I’m excited for Thailand. I’ve heard so many amazing things.

I’ve spoken with people who have immersed themselves in the culture, and had opportunities to reflect on things that were previously invisible in their lives. I know a couple people who have gone and never returned. That says a lot about a place.

I’ve talked with activists who are doing tremendous things in the worlds of gender liberation, sex worker advocacy, and social justice education. I’ve learned so much from them already, from afar, from email.Keep Reading

Last week I gave three back-to-back shows at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. I was their “Diversity Speaker” for orientation, a product of some of the orientation leaders seeing me speak at a conference. I’ve said this a bunch: I loved doing those shows, and I heart FIT. What I haven’t said enough is why.

I want to get into that, but to do it I need to address the difference between gender expression and gender cueing.

First, let’s do some show and tell.

Below (and above) are a few photos of me on stage over the past year. Something that most people would never realize is how intentional I am about how I dress, depending on the audience, the content of the talk, and where in the country I am. These three photos are helpful in demonstrating the full range of decisions I’ll make in this regard, so let me talk about them for a moment each.

(Sidenote: the nice thing about these photos is my hair/grooming is about identical in all three, so we can just focus on the threads)

The first photo is me during my keynote at the National Sex Ed Conference.

sam-killermann-masculine What I’m wearing: this is a fairly masculine expression for me (super important distinction). I’m wearing a dark blue blazer, lavender v-neck, solid dark-plum pants, and cap-toe brown shoes (not pictured).

Why: I dressed more conservatively/traditionally because I wasn’t sure what to expect at this event, and I didn’t want my clothing to conflict with my message (which was fairly serious, direct, and provocative). Further, I wasn’t going to be spending much time addressing my own gender, or perceptions of my gender/sexuality (something that’s a part of my show), so I didn’t want people to be pondering that while I was talking about other things.

The second photo is me performing S.E.X. (yeah I was…) in my hometown Austin, TX

sam-killermann-androgynousWhat I’m wearing: I’d consider this outfit to be a bit more androgynous. I’ve got the typical mainstays of man-fashion on — the jacket, the button down shirt, the pants — but with a twist. The jacket is glittery silver. The pants are a muted leopard print. My shoes (not pictured) are the same black step-in moccasins as in the third picture, and my socks vibrantly striped in cool colors.

Why: this was a show I put together with a friend (Karen Rayne), and people were coming to see us. Like, on purpose. This, combined with the material I was performing (all super personal & anecdotal), made me feel comfortable pushing things a little bit more out of Handsometown toward Prettyville.

The third photo is me last week doing one of my shows at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC

sam-killermann-feminineWhat I’m wearing: This is one of the most feminine outfits I’ve ever gotten onstage wearing (and by onstage I of course mean “on-mean-girls-esque-gym-floor”). Same shoes and pants as the S.E.X. outfit, but sockless and rolled a bit. And combined with a dark-plum scoop-neck shirt and a warm-color medley summer scarf.

Why: because I could. This is the Fashion Institute of Technology, folks, and I assumed (correctly) that I couldn’t go too far in any direction with how I wanted to dress. The audience members presented a wonderful array of gender expressions and styles, so I was just one of the bunch in this instance.

Why any of this matters: Gender Expression vs. Gender Cueing

For a brief understanding of gender expression and gender cueing, the way I use and distinguish between the two terms is in these ways: gender expression is the various ways you intentionally and unintentionally display gender, through your dress, actions, and demeanor (based on the traditional expectations of what those displays mean); gender cueing is the various ways you demonstrate your gender, through your dress, actions, and demeanor (with the intention of helping other people gauge or understand you as a gendered person).

Gender expression is sometimes gender cueing, but gender cueing is always gender expression. Or, in non-words, like this:

gender-expression-vs-cueing-by-sam-killermann

 

Both can be thought of as performances

For some folks, they aren’t aware of the fact that they’re constantly playing a [series of] role[s] in the play called Gender! They don’t hear the director’s calls, realize they’re reading a script, or pay attention to the stage they’re sharing with other actors.

But if you’re as aware of gender as I am, it’s hard to not be cognizant of the idea that you’re constantly performing gender. I am aware of this on some level constantly, particularly when I’m literally on a stage.

