Lefty Parent

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Living & parenting without the rule book

Abandoning Mars for Venus and Beyond

May 6th, 2013 at 7:45

astro3001_468x272I was born into a world in the 1950s where gender was a key component of who you were, and was to a large degree your destiny, even growing up in a perhaps more egalitarian and humanistic progressive university town community. Two clear discoveries in this area came out of my youth and young adult life, that have had a profound impact on the person I am evolving into.

The first was that gender was not a significant part of the nature of the individual human soul, just the “sexual plumbing” of the mammalian body our soul inhabits, despite our culture being built in every way around the supposed profound difference between men and women. A culture that seems obsessed with and even fetishizes whether your physical body has a penis, or breasts, vagina and uterus instead; and what that means to who you are and how you should be in the world.

The second was given that profound cultural divide between the genders, I became uncomfortable with the “men are from Mars” cultural expectations of my gender, and as a result increasingly uncomfortable in circles of men. Instead, I have gravitated to the world of women, and their insurgency to leverage the positive relational aspects of “women are from Venus”, while challenging its cultural limitations.

What follows is my best attempt at a narrative of my journey, from childhood to young adulthood, trying to navigate the minefield of gender expectations and find a safe and supportive place for myself in the world.

My Parents

Though I was born in the 1950s with all its conventionally stark division of gender roles, my mom and dad were a pretty unorthodox couple, with a much more egalitarian relationship than the norm. They had met each other when my mom was an amateur tennis champion in her hometown of Binghamton New York and my dad was a sports reporter for the local paper. They had been acquaintances and friends for a number of years before their relationship became a romantic one and they decided to get married. They were both intellectual and athletic, and both comfortable with parenting tasks ranging from changing diapers to throwing a ball.

I don’t think I got from them any clear difference as to how men were supposed to behave versus how women were, except perhaps that my mom was more extroverted and assertive, and my dad more introverted and passive-aggressive. I tended to be more like my dad in that way, though I think that the introversion was more a result of nature while my own passive-aggressiveness was a learned behavior. My mom generally used very little makeup and wore above the knee length skirts and casual collared shirts without bows or ruffles, except when they got dressed up for some fancy or formal event. In all aspects of their lives, at least that I witnessed, I don’t recall them behaving in stereotypically masculine or feminine ways.

If anything, my mom’s extroversion and assertiveness were closer to the masculine stereotype. When I behaved badly it would almost always be my mom rather than my dad who would call me out on that behavior. And in all aspects of her life, she was a person who took a backseat to no one, male or female.

The Girl Next Door

I think my parents’ egalitarian relationship carried over to my own with my young peers. My closest friend and playmate in my childhood was a girl my age who lived across the street (who I will call “Molly” for the purposes of this piece, not her real name). I don’t recall that the fact that Molly was a girl and I was a boy was very significant in our relationship. We were both into imagination play and spent many many hours together in my basement, our backyards, or her big attic bedroom. We quickly became best buddies and soon after complete soulmates.

The developmental plot thickened one day when our shared inquisitiveness led to a joint decision that we were going to take our clothes off and show each other our naked bodies. We were up in her wonderful attic bedroom which afforded us a lot of privacy from her parents downstairs, and I hid behind an overstuffed chair so we could not see each other as we jettisoned our shoes, socks, t-shirts, shorts and underwear. After verbal confirmation that we were both ready, we stepped naked into each other’s view. On careful examination of my play partner, triggering a quick look down again at myself, I realized that ninety-nine percent of our bodies were pretty much the same.

We noted and even commented on the one difference, that I had a little thingy poking out from between my legs and she had a little slit instead. This small detail was judged insignificant by our collective wisdom and we basked in the excitement of breaking convention and being naked together, with no one around to shame us into being otherwise. Molly’s slight anatomical difference was not the source of the excitement, it would have been just as thrilling to show all if we had both been boys. Our attic revelation had confirmed at least one difference between us, however minor. But whatever differences our parents and other humans had associated with these two varieties of human being, it never jibed with our experience of each other – comrades of the soul that we were.

Team Sports

In the early 1960s when I started playing little league baseball along with pickup basketball and football games in the nearby park, team sports were generally played only by boys. Both my parents were into sports, and though I can’t recall ever seeing my mom really play baseball, she was very capable of playing catch or pitching a ball to me and bragged that in her neighborhood as a kid she was so good at the game that she was always the first person picked (before any of the boys) in their pickup baseball games.

