We Need To Talk About People’s Reaction To Elliot Page

I’ve always found it odd that we place so much attention on what famous folks do. It’s as if we think that because we watch someone on television that we also have a say in their lives. We may root for them in our favorite shows or as part of our favorite sports teams but that is where it ends. Their lives are separate from ours and they don’t follow a script to please us when they aren’t working. 

Recently, Ellen Page (last time I will use that name) has come out as transgendered, would like to be known as Elliot, and prefers male or gender neutral pronouns. Sounds simple enough. 

As you can imagine some people are not happy about this. There really shouldn’t be a problem with any of these things but it often sends people over the edge. It’s like these folks think that their identity has been challenged by Elliot coming out as trans.

One of the people who is upset is the editor at Spiked-Online who published an article with a number of opinions positioned as objections. Because these things are apparently hard for people to deal with, I thought it might be useful to go over his assertions. I have quoted his main complaints and responded to each. 

“Yesterday, Ellen issued a statement saying she is now Elliot and her pronouns are he and they. That’s just bad grammar.”

So . . . yeah, If we’re starting with grammar as an argument against identity then we know the person making the argument is going to take umbrage with everything. 

Sure, if someone is a writer then grammar ranks high on their naughty list but even here gender neutral pronouns actually are beneficial to writers? I’ve been using gender neutral pronouns on nearly all of my articles for over a year now and it’s remarkably easy. The only time it gets complicated is when I use the plural they/them to refer to an individual while also talking about them in relation to a group. Most of the time this can be avoided by using names for specificity. I spend more time trying to figure out how to avoid ending sentences with prepositions than I do pronoun usage.

Writing with gender neutral pronouns allows what’s being said to apply to a wider variety of people. If I write about dating a woman and a reader doesn’t date women then they may not care about what is being said. However, if I use gender neutral pronouns then that same reader may be more likely to think about the situation as it applies to them. I haven’t excluded their experience and as a writer that’s important because I want my material to resonate with as large an audience as is possible. Gender neutral pronouns accomplish that quite handily. 

Plus, c’mon! Are we really going to harp on a celebrity changing the way we refer to them? Really?! When Sean Combs decided we should call him Sean Puffy Combs we did it, when he later said to call him P. Diddy we did. No one actually thinks there are birth certificates laying around somewhere that say Snoop Dog and Lady Gaga on them. Let us also not forget Prince who changed his name to a symbol. We called him “the artist formerly known as Prince” or “the artist.”

We change names for people all the time and very few of us care when it’s for artistic/advertising purposes. We can easily extend the same courtesy for someone who would like a change in order to reflect their identity. It’s such a small part of taking care of each other and being a compassionate, empathetic person and yet seems to be a step too far for some. 

“Who won gold in the decathlon at Montreal in 1976?’, it says: ‘Caitlyn Jenner.’ Which is a lie. They’re lying about the past now.” And then “Well done! You completely erased a woman who did some very important cinematic work over the past 15 years!”

If the past were erased you couldn’t find out who did those things at all. What has happened is that the names have been changed to reflect who the person is now. It’s still the same person. It’s no different than when someone gets married. We refer to them by a current name for past actions all the time. 

The names we use may change over time. People get married, they get divorced, they get nicknames, or they change their name for a variety of other reasons and we all accept it because it’s not that big of a deal. They are still the same person. 

I can watch Elliot’s work in Juno as a pregnant teen and I can watch a clip of Caitlyn winning gold in a men’s event and understand that these are the same people; that one is a transman and the other a transwoman. There is no incongruity around this issue. Sure, at first it can be easy to get crossed up. Old habits are hard to break but as you sit with it longer and think of them the way they wish to be seen it becomes quite easy. 

“Could it not further confuse young lesbians and make some wonder if their sexual preferences and possibly tomboyish attitude also means they are a ‘he’?”