Neither can be truly avoided

If you live in a society that relies on gender as a social construct, whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re constantly expressing and cueing gender. Even by choosing to try not to express gender, for example by wearing more neutral clothing or behaving in ways that you might think of as non-gendered, you’re marking your gender by unmarking it.

Now, to be sure, in our society’s Play feminine-presenting people, and women in general, are much more often “onstage” for their gender. If this is an idea that you don’t immediately grasp, read this amazing article by Deborah Tannen: Marked Women, Unmarked Men.

Why I loved FIT so much is encapsulated in that third picture

Whenever I get on stage I’m putting on a gender costume. I’m not a snowflake in this regard — we all do it. As I commented above, I’m hyper-intentional about that costume, what it might mean, and try to control, as much as possible, the ways I express gender and the cues the audience receives.

But what most folks don’t realize is that this costume I’m wearing is 99-times-out-of-100 a more masculine representation of gender than I would prefer to express, and is generally not cueing how I feel as a gendered person. That is, the costume I wear is toning it down, not dressing it up. And this is a weight I bear when I’m performing, because I’m aware of how I’m doing several performances at once (a performance in a performance — the Inception of stand-up comedy).

A lot of folks asked me if I felt the pressure to dress more fashionably at FIT after they saw that photo on Facebook or Instagram. Don’t get me wrong, I did spend [an embarrassing amount of] time thinking about what I’d wear, but that question is working from patently-wrong assumption about why.

The why that led to me dressing how I did that day was a special feeling, and one that I had, until last week, never experienced leading up to a show or talk. It was something I rarely experience at all, despite my wants for it.

In truth, I didn’t feel pressured to dress in any way for that show at FIT: I felt liberated to be myself.

That’s something one of my professors in grad school would lead off with in the first class of the semester. The class was about the effect of environments on people’s ability to learn, develop, and grow. After sixteen weeks, hours of discussion, papers, and reading an entire textbook, he was right. Years later, it’s funny how much I find myself thinking the same thing as I approach my work.

So much of what I do — and what other folks who do work like mine do — is helping people rearrange the things they’ve already learned about themselves, their gender and sexuality, identity, and society. People have experienced the phenomena, they just don’t have names for them, or understand how they interlock or overlap.

It’s the difference between a personal shopper and a personal organizer. Instead of taking you to fancy stores to buy new fancy things, we spend a couple hours in your closet making sense of what you already have. Maybe you need a new pair of shoes, or a scarf to go with your favorite sweater, and I can help you with that, but for the most part I’m here to help you organize what you already have.

One of the challenges is finding ways to prevent people from recluttering everything as soon as you step away. While we’re chatting, the Platinum Rule might seem like a great idea, and everyone is all “heck yeah Imma do that.” Then two weeks later, they’re in some fight with some person and they think “that would have never pissed me off” and keep hammering away Golden-Rule style, mucking up their closet.

You can lead a fish to water, but you can’t make him eat a horse, ya know?

The other challenge is reassuring people that what they have in their closet is good enough. Gender, sexuality, identity, life — these are complicated ideas, and complicated ideas require complicated explanations utilizing complicated concepts, don’t they? Sometimes. But sometimes they don’t. And when someone already has all the tools to understand an idea but thinks they are missing something, it’s tough to convince them otherwise. And it’s tougher still to help them over the discomfort and fear of realizing how incompletely/incorrectly/disorganizedly they were viewing things their entire life up until that point. Sometimes it’s easier to to just say, “nope, not possible, don’t get it, let’s move on.”

Sometimes you bite off too much of a bitter pill to chew it, ya heard?

But the fun part of unteaching is seeing when it clicks. When a person, or group of people, realize something big, and realize that they’ve kinda known it all along. And knowing that it’s not going away. That part of their life is organized now.

Hey NOM,

Sam Killermann here. Or, as I’m being described on your Facebook Page, “Sin with Colored Pencils” here. I read the “blog post” you wrote about me and my “Genderbread Person.” To be “honest,” I couldn’t put together exactly what you were “trying” to say. But I know you, you “know” me, I know me, and we both know it was meant to be a “hate” piece.

(To others reading: sorry for all the confusing and unnecessary quotation marks. I’m trying to speak NOM’s language, because it’s important to me that this message gets through.)

Y’all, we need to talk. You’re a terrible organization and you stand for terrible things and I hate you. See how clear that is? Speaking of which, first on the block, let’s clear up just how inept your wholly-unprovoked attack on me was.