Though I really enjoyed and was generally good at team sports, I don’t recall bonding with the other boys I played with. It seemed there was an underlying competitiveness between boys in these sort of circumstances that I was never comfortable with. I recall this most in several games of dodgeball played at my teammates’ birthday or end of the season parties that I attended. To call these dodgeball games “vicious” would be an overstatement, but there was a martial fierceness to the way the more “alpha” boys tried to establish their dominance by intimidating the rest of us. Though I had my share of competitiveness and drive for alpha status, I rarely if ever shared that martial fierceness, preferring more collegial relationships with my teammates, that they mostly did not respond to.

What I learned from these experiences was a way of being in conventional male-dominated situations. If I could demonstrate a degree of competence at the required skills then my male comrades would accept me as long as I revealed little of myself beyond those skills.

Schooling in Conventional Notions of Gender

My school curriculum mostly reinforced the conventional assumptions of gender stereotypes, including the preeminence of men in intellectual, leadership and other directive skills, and the secondary supporting role of women with heightened relational skills. The bulk of the history we were taught featured the actions of male leaders, thinkers and adventurers. The bulk of the literature we were instructed to read and process was written by men and mostly about the interactions between men, with women playing generally a secondary role as objects of male passion or obsession. I keep thinking of books like Nabokov’s Lolita as emblematic of this, all about a man and his obsession personified in a young woman, and not really going inside the developmental narrative of that woman at all, presented as some sort of universal metaphor for the human condition.

And certainly the relational pressure-cooker environment of school classrooms, hallways, playgrounds and locker rooms (these venues perhaps producing the most profound curriculum learned in school) were all about reinforcing the conventional and often oppressive gender stereotypes and rankings. Girls valued for their pretty faces, sexy bodies, and not being “bitches”. Boys valued for their looks as well, but also their skill in academic, athletic, romantic, or even other more “nerdy” pastimes like theater, math or music. But everywhere a kind of oppressive boy versus girl, Mars versus Venus framing with way too many kids the same age jammed into the various school venues. I think forty plus years later I am still trying to fully reconstruct my self-esteem from my difficult experiences in those venues.

My learning from this profound relational “curriculum” was to keep my head down, avoid the gaze of others, and reveal as little of my real self as possible, while still functioning at enough of an academic level that I passed my classes and enough relationally that I wasn’t judged some kind of misfit in the school environment. It was up to my opportunities and experiences outside of school to develop a more evolved sense of gender roles and who I was as an individual in that spectrum of gender, including what is considered “masculine” and “feminine”.

Cooties and Sluts

One of the key aspects of conventional male gender identification when I was a child was the idea simply stated that “girls have cooties”, an endemic disease that can infect and disable boys who have too much contact with and empathy for girls. Given the presence of this contagion, the challenge for boys was to function in a world where half the people were female without contracting the disease. This was accomplished by either staying away from girls (particularly when other boys were around) or carefully circumscribing ones interactions with girls to make those interactions all about you and their relationship even subservience to you (Think The Rolling Stones “Under My Thumb”) rather than about them as fellow human partners in life.

Lacking say a more evolved older sister or other mentor a few years older to assure me that cooties was a bunch of crap, I took all this conventional mythology way too seriously, particularly after a horrific incident when I was eight years old. Recall my anecdote about getting naked with my fellow five-year-old soulmate Molly as my early idea about sharing real intimacy with a peer. Recalling that key moment in a joyous relationship, I confided in one of my third grade male classmates that I would “pull down my pants” for this girl in our class that I had a crush on.

The next day at school, as a bunch of us were all standing gathered by our classroom waiting to go out to recess, my male classmate revealed my intimate admission to everyone there assembled, including the girl I had a crush on. Adding to my initial mortification (which was huge) was the fact that our teacher called me up to her desk later to tell me that that was an inappropriate thing for me to say, rather than it being an inappropriate for my male classmate to reveal my confidence.

I never really recovered from that experience, and shared it with no one for the next thirteen years. What I was learning though, was that I was not safe around other men. Later incidents, though not so egregious, would just reinforce those rules of engagement. I witnessed many incidents through my preteen and early teen years where my male peers would gossip about and tease one of our peers if he was seen even briefly fraternizing with someone of the other gender.

