The Pronoun Wars

“In the parlance of our times” I’m a cis hetero male? Hell, “in the parlance of our times” I’m the spawn of the devil; a straight, white male. Supposedly the peak of entitlement and the object of contempt for everyone who is not in this group of people. And yet I find myself outside even that group as I’m not rich, connected, and have worked for everything I have.

I’m a full-time, single dad who gets no support from the mother of my kids (thought, ironically, her family does help out and hold me in higher esteem now than they ever did when I was married to their daughter). I’m a vet and I worked for a while as a 911 Operator and Police Dispatcher, so I’ve contributed to my country and my community. I smoke pot and think it, and all drugs, should be legal, taxed and regulated. I don’t, however think all guns should be legal. I would have voted for Bernie if he’d made it to the DNC nomination. I believe in equality across the board, and merit-based rewards. I’m an atheist and an agnostic, but I respect those of faith and their cultures. I hate extremism of any sort. I think Donald Trump is the embodiment of what is wrong with this country as is Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, Chris Christie and Ben Carson to name a few, but I respect their right to speak their minds, though I disagree with almost everything they say. I like all kinds of music, especially Ska/Reggae, Progressive Rock, Rush (because they should be their own genre, imo), but I get a bit cringey when I hear the New Country and top 40 type songs that just drone on about the same things. I think there are artists and entertainers, and plenty of crossover, but I prefer the artists. I shed a tear when both David Bowie and Prince died. I hate Minecraft, but play COD, WOW, D&D, and okay, I tried Magic, but didn’t get into it. I read anything, and even have a Masters in English. I find value in both pulp and pomp, and believe the canon is a living, breathing thing that should be under constant examination. Though I disagree that we should ignore works by dead white men, just because they make up a good portion of its oldest works; lets add anyone we missed versus taking any out because of race and gender. I am not a feminist. At least not as it is defined today, which doesn’t seem to jibe with its original definition, which is all about equality for all, not the supremacy of some.

I’m pre-internet. That is I remember a time when there was only one phone in the house; it was in the kitchen and had a 10-foot long cord, and it was obligatory that when you were trying to call buddy or, heaven forfend, a girl, everyone in the house was privy to that conversation, and you absently twisted that cord around you as you talked (sometimes almost causing you to fall to the ground like a roped calf at a rodeo). Being pre-internet, my skin is a bit thinner and I’ve worked hard to toughen it up. I present myself on the internet as exactly who I am. I have not mastered the art of detachment like so many folks from the generation(s) that have grown up on the internet. As a result, I still believe there is a certain responsibility that goes along with my right to say what I want. Unfortunately for later generations, that may be a lesson waiting to happen as more and more people are being called to task for what they do and say on the internet, especially social media. For a while there, that was not the case, and it shows. Daily I see horrific things being said to people who, in the pre-internet days, would never have the balls to say those things, even if they did actually believe them. While I too revel in the new forum we all share, I also see this as the most glaring flaw; a lack of accountability resulting in a dearth of humanity. And, on the other end of the spectrum, a rabid sense of injustice for eons of persecution by people who did not truly suffer like their predecessors. I’m talking about any group that was marginalized, colonized, beaten, imprisoned, ridiculed by a society that called itself “free,” but for this essay, I’m strictly speaking about the LGBTQ community.

As far as the LGBTQ community, I have always been a supporter of personal freedom and equality; it shouldn’t matter what your race, sex, religion, sexual orientation is, all should be equal under the law. LGBTQ people should be afforded the same rights as anyone else, and should never be limited because of their sexuality. Transgender people should be allowed to use whatever bathroom they feel comfortable using. I’ve always seen the world this way, and even in the face of ridicule for who I am now, I’m never going to change that position.

I’ll also admit to a certain amount of ignorance, not being a part of that community. I don’t think I’m alone there, and other, like-minded cis hetero white guys often shake their heads in confusion as we’re bombarded with more and more rules we were heretofore unaware of. Pronouns being a huge part of this. Somewhere along the lines, the pronouns we had used for time immemorial, have become either obsolete or downright offensive. New buzzwords have come to light for us like non-binary, gender fluid, cis, trans, pansexual. On one hand, you want to celebrate these changes as they make language more exact. On the other, it seems these terms just sprung up for us who have no experience with them, and we’re likely to be ostracized for our ignorance rather than patiently taught their proper use. Much like anything else, immediate gratification is the expectation in our culture.