Gourmet Craziness: My Recipe for How To Effectively Talk Trash

Other than the title “Gourmet Craziness: The ‘Genderbread Person 2.0‘” (which was clearly offensive on multiple levels — congrats) your entire blog post is an irreconcilable mess, like the first time I tried to make cookies and swapped the measurements for baking powder and sugar (people almost died). Clearly, you need a new recipe for Trash Talking. Allow me to help.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Thesis statement, derived from Jibberish Root
  • 1 Introduction
  • 1 Body
  • 1 Conclusion
  • Grammar and Syntax Rules, applied regularly
  • One Measure of Hyperbole (be sure to separate out the small heaping of oxymoron)
  • A Garnish of Humor, only if organic and locally available

Procedure:

Grind Jibberish Root until Thesis is present in pure, unalterated form. Combine with Introduction and add to Essay. Add Body and Conclusion and bring to a chatter on low heat over Peer Feedback, constantly mixing in Grammar and Syntax Rules. Before Essay begins to solidify, fold in the measure of Hyperbole, and garnish with Humor (but only if organic — chemically synthesized Humor will taint the dish, and is best left out).

Serves one Punk. (But you do not, under any circumstances, utter “You got served, Punk!”)

I can imagine how desperate it must feel writing blog posts aboard a sinking ship.

You’re like that band in The Titanic, but instead of playing beautiful music while a bunch of people die meaninglessly, you’re meaninglessly screeching while drowning yourselves in 3-foot deep water. This is not a time of desperation. Your life doesn’t have to end. Just stand up on your own two feet, instead of constantly trying to support yourself upon imaginary platforms like “this is about families” and “civilization is going to end if…” Plant your feet on the ground with the honest and understandable “I’m afraid of what I don’t understand” and the rest of us will be happy to help.

You don’t have to drown, and your tantrum in the shore break isn’t going to slow the current from moving in the direction it’s always moved: forward.

BUT WHY IN THE HELL ARE YOU PICKING A FIGHT WITH ME? Are you that desperate? Actually, screw that. Say what you want about me, but don’t you dare insult the Genderbread Person. The Genderbread Person has done nothing to you, is bigger than me or you, has saved lives, and has existed longer in some form or fashion than either of us have as competing organizations (your goal of being a force for horribleness and ignorance; my goal of people not being assholes to each other); and it will exist long after your ship has sunk and (in response to the stress of this life I’ve chosen) I’ve developed a relationship with a Volleyball after stranding myself on a beach somewhere.

I read that you just updated your website? Seriously? That’s like putting rims and a spoiler on a Chevy Nova that’s on cinderblocks. Get it? Because “Nova” is spanish for “F*ck You.” (Now that’s how you talk trash). But in all seriousness, your new website is garbage. I hope you paid a lot for it. WWJD? Donate to the Trevor Project because their site has a salient mission and is actively promoting good in the world. (Trash. Talked).

But I can’t imagine being as desperate as you’ve become.

Guess what. I’m from Indiana. I went to high school and college there. Let me give you a bit of advice, one former Hoosier to an organization currently campaigning in the Hoosier State: if you’re struggling to get people in Indiana to oppose marriage equality, the war is over. Don’t think of Indiana as another battle in your War for Hate in 50 States™. It’s over. It’s done. Pack it up, y’all.

But I know you know that, or you wouldn’t’ve redirected your hate-spewing at a whole new vulnerable, oppressed group of people. And that’s where the Genderbread Person comes in, an innocent bystander in your misdirected campaign against the trans* population, yet another marginalized and misunderstood personhood you can vilify and manipulate to coerce Fear Dollars™ from ignorant, exploited Middle Americans.

Hell, your very first move, naming yourselves the “National Organization for Marriage” was an act of desperation, already smelling that “National Organization for Hate” or “National Organization for Putting Our Noses Into Other People’s Business” is too rotten. Knowing that the majority of Americans stand behind their loved ones, friends, and family, even if they happened to have been born into a gender or sexual minority. You were born (actually, I think “spawned” is a better term) in desperation — “Who would stand against marriage? We’re so clever. Now let’s get to the oppressing!”

