also wondered what's the point? If you are transgender why not simply use which ever restroom fits your trans-gender? Why does there need to be gender neutral one?
I guess this would be called progressive... but is it progress? I couldn't help but ask why there was a female restroom and a gender neutral one. Why not two gender neutral ones? Or a female, male and gender neutral? Or just a single giant gender neutral one?
Is it because many women would feel uncomfortable in a restroom with a man who's standing there with his lad in his hand at a urinal? I couldn't blame them, it makes me uncomfortable too.
I’d also feel uncomfortable standing there with my own lad in my hand as a bunch of women stand waiting for the cubicle to free up. Why wasn't the same logic applied for men?
All of these questions led me to the conclusion that I am pretty gender-ignorant…
What’s up with genders?
After my trip to the gender neutral toilet I decided to put on my googling gloves and look into the whole gender thing. What I found was what appeared to be a mostly virtual but sometimes physical war between 'SJWs' and 'Nazis' over a bunch of words I'd never heard of before.
This ‘war’ revolves around how we categorize people and what pronoun we use to refer to them. Basically some people no longer consider male and female to be the only genders and no one seems happy about it.
There are those that don't want to recognize new genders and those that are unhappy that society isn't bending to their will without any sort of trepidation So what are these new and controversial words and beliefs?
Firstly I should say that I am not in any way trying to belittle or dismiss transgender people. This is something I feel like I can understand at least a little. I know a few women personally that were born male and there is no doubt in my mind that they are women. It’s the ‘gender identity’ part that I struggle with.
That being said lets start our gender journey with the word 'Cisgender', which describes a person whose sex at birth matches their identity. Basically it means normal. There is a new word for normal. According to this classification I am cisgender because I was born male and grew up feeling male. In other words I'm a just a plain old normal man. I'm not sure why we need a new word for it...
Then there's whole mess of equally confusing gender concepts:
Gender queer: denoting or relating to a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders
Pangender: A pangender person may consider themselves a member of all genders
Gender curious: curious about being male/female or changing your gender.
Non-binary: a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine
Genderfluid: a gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of boy and girl
Trigender: a gender identity that goes beyond the normal binary gender system (male and female) and tends to be a catch-all place for other gender identities.
To me it's easy to see why people might be resistant to these concepts. All of these words seem to describe basically the same thing (and all have a wiggly red line underneath in my text editor). I'm not sure how anyone that subscribes to these ideas could reasonably expect anyone from outside of that community to just jump over to their way of thinking. I’d imagine most people have far more important things to be worrying about than the ambiguous categorizations of human beings.
During my trip through this minefield I stumbled across a medical review of Gender Dysphoria in which I found the phrase 'Gender non-conformity'. I love this phrase because before I found it I was confused. I was struggling to articulate my negative feelings towards the whole gender identity thing. Then this phrase came a long and brought some clarity along with it.
I think the reason the idea of ‘gender non-conformity’ struck a chord with me is because of the 'non-conformity' part. My impression of a lot of the people that I've seen making a fuss over their gender identity is that they are doing it both for attention and out of a sense of rebellion. Many seem disillusioned with society and were happy to find a cause.
This is something that has been seen before. Hippies, Punks, Goths etc.. Whatever the name, it’s a group of people get together and form a counter culture. They all dress and act in ways that draw negative attention from mainstream society (one major difference this time being the presence of the internet). The difference with gender is that you can cry hate speech if someone questions you about it. There is a legitimate social rights movement in transgender rights, and this counter culture movement seems to have jumped all over it.
I'm not saying I'm right and that this is absolute truth, it's just the impression I get. I wonder how many people (if any) will simply grow out of this…
I’m also pretty sure that the more we talk about people changing gender and not identifying with their birth gender, the more people that will subscribe to these ideas, because that’s what humans do. We now live in a world where growing numbers of people believe the world is flat… my point being that people have always gravitated towards new and ‘controversial’ ideas because of the rush that comes with being part of a small community that it against the world. You get to be the underdog. In some cases this yields social progress (civil rights), but not all (any cult).
If I'm completely honest (and not at all PC) I think a lot of the gender discussion is nonsense. Just a bunch of people that want attention, or to feel special in a world where what it means to be human has been torn apart by technology.
Take 'Genderfluid' for example. I've seen people online that will switch gender mid conversation. This is a thing now. In Dublin there’s a phrase that is sometimes used when someone tells you something ridiculous or hard to believe: “Are you for serious?”