I even participated actively in some of these bullying rituals. I recall one of my most egregious actions. In my sixth grade class we had an overweight, socially awkward boy in our class that some of the other alpha boys routinely teased. To get in with that male “elite” of my classroom peers, I went so far as to get special pencils made through mail order that were embossed with one of the most frequent scurrilous accusations made to bully him. The pencils were embossed with the name of the cutest girl in class, followed by “loves” and then his name. My pencils were an instant success with the crowd of other boys I was trying to impress, and the targets of our wrath, both girl and boy, were duly mortified and intimidated. Our teacher investigated, traced the pencils back to me, and had a private talk with me expressing how inappropriate my behavior was, but no further ramifications or restorative actions were taken. I was duly chastened, but the incident was a reminder that I could easily be the target of similar bullying.

Duly reminded, I can recall at age twelve sitting in my front yard talking to my female schoolmate who lived across the street. I was so intimidated by what could happen if seen with a girl, that when I noticed maybe fifty yards off one of my male friends coming across the park towards my house, without even excusing myself I left my female friend just sitting there while I headed out to intercept my male friend before he could see me actually cavorting with the enemy. A more confident kid maybe would have just blown off the teasing, but I was shy by nature, timid due to lack of self-confidence, and therefore more intimidated in these circumstances than others my age might have been.

School continued to provide me with negative experiences with my male peers and their bullying to enforce gender stereotypes. I remember in my eighth grade homeroom being cajoled by the more alpha males in my class to join in their derisive “cheer” (done quietly enough so our teacher at the front of the room would not hear) but audible to our female classmate who rumor had it had sex with one of our other male classmates. I reluctantly joined the “Give me an S… give me an L… give me a U… give me a T… what’s that spell…” chant, for fear of being the next target somehow of their scorn.

That’s how it worked… you participated in bullying others in the hope that you could curry enough favor to not become a target yourself. Though I knuckled under, it was not lost on me the ugliness of the situation, including the double standard where our male classmate who had claimed to have had sex with her (whether true or not) was subject to his male peers’ adulation rather than the negative judgement inflicted on his alleged partner.

Girlfriends & Girl Friends

Also in that same sexual politics war-zone of my eighth grade homeroom was another shy person, a young woman, that I had a crush on. I got it in my head that I would ask her to dance at the school “sock-hop”. She had come to the dance with her best female friend, and I followed the two of them around for the first two hours of the event like a stalker, trying to screw up my courage to talk to her and ask her to dance. I finally did and we danced for the last couple songs the band played and then sat until the end of the event drinking sodas together, me in heaven.

But the next school day in homeroom I would not even acknowledge her, despite the lobbying by her best friend who was also in the class. We had managed to dance below the radar at the sock-hop, but there was no way I was going to acknowledge we had any sort of relationship amongst all my male peers, and risk their focus and derision.

Moving deeper into adolescence as I transitioned from junior high to high school, I found myself generally more interested in my female rather than my male peers. It was certainly part my heterosexual hormones, but it was also that the intelligent young women who I encountered just seemed to be more interesting, open and real people to me. This was perhaps enhanced by the fact that I had gotten involved in a youth theater group, which like most other such groups, had way more young women than men in it. All the venues and situations that mounting theatrical productions provided – rehearsals, backstage and onstage encounters, intense collaboration at times – facilitated encountering and engaging with a number of intelligent and talented young women that I found very compelling acquaintances.

Inspired by my original relationship with my soulmate Molly across the street, though I did not actually get naked with any of these women, there was a sort of metaphorical joint self-revelation possible that did not seem possible with the vast majority of my male peers. Though throughout my high school years I continued being uncomfortable being identified as having a “girlfriend”, I did in fact develop a lot of friendships with young women which were very close but not romantic. In the instances where my female comrade wanted to go the romantic direction, she generally scared me off and there was often discomfort and misunderstanding all round.

Radicalized by my Mom & my Feminist Aunts

Yeah I was introverted by nature, timid perhaps “by nurture”, but I was also aware that there was something I was profoundly uncomfortable with regarding the “sexual politics” of romantic relationships between men and women. My parents’ relationship had been a train wreck and most of the other couples of their generation seemed to have similar problems.

My parents divorced when I was ten. Several years after, my mom went into a serious depression, and was even suicidal at times. During my earlier childhood years my parents (particularly my mom) had seemed like bigger than life iconic figures rather than a humble being like me struggling to love myself, grow, and develop. But living with my mom and my younger brother, and becoming my mom’s closest confidant, I began to see her as a struggling human being not unlike myself, rather than some mythic parental titan. Rekindling the realizations from my experiences with my soulmate Molly, I began to see my mom’s soul as another human being like me. Her essence, like Molly’s, was not some alien “female”, but only “human” like mine. I am probably not explaining it well enough, but it was a profound epiphany, accelerating a developmental trajectory that had begun a decade earlier.