You know who ruined marriage? Straight people. You know who keeps making gay people? Straight people. Maybe same-sex marriage is the inoculation marriage needs against an ever-spreading plague of divorce. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

NOM, if want to be in disbelief, disbelieve this.

The Genderbread Person is just the tip of the iceberg in my campaign to “indoctrinate” people in better understanding and relating to themselves and others. And it’s been gobbled up by hundreds of millions of people. And I’m not the only person baking them.

But more than that, I wrote an entire book about gender, and a lot of people are reading it. Like, a lot a lot. And people can get it for free (like a Bible in a hotel night table), which I bet freaks you out. It’s okay. Take a breath. You’re going to need it: I’ve been told by dozens of formerly anti “gender diversity” people that it opened their eyes to be more affirming and loving to people of all genders. Watch out.

And I gave a TEDx talk about gender that’s being watched right now and shared by people who’ve been infected by its message: that people deserve to be understood, and that a core value of humanity should be doing whatever is in your power to make the individuals in your life feel unashamed of who they are.

What’s worse: I’m not the only one doing this, or who has these “radical” beliefs. Pretty much everyone I know (and I live in Texas, y’all) has jumped on the “treat people with basic decency” radical bandwagon, and when I’m on the road I hear from people of all walks of life about how they are working, struggling, and grinding to unlearn the prejudice groups like yours have poisoned our waters with in order to be more loving, sincere, and compassionate to the people in their lives.

Really, I think you have two options:

1. You can keep drowning in 3-foot deep waters, scraping money out of the few blue pills left whose minds We haven’t freed; or

2. You can start living the Christian values you espouse by loving more, judging less, and living in a way that serves others (instead of your outmoded, stubborn, vile egos).

I meant it when I said the rest of us are here for you if you need our help. Just ask.

Yours in unconditional love and peace,

Sam “Sin with Colored Pencils” Killermann

P.S. I didn’t want this, but if you wanna keep this tête-à-tête going, I’m not going to back down. I’m a quick, passionate, socially-conscious comedian with no day job and an internet at my disposal. You’re a bully with a dead cause. I don’t see this ending well for you.

***

A Few Corrections From Your Article, NOM:

My name has two Ns. Killermann. It’s German, it’s not just the combination of the English words “Killer” and “Man.” That’d be terrifying. In German, it means “one who kills men.”

And my show doesn’t “implicitly paint Christians and ‘cisgender’ persons as oblivious bullies.” Ironically, it’s about snap judgments (i.e., what your blog post about me is laden with), identity, and oppression. It’s not anti-Christian at all, other than the fact that I do denounce the Golden Rule (in lieu of the much shinier Platinum Rule). I would argue that what I advocate in the show is incredibly Christian: love your neighbor, abstain from judgment, live a selfless life focused on helping others. Maybe you should see it sometime. I’d be happy to perform it free for you and yours.

I remember the first time I played Show Me Yours I’ll Show You Mine. Some people call it Doctor. If you’ve never played, worry not: the rules are the simple. Show me yours. Then I show you mine. And who is the winner? Everyone.

It’s a fascinating game in every way. It’s taboo, breaking the rules your parents and teachers imposed upon you, so that’s awesome. But it also grinds against our personal comforts at the expense of satisfying curiosity — a paradox we’re faced with frequently in life. It’s doesn’t mean anything while at the same time meaning everything. And it’s something many people are ashamed of, or won’t talk about doing, but a lot of people do. Just ask someone, right now, “Did you ever play Show Me Yours I’ll Show You Mine?” I just asked a friend sitting beside me in this coffee shop and got a bashful smile and a reluctant yes.

It’s a game we played as kids, but many of us still play as adults (because alcohol). Yet, for many of us, we’re just as bashful as adults as we were when we were 5 years old (not bragging). Can you imagine playing Red Rover at a work retreat with the same glee and wonder as you did on the playground? There is NO WAY Sue from accounting is gonna break this grip! We mature in so many ways but one.

I also remember the first time I got in trouble for playing that game. I was terrified. And more recently, viewing this game from the “adult” lens, I’ve heard friends talk about disciplining their kids when they are caught playing. “Sam, you know about sexuality and gender stuff. What should we do? Is this okay? Is it normal?” I generally have a rule in these circumstances of replying Socratically, “What do you think? Did you play that game as a kid? Are you okay? Are you normal?” Which is ultimately code for “There is no way in hell you’re outsourcing the guilt for whatever punishment you’re about to mete out to me. You’re on your own, friend.”

