"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Sliding Off The Gender Spectrum - A Tale Of Woe In The Modern Age

Barkley Phelps was not sure what he was.  He wasn’t any more certain after going through Facebook’s 56 categories of gender identification.  He was fairly sure he wasn’t cisgender or genderqueer, not sure about two-spirit, certainly not neutrois (identifying with no gender whatsoever), and tempted by pangender because it implied a universal sexuality, a love the one you’re with Sixties permissiveness.  Barkley’s parents were of the Woodstock generation, and he assumed that they had enjoyed all the sexual liberation and spiritual evolution as the rest of their generation.  They had been revolutionaries, Barkley assumed, rejecting the old monogamist, Church-mediated, insufferable piety of the Fifties and expressing themselves, their sexuality, and their feelings completely and with hesitation.

Image result for images free love sixties

However, like many who claimed they had been there only had had the intention of going, got as far as Saratoga Springs, bunked with friends from Gaithersburg, got stoned on their own, and returned the next day.   They were never meant for Woodstock, they said later, and it was written that they turn around.

His parents had met in a conventional way, in an English class,  had courted more along the lines of the Fifties (milk shakes, hamburgers, and making out) than casual sex, but were swept up in ‘The Movement’, took off their clothes in public, smoked dope, made love in yurts and teepees, but remained together.  Somehow the old ties that bind held fast, and despite the everything goes zeitgeist, the Church, Old Europe, and a conservative American propriety won the day.  The Sixties were nothing more than an escapade.  Not long after Woodstock his father cut his hair, shaved his beard, and applied to graduate school.  His mother had been more reluctant to return to the predictable propriety of her youth, especially because she found many of the young men she slept with far more attractive than her dutiful classmate; but she demurred, listened to reason and common sense, married, and had Barkley.

She continued to see a number former lovers long after her marriage.  The Fifties-Sixties compromise of their marriage was a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ tolerance within the context of general fidelity and marital respect.  Her husband had been more deeply influenced by his upbringing, and while tempted, never strayed.  He had simply put the Sixties aside – interesting, but no longer relevant; impressive, but forgotten – and went on with his life which was, as he said, ordained.

Barkley had no idea of any of this, but as a precociously sexual boy and determined adolescent, assumed what he wanted to be true – that he was a product of two fearlessly sexual people who had simply put their sexuality on hold while they tended to the business of work and and the work of raising him. 

The Sixties of course were never as pansexual as Barkley had assumed.  They were heterosexual in the main, as traditional in their sexual partners as their parents had been, only less inhibited.  The whole gender thing was far in the future; and the Woodstock generation simply pushed the mainstream farther forward.  It took another generation at least to open up the floodgates and let in every possible stream of sexual expression.

For most of his younger years, Barkley was as heterosexual as Casanova.   He was as free-spirited as his Woodstock avatars and was successful as they despite the growing censoriousness and neo-Puritan feminism on campus.  It was only when he had completed graduate school, and was off on his own that he began to have doubts.  His years at Oberlin – perhaps the most politically conscious and progressive school in the country – had taken their toll.  By the time he had graduated, he began to doubt his heterosexuality.  What was it, he now realized, but a socio-political construct devised by oppressive white, patriarchal men who needed children for heritage, patrimony, and legacy.  If homosexuality had always been a part of human society; and if Ancient Greece, the foundational source of Western thinking, had raised it to an art, then why shouldn’t their be variations on a theme?  Ipso facto if the Greeks rejected universal monolithic sexuality, then any disaggregation was not only possible but called for and right.

Image result for images homosexuality ancient greece

The idea of a gender spectrum, Oberlin activists insisted, had its origin in 2500 years ago.
This was the problem with Oberlin, however.  It attracted bright students from good families, all schooled enough to do well on the College Boards, write good essays, and make a good impression during interviews; who, while they might be tempted by the post-modern vehicle of deconstruction and disaggregation and ‘interpretive logic’ could never forget or ignore 1+1=2.  Heterosexual sex had been the be-all and end-all of the human race since its inception.  While well-to-do Greeks may have enjoyed their dalliances with young boys, marriages went on with as much to-do as ever. And so did heterosexual prostitution, affairs, infidelity, deceit, and pandering.  Homosexuality was then as now, a minor sexual episode.  While the student activists at Oberlin might have insisted on the existence of a gender spectrum and the importance of finding one’s place on it, logic, history, and common sense suggested just the opposite.

Barkley like many of his Oberlin classmates left the campus confused.  Although they spoke the party line – most of his class graduated with commitment, fidelity, and allegiance to the cause of progressivism – they harbored natural, expected doubts.

Barkley was one of the ones who had taken his education seriously; and rather than pursue the issues of sexuality and gender academically and from afar, he thought that some introspection and light-of-day personal analysis was in order.  Was he really the insatiably heterosexual man he had been a decade earlier?  Didn’t he find John the mail boy attractive? Wasn’t the transgender woman on the seventh floor beautiful and as desirable as any ‘true’ woman?  Didn’t he once want to wear high heels and stockings?

The answer was no to all the above; but Barkley was persuaded by the thought of pansexuality; or in the modern lexicon, of being on a sliding gender spectrum.  One could slide this way or that on a smorgasbord of sexual interest.  The idea of tasting Arabian sweetmeats, briny oysters,  bitter amari, creamy custards, and crunchy nuts with no diet or restraint was tempting indeed.   The idea of picking one single place on the spectrum – i.e. one of Facebook’s 56 – was boring and unappealing.  If he was to make the jump from heterosexuality to something else, he wanted a bit of everything.

Image result for image arabian sweetmeats

Yet, try as he might to convince himself that he and every other man and woman were not male or female but some minor alternative among many, he could not.  Facebook encouraged users not to check only one of the 56 boxes, but to combine them. The number of possible ways to combine two or more categories are limitless (1 and 25; 1 and 26; 2 and 31, 2 and 44; 1,2,3 and 33…).  Facebook was being overly sensitive to ‘inclusivity’ but was on the right epistemological track.   If there is such a thing as a fluid gender spectrum with many, constantly increasing categories, then the possible subdivisions of those categories must be equally valid. 

Image result for equation for determining permutations

The Oberlin Paradigm again.  Barkley was thinking very logically but had been indoctrinated by so many a priori assumptions that logic did not seem enough.  It was like seeing an unbelievably complex insect and instinctively dismissing Darwin and evolution.  Simple, step-by-step incremental change could not possibly have produced such a living form.  There simply had to be more than two sexes.

Image result for images weird looking praying mantis

OK, thought Barkley finally.  Granted there are people who prefer to do things differently; and God knows human diversity is limitless.  At this very moment unimaginable sexual partners are enjoying unthinkable sexual practices.  There are as many possible sexual permutations within the LGBTQ community as there are on Facebook, and more power to them.  Yet no matter how many ways one finds to slice the cake, it is still a small one.  Without Oberlin and the extensive progressive social community, the fractional slices (less than 1/2 of one percent each), let alone the cake (three percent at most) would be unnoticed.

Most Americans are and have always been happy to tolerate all kinds of sexual behavior as long as they don’t have to see it; and the issue of the gender spectrum may have just tipped the balance away from sexual tolerance to sexual misgiving.  Everyone knows that God created two different sets of sexual organs, and made them pump their juices through the body ad perpetuum; and while these fluids make us do very crazy things, babies still be born every few minutes with the equipment intact.  Yes, sometimes the fluids get redirected and the genetic wires get crossed; but in the main men are still looking for women and vice versa. A sliding scale is easy to fall off, and then what?

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