After divorcing my dad and surviving (with the help of therapy) her deep depression, my mom developed a new group of friends in the early 1970s who were all getting involved in the women’s movement, particularly the campaign for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. These were intelligent, highly educated women, many married to male academics in our university town, who were becoming keenly aware of society’s double standards regarding the status of and opportunities available to women versus men. Certainly comparing them to their husbands, they seemed much more interesting and mature people. Several of them ended up divorcing those husbands as my mom had previously done with my dad, and plunging their anger and frustration into the campaign for women’s equality.

I spent many many hours in my teenage years in the company of these intriguing people, at parties and other group outings, listening to and coming to resonate with their compelling narratives and struggle for self and societal respect. Resonating because I too was struggling, often it seemed unsuccessfully, particularly for that self-respect.

I also spent many hours sitting in the rocking chair in my mom’s bedroom, often as she had all our bills spread out on the bed and she, ridden with anxiety, triaged what to pay given limited funds, and she would share with me candidly her aspirations, frustrations and fears. Learning to sit and listen while she vented, knowing that would somehow help her make it to the next day, I became comfortable with the difficult narrative of an adult female person in the turbulent milieu of the times. Gaining that awareness and comfort with her, I began to resonate more with her new friends as well, and their similar life narratives. They were happy to share and vent with me as well, and I became close with several of them, particularly Mary Jane and Carol. Mary Jane was a brilliant mind turned radical feminist intellectual, who took a liking to me and became a close mentor. Similarly Carol, who was a talented activist, a star investigator for the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who had perhaps more pragmatic wisdom about “being effective” as a change-agent in the real world.

For me, the feminist canon of my mom, Mary Jane and Carol became in essence my ethical and spiritual framework as well, not unlike being drawn to and converted to some new religion, and exhibiting all the zeal of a convert. These three women were the charismatic “clergy” of a “faith” that was calling me to it, along with their more famous sisters I was beginning to hear and read about, including Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Smeal.

Common Ground with Fellow Male Game Nerds

The exception to all this predominance of women in my young life was a group of male friends I developed in high school and continued to be close with through my early twenties. What facilitated our closer connection was that we were all “game nerds”, into complicated historical military simulation board games. This was a world of “hobbyists” that attracted very few if any women, but appealed to a certain small subset of men who had decided to mostly abandon the conventional young adult world of parties and dating in favor of spending weekends in dark basements playing these complicated games. We were like cloistered monks taking a vow of chastity to pursue an esoteric quest to discover, experience and master all the world’s great military simulation board games.

There is a certain egoistic megalomania that seems to go with replaying famous military campaigns and trying to outdo the great generals of history. But given that, there was none of the stereotypical male “cock fighting” among us to try and establish some sort of pecking order. We were in fact more egalitarian, each bringing our own unique personas to our group and allowing each other moments to shine in a collaborative circle of equals. I have seen this similar dynamic among my own kids and their “game nerd” friends (now Dungeons & Dragons and computer role-playing games).

And with our long evenings together playing these complicated simulations into the wee hours of the night, often with significant beer, wine and/or marijuana consumed, we became very close. Familiarity, fatigue, shared passions and a good buzz tend to break down the pretense we often hide our deepest selves behind. Again it felt like we were engaging each other as souls, below the level of gender, beyond the protocols of Mars and maleness.

Female vs Male & Gay vs Straight

In 1978 I made the decision to leave my hometown of Ann Arbor and move to Los Angeles, leaving behind my “Feminist Aunts” and my circles of theater and wargaming friends, but taking the wisdom I had learned with me. My goal was to leverage a connection I had to work in the TV/Film business, even though it involved essentially rebooting my life in a strange new place where I knew hardly anyone.

My first two years in Los Angeles, working in entry-level jobs in the film business, I met a diverse array of people including a number of young adults like myself and older, male and female, gay and straight. Even though I was heterosexual, I found myself more comfortable with, and more attuned to, the gay men rather than the straight men I met. But most of my new acquaintances who became my lasting friends were women.