First an aside, this argument fails in a number of ways. Unbeknownst to many, some lesbians prefer he/him pronouns as well. Where is the outrage about that? People who make this argument don’t really give two shits about lesbians. They just hate transgendered people and they’re willing to position any group against them they can. They are grasping at straws because their argument is lacking.

Another problem with this line of thought is it assumes that lesbians are simply pawns without an independent identity. It denies lesbians agency in their life. Proponents of this argument seem to think someone somewhere first decided to be trans out of a malicious desire for control and then fooled others into joining. This isn’t Scientology.

Keep in mind that sexual attraction and gender are two different things. Trans folk claim a different gender because they are that gender. Some will first wonder if they might be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or any other number of sexual orientations. It can be difficult to figure one of these things out, much less both simultaneously. We shouldn’t be surprised to see these things happen in progression.

This argument is also belittling to people who are experimenting with their gender and sexuality. If any lesbian decides that their attraction to females is a result of their desire to be a male then naysayers automatically claim they are confused. Former lesbians now trans, by their logic, don’t know what they are talking about and are victims of the trans agenda (whatever that is). It’s a page straight outta the book of misogyny to say that these people’s claims about themselves don’t matter, that they are not to be believed, and are misinformed or just plain stupid. They are feigning concern for lesbians while simultaneously calling them stupid. We are not the saviors for lesbians or trans folk, we are their allies and we need to listen to what they say about their identity and sexual orientation.

Plus, the lesbian argument seeks to impose limits not expand choices. When people are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be, they should have all the options possible. Those who would deny them these choices really just want control. These arguments are levied by people that think being a lesbian is less objectionable than being a transperson so they try to corral people into their belief system. They are not interested in helping anyone learn about themselves or determine their own destiny.

Think about your own life, chances are if you lived it how other people thought you should you would likely be miserable. Our autonomy is important to us and we should extend that wonderful gift/right to others as much as we can as an act of compassion. 

One last note, let us not forget that it’s not just “young lesbians” who are testing the waters but women of all ages come to question their sexuality and/or gender at different times throughout their lives. The choice about how to live authentically is not exclusive to the young.

“But what about us, the people who also inhabit this world? What about our recognition, springing from millennia of observation, that if you give birth you are a mother, not a father? What about our understanding that if you produce sperm and impregnate someone – as Bruce Jenner did – then you are a man, not a woman?”

Obviously, these folks have given up on disputing gender so they are looking to chip away at biology. So let’s look at a millennia of observation from which our recognition should spring. 

For instance, before white folks came to this continent many indigenous cultures had members who weren’t recognized as women or men (India still does). Each tribe had its own name for its special gender. There’s ample evidence here that producing sperm and menstruating were not the only means to determine gender. Instead of anglosaxons adopting and finding merit in these cultures we, for all intents and purposes, eradicated them. It’s the same thing some folks want to do to transgendered people today by denying them recognition. They would rather trans folk not exist so their erroneous world view remains unchallenged. 

In this rush to claim biology as the ultimate trump card we often forget that there are many other biological ways of being that we crush out of existence or to which we are oblivious. Virtually any child that is born as outwardly intersexed (variations in sex characteristics that aren’t what we think of as male or female) is generally surgically altered soon after birth. This is if it’s noticed, some genitalia variances don’t show up until years later. Some folks die without ever knowing. In those situations, a medical examiner finds out upon performing an autopsy. 

For our purposes though, let’s say a surgeon somewhere has deleted one aspect of genitalia from a intersex individual and then let’s look at the argument from biology. 

Imagine a person was born with intersex genitalia and had their female genitalia removed at birth and were left with what was present of a penis and raised as a boy. Are they male? If not then we are saying that genitals alone do not determine biological gender. If we say they are a male then we have to acknowledge that they are male because they were surgically altered just as a transman could be if they choose.

Perhaps we could stake out a middle ground to sidestep this conundrum and say they are neither male nor female. If that is the case then our rigid reliance on a gender dichotomy is superfluous.