Why are we so afraid of genitals? A lot of us treat them with the fear and reverence of Voldemort. You-Know-Who. “I’ve got a rash on my He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!” Sometimes I’ll yell penis or vagina on stage just because. It’s outlandish. Those words! One of my favorite shows, Scrubs, features Elliot Reed, a doctor who is unable to say the proper words for sexual anatomy and instead has a ton of hilarious replacement words.

We refer to our genitals as our private parts. Worse, we think of them as our family jewels. “Behold my treasure! Worth a king’s ransom, if I do say so myself. And I do. I say so.”

We are Troy. We are the Achaeans.

The Trojan War is pretty famous. You’ve probably heard of it. It makes a great analogy for how we view our genitals and how we view (or, more commonly, don’t view) other people’s genitals. Also, this isn’t a sponsored message (though there’s a lot of power and duplicity in the message of that brand, if you know what I’m talkin’ about). So, how are we Troy, the city with fabled impenetrable walls, as well as the Achaeans, the enemies who breached those walls and destroyed the city?

We internalize a message that our genitals are valuable, sacred, meant to be defended and safeguarded, and that we are gatekeepers and the world is full of would-be keymasters. This makes us unique. There’s one of us, and everyone else. It’s worth noting that this message is often more vigorously [phrasing] reinforced for people with vaginas, but people with penises are also taught to protect their nethers.

At the same time, we’re navigating a confusing and mixed-message world that pushes us to want to enter other people’s Troy. We want to see their Helen (if you know what I mean), and are encouraged to devise a number of strategies to do that. If you’re doubting this line of thought, just start to google any celebrity’s name and see what it auto-suggests. Like so:

jon-hamm-bulge

“Sorry to put you on the spot here, Jon. But we really wanna see your Helen. And I know you haven’t lowered the gates, so we’re gonna find a way around that. We are Achaeans. We have the internet. We will see your penis.”

To wrap things in a nice horse-shaped package [phrasing]: we simultaneously are working to keep something in obscurity while we are trying to uncover it.

Our Two Signature Moves When Confronting The Unknown

Humans. So simple in their complexity. When facing the unknown, humans generally react in one of two ways with millions of subtle variations: fear or curiosity. </robot-voice> Xenophobia versus Wanderlust. Terrifying Abyss versus The Final Frontier. Couch Potato versus Couch Surfing Potato.

Genital Xenophobia

When faced with talking about, thinking about, interacting with genitals, and all the unknowns and taboo circulating all of this, a lot of us react with fear. Let’s dissect [phrasing] genital xenophobia.

Our Puritanical history taught us to be afraid of genitals, and to keep our genitals covered up and secret because otherwise… I’m not really sure, exactly, but because bad! This perspective leads to encouraging abstinence, to keeping your private parts private. The common sense benefits of this are that you don’t end up engaging in sexual stuff until you’re ready, you’re less likely to get sexually transmitted infections, and you won’t have oops babies. Unfortunately, common sense is often the best way to be completely wrong about humans. The opposite is true on all three accounts.

I also blame genital xenophobia for a lot of the unhealthy and dangerous interactions we have with gender — ours and other people’s. Why do half the emails that fill my spam folder have some variation of “penis” and “enlargement” in the subject? (“Hugify Your Wang Today!”) Why is acknowledgement of menstruation met with public shaming? Why do people react with violence against trans* folks?

Genital Wanderlust

On the other hand, many of us have the urge to explore genitalia, to uncover the covered, to boldly go where no man has gone before (If you read between the lines, Star Trek is really just about space doin’ it). People born with penises are affirmed in this exploration — we’re told we are “biologically evolved” to wander. People born with vaginas are shamed if they do, because biology.

Biologically, again, our common sense is met with a scientific “nope.” The “research” (scare quotes!) that has people believing that men have evolved to spread their seed and women have evolved to keep a one-farmer garden is more than just questionable, it’s nonsense. The exact opposite is true. We’re biologically inclined to find one partner and to latch on to that person like the Kraken to a pirate ship, but with our genitals (how’s that for powerful imagery?). And if you don’t believe me, read my friend Andrew Smiley’s book Challenging CasanovaYou finished? Cool. Let’s continue.