Somehow the women I was meeting seemed more mature, with more interesting multi-faceted personalities, and easier to engage with than the men. Having had previous experience of so many deep conversations with a range of women my own age and of my parents generation (including commiserating with them about difficult experiences they were going through) I found myself drawn to and at ease with the trials and tribulations of my new female acquaintances. That rather than being focused on trying to have sex with them like a good share of the men in our shared circles of acquaintances. Most of the men, particularly the straight men I met, seemed more petulant, one-dimensional, and in need of some serious growing up.

Toward this point of view, I attended several memorable parties that featured an assortment of gay and straight men. At one or two of the events, I was the only straight guy there and I learned to be totally comfortable with that, quickly learning the etiquette wisdom when I occasionally got hit on by another guy. At others there was a mix of gay and straight guys, side by side, begging some provocative comparisons. In my anecdotal experience, the gay guys generally were more emotionally honest, less guarded, and as a result seemed to have a lot more fun. Though my libido was definitely tuned to female types, I admired these seemingly more liberated souls, their lampoon of machismo, and tried to emulate some of the best of what I saw going forward in my own public persona.

Another memorable developmental experience in this regard was when I ended up doing some impromptu nude sunbathing (that getting naked thing again) with my girlfriend at the time, her ex-husband (a bisexual man) and his current partner (a gay man). It was a unique dynamic with the banter and jokes about one another’s “sexual plumbing” and libido, at first intimidating for shy me, but since they were so friendly and unthreatening about it, I eventually relaxed and participated, and it was profoundly liberating. My girlfriend’s ex also shared with me tales of his life as a gay man in the trendy scene of West Hollywood and taught me how to respectfully decline a pass from another man.

The learning out of that afternoon in the hot Los Angeles sun was the critical importance of sunscreen, but also the not so critical importance of gender and even sexual orientation as to who you uniquely were in the deeper levels of your soul. When the constricting taboos and conventions of traditional gender and sexual orientation roles are acknowledged but then put in perspective, a deeper level of connection is possible beyond the constraints of both.

Finding an Oasis in the World of Women

After these initial compelling developmental experiences in the “City of Angels”, perhaps preparing me in some way for what was to follow, I plunged again into the world of women, a world I had first become comfortable with in my teenage within the circle of my mom and her friends, my “Feminist Aunts”.

I had come to Los Angeles to work in film and TV and had an array of entry-level jobs in my new home’s featured industry during my first couple years living there. But I experienced a deep discomfort in this world where most of the people I had the occasion to meet through that work were men, and mostly people that I did not really connect with or care about. There seemed to be so much ego, so much pretense, so much putting on airs, and little of the real human connection between the people I was interacting with in my work and our after-work gatherings.

Souring on my new home and its denizens I had met, I made the difficult strategic decision to stay, but abandon “the business”, in favor of something else that felt more in my comfort zone. It was the fall of 1979, and the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment was heating up. Thirty-five states had already ratified the amendment; three more and it would be enshrined in the U.S. Constitution that, “Equality under the law should not be abridged or denied on account of sex”. So I gathered up the nerve to attend a meeting of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Organization for Women. In retrospect it seems pretty courageous, since I was a male type and I did not have a female friend to accompany me. But in fact, it quickly felt like coming home or at least arriving at an oasis after a long parched desert crossing.

The meeting was held in a nondescript office building in the Mid-Wilshire area of L.A. There were about 30 people attending, including what seemed like an inner circle that knew each other along with a fair amount of newbies like me who were drawn by the growing effort on behalf of the ERA. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a couple other men there. For the most part I was accepted and welcomed, and it was probably attending my second or third such meeting (my return demonstrating that I really at least felt I belonged there) that I was recruited by a very tall, handsome woman named Jane, probably seven to ten years my elder, to volunteer for the Communications Committee that she chaired.

My first “action” was very unlike the more mainstream legislative and political activities that NOW normally staged. There was a huge billboard not to far from the NOW office advertising Las Vegas with a huge picture of a busty, scantily clad woman decked up in feathers like a human peacock. Jane, another woman Judith, and I planned and executed a clandestine defacing of that billboard in the middle of the night, writing “Women are not chicks!” in big black spray-painted letters across it. (I thought it ironically humorous that the hardware store where we bought our tools of desecration had all sorts of signs that they did not sell spray paint to minors to try and prevent such “tagging” acts.) At maybe two in the morning, watching fitfully for police cars, we managed to scale the sign and carry out our tagging. Sexy older women and guerrilla political action… it resonated with that radical wannabe in me and I was totally hooked and bonded with these two as perhaps my new West Coast “Feminist Aunts”.