Any option we take of the three listed above renders our idea of a gender binary moot. Some men never produce sperm, some women are incapable of having children. Men and women have varying physiologies and the difference between penis and vagina is a gradient not an either or proposition. There are all types of interesex folks who have a wonderful blend of physical traits rendering the definition of biological man or woman neither here nor there.

Additionally, only a few among us know what our chromosomes are. There are people who have lived their whole lives thinking they are male XY or female XX when the truth is something more complex and wonderful than they could have imagined. Some folks who were born as women have XY chromosomes, some males have two “female” chromosomes are XXY, folks who are intersex can have mosaic genetics which means some of their cells have XX chromosomes and some have XY chromosomes (How cool is that?).

Unless, we end up with a disease that requires our chromosomes to be checked, most of us go our whole lives thinking we are just XX or XY. There is such a thing as biology but it does not speak in the stark terms that we do. 

So, as was asked initially, what about us? What do we say from a millennia of cultural and biological observations? Do we heed their lesson and honor the fact that people come in a wonderful tapestry of shapes, forms, and genders or do we keep yelling with our eyes closed and our fingers in our ears because doing otherwise makes us uncomfortable? I know what compassion would have us do. 

If people like Elliot can finally live the life they feel they have been destined to live and it upsets other folks then I think that says more about those other folks than it does Elliot or his allies. 

The editors article, unfortunately, reads like one big temper tantrum. Our refusal to call someone how they want to be called won’t stop them from identifying that way. It will however make us look like the assholes we are when we continually violate someone’s boundaries because of our own selfish viewpoint. 

Famous Model Comes Out As Intersex

To be truthful I’ve never heard of Hanne Gaby Odiele, but then I live under a rock where the light of day as it concerns models cannot penetrate. I was very pleased to read this though and I know this will be the start of something great in societies throughout the world.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/24/model-hanne-gaby-odiele-reveals-she-is-intersex

This is proof that no matter how many ceilings we shatter there are others in the houses down the street that need demolishing as well. Being accepted as gay wasn’t the last social battle to be won, being accepted as transgendered isn’t the last frontier, and being accepted as intersex won’t be the final struggle either. We will never stop evolving as a people and as a society, nor should we.

The Little Pink Bottle That Could

DSC_3842cThis may look like an ordinary water bottle (I don’t know anything about the bike shop so don’t ask) and you would be correct. However, at one time it’s symbolism extended far beyond its function.

I acquired this sports bottle semi- unintentionally. I had entered a mountain bike race at Kickapoo State Park in Illinois which was put on by a wonderful local group called the Kickapoo Mountain Bike Club. As is part and parcel of mountain bike races (at least in Illinois) the organizers were handing out grab bags for racers part of which was a clear or pink bottle. As you can well imagine, being a guy, I was handed a clear bottle. I took it and began to walk away from the registration table.

Then I stopped and began to think better of my decision. You see, ever since I watched the Giro d’Italia, which is a nearly month long bike race around Italy, I fell in love with pink as a color for cycling. In the Giro the leader’s jersey is called the Maglia Rosa and as the name might suggest to you the color is a brilliant rose pink. The pinkish hue is everywhere; on the cars, billboards, podium, bikes built especially for the occasion and on the confetti that falls precipitously at the finish. Yes, by the end of that twenty-some-odd day race I could never see pink again without seeing it for it’s flashy, race worthy badassery that is on display during that event.

The truth of the matter was I became hooked on the pink bottle as soon as I saw them, but until this very moment I had accepted the clear bottle as a matter of social conditioning even though I didn’t want one. I was about to remedy this. I turned around and asked, “Actually, could I get a pink one instead?”

That’s about all I remember. I don’t really remember the event itself. I think there was a little blood, a shitload of sweat from that good ol Midwest humidity and a mid pack finish for me.