But the curiosity that’s created by the societally-required unknown surrounding genitals leads to genital wanderlust. And, like genital xenophobia, this creates a lot of not-so-healthy interactions with gender. Why do you think teens have entire websites dedicated to asking strangers about their genitals? (some of which are wonderful, necessary sites due to this phenomenon, like Scarleteen) Why are young people being convicted of pornography for taking and sharing nude photos of themselves? Why is sexting a word? Why is one of the first questions many trans* people are asked some version of “what do your genitals look like?”

Let’s Be Naked All The Time

Hahahaha kidding. Sorry to freak you out. I bet you were all, “Wow, Sam, this took a sudden turn,” then you read my “hahahaha” and you were all, “Phew. That made me really uncomfortable. I’m happy you were kidding. Ever the jokester, Sam.” Don’t worry, friend. This isn’t a healthy gender article red herring nudist manifesto. I’m not a nudist. But I am totally serious. Sorry for the double gotcha. Now let’s take off our pants and talk about this seriously.

Whoa. How uncomfortable does that idea make you? Pretty freaking uncomfortable, right? Me too. I know I’m publicly anti-pants, but I’m only genuinely comfortable with that idea in private. I’m just as freaked out about people seeing my penis as you are. Interpret that sentence however you’d like. It’s a visceral, powerful discomfort. I’ve had dreams of forgetting to wear pants in public situations (like at school). You know, like in the movies. And by dreams I mean nightmares. Pantsless Nightmares (the title of my forthcoming memoir). I’d like to think of myself as normal (ha!), and this is forever in the back of my mind, lurking below the surface of my mind ocean, waiting to Genital Kraken my Thought Pirate Ship (how’s that for confusing imagery?).

But I do believe that the world would be a happier place if we didn’t wear clothes. And I don’t think it would be a 24/7/365 Worldwide Sex Party, like the conservative reaction to this article might misinterpret (also, that’s the title of my forthcoming fictional memoir, AKA my A Million Little Pieces). Okay, let’s slip into something more comfortable, and break this down list-style.

1. If we removed the unknown of genitals, we’d remove the fear and the curiosity.

You might be saying, “But there are a lot of positives to the curiosity! But romance!” And I would reply by arguing that relationships would be healthier and more fulfilling if the romance was about who you were on the inside, not about the genital surprise you get to unwrap after five dates (or one, or ten, or marriage — freak what you feel).

2. We’d become more comfortable with ourselves.

If the only comparison you have for your own genitals is what you’re able to find in porn or same-sex relationships, you’re likely not getting a broad or representative perspective. Anyone who has seen hundreds of real-life genitals (like a doctor, or someone who has sex with hundreds of people) can tell you that genitals are like snowflakes: no two are identical. Sure, this wouldn’t relieve all the comparison pressure, but it would definitely help clear the air. Like the way we view our noses.

3. I’m going to stop this thought experiment here.

Because I know I’ve likely lost you. This is too much. Too radical. Too hypothetical. It’s like skipping learning to walk and jumping right to olympic hurdles. And I know that, because I’ve thought about this a lot. I’m sorry for pushing you so hard. I normally wouldn’t. But I wanted to take you here, and to walk you down this thought road, because I think that there is a lot of value in going here hypothetically, even if there is no intention of going here societally.

But Let’s Actually Not.

We don’t need to become a nudist planet to move past the uncomfortable and unhealthy relationship a lot of us have with our genitals. It would be the microwave, Easy-Bake™ attempt to solve an incredibly complex, slow-cooked gumbo of a problem. And it would also terrify so many people that it would likely backfire and cause more harm than good. Too much challenge leads to recession, not growth.

But we can gain a better understand our own genital xenophobia and wanderlust, how those things influence and distort our understanding of gender, and come up with healthier approaches to how we relate (or don’t) to our own genitals and other people’s.

Let’s work to create a culture where genitals aren’t a taboo subject. Starting from a young age, using the proper words (sorry, Dr. Reed) is a great way to start. Teaching a person with a penis to call it a hoo-hah isn’t helping anyone, especially that kid. We need to demystify genitals if we want people to have a healthy relationship to their bodies, and be able to have healthy relationships with one another.