One of the many things I hear people say when speaking about gender identity recognition is that ‘gender is a spectrum’. At one end you've got male and at the other female. In between there is an infinite set of points at which a person could stand.
This makes sense to me… but then you start to think about it and realize pretty quickly that almost everything is a spectrum. Political beliefs for example. Right wing vs. Left wing and everyone in between. The shortest person, the tallest person and everyone in between. The fattest person, the thinnest person, and everyone in between. The palest skin, the darkest skin, and everyone in between. I think you get the point.
The problem with a spectrum comes when you start labeling every point on it, because there are an infinite number of points. To me it seems like this achieves nothing other than division and conflict.
At the extreme ends of the spectrum you get the manliest man and the most feminine of women. Let’s say you feel like your gender is actually somewhere in the middle. We will call this 'malefemale'. Then you meet someone who is halfway between male and malefemale, Let's call that femalishmale. Then you get someone else who is halfway between male and femalishmale. You can continue this exercise to infinity, taking the halfway point between two genders on the spectrum.
I'm wondering why those labels need to exist at all. I don't give a shit about your gender, just like I don't care about your sexual preferences. Just be you. Gender is a spectrum and that's fine, we all exist on that spectrum. Why not leave it there? Why tie your gender to your identity at all?
Is it such a bad thing say ‘I don’t really identify with how men are portrayed in popular culture and actually relate more to things that are categorized as feminine‘ and get on with your life? Is it really a rights issue? Is that that devastating to have to tick male on a government form or use a male toilet?
Maybe it is, but I’m yet to be convinced…
I identify as a Metal Head
I don't get the whole gender identity thing, but how could I? I've never experienced any sort of gender based identity confusion, and I likely never will. Is it real? Who knows. Is anything real? We can't know. Have you ever seen The Matrix?
If you are struggling with your identify then I hope you find happiness, I just don't think society needs a drastic overhaul in this regard. I definitely don’t see myself ever referring to myself as cisgender. My gender is male.
With all that being said I do think it's important to highlight the danger of walking down the path of fine grained classification. It gets out of hand quickly. Let's look at a real and very tragic example.
In 1968 four young trailblazers came together to pioneer a brand new form of music. The band was Black Sabbath, the music was Heavy Metal. It was was dark both lyrically and sonically, with heavy riffs that managed to maintain a sense of grove common in the more popular forms of rock music of that era.
That sound would evolve over the years as bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden took on the heavy metal moniker. Then something happened, a new sound came along that was unmistakably metal, but different. Pioneered by bands like Metallica and Slayer it became known as Thrash Metal. Death Metal also became a thing around this time, with the arrival of the band Death.
Fast forward thirty years and it has gotten a bit out of control. Here is cut down list of heavy metal sub-genres:
Melodic Death Metal
Neo Classical Metal
Gothic Symphonic Metal
24 genres of music that all fall under the umbrella of metal, and that's just a fraction of the total amount of sub genres in the metal world. New genres seem to appear on a daily basis and it's impossible to keep track of them all.
I identify as a metal head, though I don't really like glam metal. I do, however, enjoy at least some of all of the other sub genres, and there is probably at least one glam metal song that I do like.
I feel like I need to pick a primary sub genre, though I don't really feel like any one of them would accurately represent me musically. This means I need to create a new sub-genre that encompasses multiple genres so I feel like I'm accurately represented in the metal sphere. Or maybe I’m pangenre… or genrefluid? And so it continues, another day another genre.
You see humans love to categorize things. It's comforting and helps us to make sense of the painful mess that is life. The problem is that we sometimes use this as a way to elevate ourselves and inflate our own egos. Death metal fans, for example, might look down on Glam metal fans. They might even go as far as to say that they aren't real metal heads. Thrash metal fans might tell you that you can't beat the good old days when the music was raw and real. The Nu metal guys will tell them to get with the times. That their metal is an evolution, that it's the future.
We love our categories. They define us. We dress so that everyone else can see it a glance. We surround ourselves by people in the same category and avoid or berate those who criticize or trivialize our category or our friends categories. After all an attack on your category, your identity, is an attack on your very being.
I guess what I'm trying to say is this: It's all metal. Sure it comes in many different styles, but at the end of the day we're all metal heads and we need to look past our sub-genres. We need to love and support each other and not get so hung up on the specifics, or shove our genres down other people's ear canals.
(ps. for more on genre identity go here)