At this point in my life, I had firmly accepted that I was pansexual but it seemed a rather academic point rather than a pragmatic one. I was married so exploring this newly realized identity was not exactly a viable option. I was comfortable with this. Plus, I didn’t solely like guys so being married to a woman didn’t undermine my identity.

If I can offer an aside, It’s important to note that I was also living in a conservative part of the country where being different isn’t exactly accepted. People aren’t wrong when they say the Midwesterners are nice. You can have a conversation with almost anyone on a whim. Just make sure to keep things on a superficial level or you may not like the topic once it shifts from the weather.

I always tell people that the Midwest (at least the rural portion) consists of a thin veneer of nicety concealing a seething cauldron of hatred beneath. At least every other day I had to back someone down from making some kind of horrible statement. Whether it was demonstrating xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, transphobia or what have you. It was tiring to say the least.

In fact, right around this time I remember a coworker/neighbor of mine taking a line of joking, that she started, the wrong way. Through the drags of her cigarette and with a good amount of hatred and disgust she called me a faggot as I parted her company. All of this before anyone aside from my wife at the time even knew that my sexual interest deviated from women.

I should say at this point that there are also some quality people in the Midwest and they deserve their credit. It must be admitted though that the small town mind pervades this geographical area more so than other parts of the country, save for the south perhaps.

I’ve lived in my new home state for almost two years now and I’ve been 100 percent out the entire time and have never had to back anyone down from anything racist, homophobic or the like. It feels like an emotional vacation, but I digress.

So now I had this pink water bottle which I loved, but did I dare use it in rural America? At first I began using it just as a way to haul extra water in my cooler on ride days. So when riding laps at my local trail I could stop by and refill my Camelback. I had to take a few friendly jabs about it but it was easy to say it was my Giro pink bottle even though the color didn’t match the Maglia Rosa. Then I started taking it to work daily as my go to bottle for the day. When anyone said something about it I quickly stated my fondness for it, “Are you kidding? I love pink, that’s my favorite bottle!” All of it was true.

What went unspoken was that in a weird way this became a means for me to push a boundary, admittedly a small one, on gender norms. This was literally the only pink thing I owned because as a man I wasn’t supposed to. If this sounds like bullshit, it is, but I swear to you this dynamic exists and is alive and well. Carrying this bottle was a way for me to signify that I was different.

Yes, I loved the color and I would have used it regardless of my sexual orientation. Even though the color pink has nothing definitive to do with being queer, it became a secret symbol of my queerness. It was a way for me to take that part of me out into public even if no one else knew what was going on. This gender-bending symbolism slowly gave me confidence.

Before I left the Midwest I came out to a few people close to me. It was the next step in my evolution and as weird as it may sound that pink bottle played a role.

Recently, I noticed this bottle was missing from my collection. I had long chalked it up as lost and had forgotten about it until my ex-wife walked into my place with it the other night. I had left it in her car and so it had remained for months.

As I washed it and placed it in the dish rack I realized that I still loved the color. A pink bike or team kit? Yes please. However, the bottle itself had lost it’s hold on me. I still like it but it’s no longer my favorite. It’s a bottle now, nothing more than a utilitarian object with a symbolic past.

I’m out! I’m queer, bisexual, and/or pansexual. I’m a faggot, whatever you want to call it I don’t really care. I paint my fingernails and toenails, I cross dress for myself and for my partners. You see, I don’t have to deal in hidden symbolism anymore. I am my own living symbol and that feels better than carrying around that pink bottle ever did.

 

Coming Out as a Celebrity and Why I Care . . . Now

This is an old piece I wrote for another blog that is defunct, but the message is still wonderfully relevant today (Caitlyn Jenner comes to mind).

“I finally watched the video of Ellen Page coming out as gay. Yes, I know it’s been at least 3 or 4 weeks since it happened but I’ve been reticent as of late to learn about those who are famous. However, watching it helped me to remember something important about celebrities; they are not so dissimilar from other people. Celebrities too have real experiences and the core of what it means to be human is something that none of us can avoid.