Let’s work to create a culture where people aren’t shamed because of their genitals. This is a lot to ask, because we shame people for just about every other part of their bodies, but I’m asking it anyhow. Diminishing the taboo will help, as it will hopefully lead to more open dialogue. Exploiting self-consciousness in advertising will also help, and we can stop (as individuals, with our dollars) supporting companies that do this. But above all, as I always say, the best thing you can do is work to make sure that the people in your immediate life are unashamed of who they are.

Let’s work to create a culture where sex and genitals are decriminalized. I mean this as it relates to comprehensive sex education, trans* persons’ rights, reproductive justice, and sex workers’ rights. For something we call our “private parts” we sure do a lot of public policing. If we satisfy the first two cultural shifts, this one will follow naturally. But changing the law can also change the culture, and that’s why I support pushing legislation in these areas as a means to remove the taboo and shame on an individual and interpersonal level.

Ultimately, I want you — your whole you — to be able to be happy. These are my three arguments for how we can make that happen. My three requests. Maybe you have other ideas, and I’d love to hear them. I’ve shown you mine. Let’s continue this conversation and you can show me yours.

 

I saw this wonderful commercial earlier today and shared it on Facebook immediately. Watch it, then let’s talk about it.

 

Obviously, these aren’t new ideas to me. I talk a lot about the proverbial boxes we are all smushed into. But the way that it’s portrayed in this video highlights an aspect of the relationship between who we are and who society says we should be that I rarely talk about: how abusive it is.

The abusive relationship most of us don’t realize we’re in.

Ever heard of the term microaggression? On Wikipedia, microaggressions are defined as “specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders [that] can be interpreted as small acts of mostly non-physical aggression.” When people (like me) say things like “society tells us we are supposed to be like ___” one of the ways “society tells us” is through microagressions. Microaggressions are to gender roles what heat is to general rolls.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “What do you mean you don’t like watching sports. You’re a man, aren’t you?” Are you asking if I have a penis? If so, this is a really weird way to hit on me. If I show it to you will you leave me alone? This quiche isn’t going to bake itself.

I’m not going to list all the microaggressions and microassaults I experience because of my gender. You have a gender. You know how it works. And I don’t generally blame the people who say those things. They’re behaving how they’ve been taught to behave and saying things they’ve been taught to say. They’re doing what — in a [depressingly] huge percentage of people’s eyes — is healthy and good, reinforcing what they believe is necessary for a stable society. “IT WASN’T ADAM AND FLANNEL-WEARING EVE!” No, no, no. I don’t blame them. I blame society.

The abusive relationship we’re all in is with society. We’re abused on a daily, constant basis. We’re told we’re not good enough, not right, not how we’re supposed to be; we’re corrected and forced and threatened to be something we’re not; and it’s a relationship we can’t safely remove ourselves from without facing dangerous consequences.

Getting out of the box

A parent recently wrote me because their child came out as trans* and requested that everyone start using gender neutral pronouns to describe them. The parent was, for the most part, incredibly understanding and wanted to be supportive, but wanted to draw the line at the gender neutral pronouns, saying something to the effect of “She’s a she. She’s not a they. They is plural. Can’t we just expand the gender roles we have and make more room for people to fit within them? Do we really need to start creating all these new labels?”

We totally could make the boxes bigger and less restrictive and more people would fit in them. We could add some windows, too. And maybe an air conditioner? Absolutely. Oh, and a mini fridge!

You know those huge spaces they have for some of the big animals at fancier zoos? They have trees and little ponds and they resemble the natural habitat the animal would be living in if it weren’t trapped in a cage — oops, not a cage, they call them “habitats.” This is what I think of when people say things like “can’t we just expand the gender roles we have.” It’ll be better, for sure, and incredibly preferred over the little jar with the stick and leaf we have now, but a habitat is a cage is a box is a fox. Whoops, went a little Dr. Seuss there.

We don’t have to get rid of the boxes. We can still have them, I guess, if people really want to have them. Some people like boxes. Fine. But the way out of this abusive relationship is allowing people to live outside of their boxes. By not forcing people into boxes to begin with, and not forcing people to be anything but themselves. By empowering individuals to choose who they want to be, and what box (if any) they might fit into.

You can’t choose if you’re not aware of any other options. That’s not consent; it’s coercion. The way we do gender, from birth to death, is abusive. It’s bullying. It’s harmful. And I’d venture that, given the choice, a person will choose the wild over a habitat, no matter how large it might be. It’s time we start giving people that choice.

