Monday, May 11, 2015

a thought regarding gender

The other day, a stranger was greeting my dog. 

"Oh, aren't you such a good -- " she gushed, pausing mid-sentence to look up at me.  "Is it a boy or a girl?"

"He's a boy"

"Ah!  Then -- good boy!" she finally finished.

In that moment, I felt rather strange.  This person was so concerned about correctly gendering and addressing a creature that (a) has no real gender expression, culturally speaking, and (b) doesn't really understand language anyway.  My dog wouldn't care if you called him a girl.  He wouldn't care if you called him a monkey, or a pineapple.  He doesn't know words.  Honestly, if he didn't actually identify as a boy dog I wouldn't know, because he can't tell me.  And I could have said anything; it's not like she demanded to inspect his genitals to make sure I wasn't "lying" to her.  She just moved on with appreciating a cute animal.

But the fact that the situation caused her enough concern that she needed to check in with me in order to not accidentally mis-gender was interesting.  Here was a culturally sanctioned interchange, designed to efficiently clear up an issue of gendered address. It was a pretty cool dynamic, really, just applied to a not terribly culturally significant situation.  It was simple, brief, and effective.

And then people freak out when they can't immediately gender another person, or when someone asks to be gendered in the way that is correct for them, which might conflict with others' perceptions or assumptions.  Somehow the mandate to simply check in on the situation, request information, and then respect that information, totally evaporates with humans. 

It would be nice if we afforded our fellow humans the same respect for gender that that lady showed to my dog.

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