The reason this is such a lesson for me is that I have recently taken a dim view of celebrity culture as it pertains to entertainment. I don’t think celebrities are horrible people; it’s just that I think they are people like the rest of us. They have my general respect, but my admiration is earned by actions other than showing up on a television screen.

I see my coworkers devour every piece of celebrity news. These fans know the people, the movies they’ve been in, where they shop, who their kids are, and what they wear. It becomes more than a game, going beyond the fun of “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” This stuff is seemingly their life, and certainly their obsession. Sports fans count in this as well. “Did you see who we traded in the draft?”

The public’s fascination with celebrities has real harm because it is often employed as an escape from reality. Many use immersion and vicarious living as a way to anesthetize themselves to many of the things happening around them. After all, most people don’t want to read about civil unrest, the abuse of corporate and political position, or the myriad of ways in which humans are supposedly ending their existence every day. It can be depressing at times to say the least. It is much easier to retreat from the things that really affect one’s life in order to enjoy some sense of calm and even power that can come from being on the inside track of celebrity life. The reality, cruel as it is though, is that ignoring the ills of the world doesn’t make them go away. The larger that socio-economic issues loom, the more the public’s escapism with celebrities increases—much like an ever escalating arms race.

So, when I read about Ellen Page coming out, I thought, “Who cares, so what if she’s gay? Join the club.” I was busy reading the coming out accounts of people that didn’t have the insular effects that money can bring and who aren’t part of the Hollywood culture that allows for and even revels in this type of admission. I was convinced that these everyday accounts were the stories of legitimate consequence, unlike those from media darlings.

Then I watched the video. I’m not sure how it happened. I didn’t even know who Ellen Page was aside from an actress. Nevertheless, perhaps in a moment of weakness or boredom I clicked on a link to open the video.

It was readily apparent from the beginning that I was watching something of importance. Culture and wealth might change certain aspects of how we feel society’s pressures, but here was a woman bravely laying open an aspect of her identity and hoping for something positive and transformative as a result. As I watched her nervously shake I became anxious for her. It was a humbling and informative experience for me and, as identity issues often do, it brought me to tears. Throughout her address the core message of hope, love and perseverance was ever present. This message rang out and not once did she allow it to be overshadowed by her personal declaration. It was beautiful; every part of it. The experience made me realize that when someone decides to forge their identity through self-revelation that it is important to listen regardless of their social position.

Even after this revelation, I will admit that I still don’t care for celebrity worship, but this reminded me that much of what I see isn’t something that those in the spotlight can always control. A large portion of what they say and do is recorded by photographers and writers who then rush the latest tidbits out to news stations and publications. When I think of the gaffs I have made throughout my life it becomes very apparent that I’m fortunate to be free of such scrutiny.

The truth is, I was right all along: celebrities are just people. However, instead of using this fact to marginalize them as I had done before, I realize that it should be used to recognize the struggles they endure and that they too can contribute something valuable to our lives. The next time I see a celebrity in a vulnerable position or trying to communicate in a meaningful and positive way, it won’t take a moment of weakness to discover their message. I will seek it out willingly and with purpose, hoping to expand upon what I know of the human experience. When this happens, like many of the adventures that play on the big screen, it truly will be something to watch.”

Poly and Pansexual: The benefits of being out

I have to admit that I don’t have the slightest idea of who Gaby Dunn is, but then I live in a box informed only by my specific news interests and fueled by copious amounts of punk rock so this is not surprising to me. However, I don’t have to know her other works to appreciate the wisdom in this one.

What she speaks to here is one of the things I have started doing. I’m out to pretty much anyone. It’s one of the only ways to control my identity and prevent bisexual erasure. If I let people know that I’m pansexual then they won’t necessarily think me straight when with a woman or gay when with a man.

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/sex-and-love/polyamorous-pansexual