Though pronouns had remained virtually unchanged for centuries, and the world was binary, as far as gender was concerned (and I’d be remiss for not mentioning that this was largely due to my brethren’s behavior in violently suppressing anyone outside the “norm”), doesn’t seem to register. We want change and we want it yesterday. In fact, the whole “white privilege” and “cis scum” arguments kind of hinge on this idea that if we try real hard, we can erase history in favor of a new paradigm. Unfortunately we have no time machines to travel back and right all the wrongs (I truly wish there was one, as I and my fellow cis scum are left holding the bag for all previous generations’ sins). And would we want to? Do we want to forget all those people who fought and died for LGBTQ rights? I mean, they are the reason for “pride” are they not? They are celebrated for getting us to this crucial point in our culture and even thought I don’t belong to that community, I still can be proud that, in my time, our culture is working to right that wrong. And, (this is the part that seems to be forgotten and also to enrage people, thought I’m not sure why), is this culture not based on the work of cis hetero white men? Would we be where we are now, in a society of laws and a blueprint for equality (The Constitution), that has forced society to right those wrongs by espousing them as the principles by which we live? I’m certainly not suggesting that the LGBTQ movement’s successes are the result of straight white men, but I am saying that the framework within which they occurred was started by them. “White Privilege” is a whole, other topic that I’ve written my views on, so I’ll stop there.

Having said all that (here it comes), I think that the pendulum has, as per usual, swung too far in the opposite direction. We spend our lives, the bulk of us, in the middle, but we are often slaves to the extremes. This is why our current election had a far right (pretty much fascist, imo) Trump and a far left Sanders in it. The extremes of our culture are growing and louder and are rapidly eating the meaty center. While some see this as wondrous times to be alive, I see it as the last rumblings of the end of an era. What Yeats called the “widening gyre.” We’re at the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. I see a bright future if we can get through these times, but for now, reason is being drowned out by the death throes of the old and the bloodthirsty howls of the new.

The howls of the new often win out as generations die. Old values and mores die with them. I can see it in my own kids. They don’t even think of race as a factor, as I barely did growing up. I was lucky, as the only racists in my family were my American step-dads. My mother was born and raised in Ireland and I don’t think she even met a black person until she was in her 20’s living in London in the 60’s. So she didn’t grow up with the embedded racism that we in the US are victims of. I only came to this country at the tender age of six, and learned any racism from my step-dads, though I’m sure, if he had lived, my real dad would have passed on a diluted version of the racism he grew up with. And like we look at our parents and scoff at the silly ignorance of their forgotten time, so too do my children shed any residue I left them with. Time is the great equalizer, and it cannot be forced to speed up even the most righteous of changes in our behavior.

Unfortunately, and even thought old ignorance dies, what takes its place is often new ignorance. The assumptions that because one appears to be a white, hetero male means they are racist, misogynistic, homophobic, islamaphobic, right-wing, Christian, nut-jobs bent on taking us back to an imaginary cultural apex is just as bad as assuming that because someone appears to be a black male, wearing the athletic gear of a street thug, and driving a Lexus, isn’t a rich, trans, Harvard Law student, who happens to like hip-hop. You can say, “well, you had your time and it’s over so you get to eat shit,” but in fact, what time was that? I have never lived in a community where it was okay to be racist. No one I know thinks it’s okay to denigrate people from the LGBTQ community. I have never laid hands on a woman, nor ever treated them as anything less than an equal across the board. My family never owned slaves, nor were they rich. Hell, I’m the first college graduate in my line. And let’s be clear, this isn’t an apology for the sins of the past. I never had a say or a part in them. I’m also not saying “poor poor me, those guys had all the fun and left me holding the bag.” When we judge people by their appearances, we cheat ourselves as much as we cheat them. And though our particular corner of the community may be basking in the light of righteous comeuppance, it will not be long before the next generation comes along to prove how wrong we are, as they usher in the new “gyre.”

So, if I use the wrong pronoun, please correct me, but do so in the same civil manner I will correct you if you assume something about me simply because a small, vocal minority of my brethren are close-minded assholes, who are afraid their country is slipping away from them, which it certainly, and thankfully, is.

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