As I continued to attend LA NOW meetings, I was introduced by Judith to her lesbian partner Toni, the fifty-something current President of the LA NOW chapter and, as I soon learned, the “godmother” (read female “godfather” rather than the “fairy” variety) of Los Angeles feminism. Toni fit the part, the charismatic center of any smoke-filled room (literally, because she constantly smoked these thin cigar/cigarettes), hellaciously intelligent and a seeming endless font of insight, worldly wisdom and sarcastic wit. It was a rare venue where everyone else in attendance did not hang on her every word. From the beginning Toni liked me, even having the chutzpah to tell me I had “nice legs”.

With exceedingly fortuitous timing given my precarious financial situation at the time, Toni and her partner Judith offered me a job working for Judith’s NOW mail-order business, plus a free room to live in in their upstairs apartment where Toni’s elderly mom lived. In lieu of rent I was up there to help Toni’s mom when she needed it and to take her out to dinner, which she loved to do (and paid for my meal… such a deal!) In accepting this offer, I had traded my precarious situation for the shelter and nurturing of my new “Feminist Aunts”.

With no real connection to anything else in this big crazy city, I was more than happy to plunge my entire waking existence into the world of feminism, volunteering much of my time even beyond my “day job” boxing and shipping all the buttons, pins and bumper stickers that Judith pedaled as one of her contributions to the movement. After several months I transitioned to a much more significant role in the 1982 ERA “Countdown Campaign” as an elected vice-president of the Los Angeles NOW chapter and the paid volunteer coordinator of the Los Angeles Countdown Campaign office.

For the next two years my entire world was feminism, Toni and Judith and the other leaders of the ERA campaign in Los Angeles, and perhaps more than a hundred mostly women volunteers that I would daily meet, greet, train, assign work to and supervise. Despite the occasional volunteer who, on encountering me for the first time would wonder (sometimes out loud) what the hell I was doing there, I was completely comfortably and wholly accepted as part of the inner circle developing feminist credentials as good as any of the women there. It was like I had been given the keys to the city of women, and happily checked my gender at the door, joining other human souls fighting for equality.

Post Male Being & Parental Equivalent

Though I will always exist within the heterosexual male privilege which has been at the core of human civilization, I have continued for the past thirty years to allow my membership in the fraternal order of men to remain lapsed. I continue to be completely comfortable with the majority of the women I meet, work with, or otherwise interact with, while only occasionally being able to make the same level of connection with the men I encounter. With one exception, I would say that all the significant mentors in my life have been women. Though there have been a couple notable exceptions in my current job, for the bulk of my twenty-three years working in the corporate world I have been much more comfortable working with women managers.

Even my life-partner Sally, who I met volunteering for LA NOW, was a friend and comrade for several years before we developed a romantic relationship and eventually decided to marry. There is none of that “Mars/Venus” difference that separated us yet attracted us to each other. And later as parents, short of birthing and breastfeeding our kids, I can think of no significant difference in the parental roles we have played. We have just been two people, two souls, who partner with each other, respect each other, love each other, and continue to be comfortable spending the rest of our lives together.

Come this December she and I will have been married thirty years, raised a kid of each gender, run a household together, and interacted as a couple within a larger community of family and friends. During those three decades neither of us has defined any aspect of our life based on gender or been comfortable letting others do so. We rarely refer to each other as “husband” or “wife”, unless calling each other “partners” would totally confuse the person we are speaking to. There have been no “men are from Mars, women from Venus” divides between us. She’s never excused herself to engage in “girl talk” or I to “be with the boys”. I’ve never defined my chores as “honey dos”, but just my half of the household responsibilities. If someone asks if my daughter was a “daddy’s girl”, I still struggle coming up with something more clever to respond than a simple “no” followed by an incredulous look.

The number of occasions that others we are with want us to second their gender-based stereotypes we feel not unlike Beldar and Primaat, “parental units” from the from the planet Remulak in those classic Saturday Night Live “Coneheads” sketches from the late 1970s. Uncomfortably trying to diplomatically live within a thoroughly alien culture!

Like race, gender matters, and sexual orientation matters, because there is so much privilege at play based on those immutable characteristics, whether explicitly acknowledged or not. But given that, I have come to imagine a world someday where gender, though a notable part of a person’s biology, is not really a significant component of the unique human consciousness that animates this biped biological organism. And so far, I seem to have been mostly joined in that quest by other human beings who happen to be women.

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