***

Huge thanks to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault for that video. Take a moment and pledge your support to their Break the Box Campaign.

There’s this article, “Why Chivalry is Dead, From a Man’s Perspective,” from John Picciuto on Elite Daily that’s popped up in my Facebook newsfeed a lot. It’s been shared by my friends of varying genders with captions like “Amen” and “FTW” and “Finally.”

Up front, I want to say I don’t normally write reactive, angry things, but I guess I finally got pushed to the point where I had to say something, and I now have this wonderful new site where I committed to sharing a thought a day. It didn’t seem wise to pass up a thought that’s reeling around in my mind.

Also, I want to apologize to John for the headline I wrote, because it’s laced with prejudice and preconceptions. I actually took a moment before publishing this to look into John a bit more and see some other things he’s written and said, and I don’t necessarily think he hates women (sorry, John). But I’m leaving the headline as is because this is a response focused on the article itself, and everyone sharing it — and all the horribleness that is perpetuating.

Oh, and I’m not even going to approach this from a non-binary gender, there are more than two genders and two sexes, angle. Because while that’s true, and this article ignores all of that, there’s plenty here to tackle just on the men vs. women front.

Chivalry Was Never Alive

Do you know where the word, and idea, “chivalry” comes from? It comes from the middle ages in a time where knights rode steeds and women wore chastity belts. Fun fact: did you know that historically chastity belts are most notably remembered as devices crusaders would put on their damsels to prevent them from having sex with other men while they were off fighting a holy war? Fun actual fact: did you know there’s not actually evidence to support that? Less fun fact (more of an opinion): did you know that it’s really sad that the metaphor for “being a good man” is rooted in our glorified and incorrect memory of how knights treated women, despite a bad part we made up (chastity belts) that we all know and all the actual bad things they did that we ignore?

But chivalry is about much more than protecting your partner’s junk from the advances of other men, right? Totally. Knights were known for all of their kindnesses. They kindly didn’t allow women to own property, while still kindly forcing them to work 12 hour days doing manual labor, then kindly treated as them chattel (a fancy, legal-y word for property). Nowadays, we talk about how horrible it is that some men treat women like property, which is terrible, I guess, because, unlike our chivalrous knights of the middle ages, they don’t have the paperwork to back it up.

But let’s not just talk about how great of role models knights were for treating their women. That’s doing this whole conversation a disservice. Chivalry is about how you treat all women, right? Kinda. While the language of the Code of Chivalry might suggest that, what it really meant was to treat noble women with courtesy. Poor women? You should totally rape them. But, to be fair, that’s not necessarily because they hated poor women: they hated all poor people.

You probably knew all this, so why am I telling you again? Because we all know all this, yet so many of us still mourn this so-called “dead chivarly” that they believe society is yearning for.

But it’s the idea that counts!

Okay, we can pretend that all those terrible anti-women-but-still-chivalrous things that happened didn’t really happen, and live in this alternative future where knights really did treat women with respect and courtesy and ride off into the sunsets to fight damsel-abducting dragons. I can get onboard. I’ve played Mario games.

The idea of treating women with respect and kindness, with the chivalrous values we learned as kids, is what’s really be argued to be a good idea, and that should be worth something. Well, it is, but it’s not what that article is allegedly arguing.

It’s the idea of all of this that frustrates me the most. Because whenever we say all these nice things, all of the wonderful ways we’re supposed to treat people — by opening doors for them, buying them meals, walking curbside to protect them from splashes or runaway cars (I’m not really sure what that one is about, to be honest) — it’s because they weren’t born with penises. Warning: the following paragraph is packed with a lot of graphic penis-related imagery to make a point.

If you weren’t born with a penis, people who were should open doors for you, because we wouldn’t want your non-penis fingers touching any dirty door knobs. Let me, a person with a penis, help. I’ll also buy your dinner, because thanks to the penis I was born with I have more dollars (but no thanks to my penis, which has been unemployed for most of my life). Oh, and don’t you dare walk closer to the street. If a drunk driver loses control and skips the curb our way I will simply clobber it out of the way. Yes, with my penis.

Yes, that all sounds ridiculous. Because it is. If every time we established our differing sex-based expectations we had of people by including “because penis” or “because no penis” it would help us all realize how ridiculous they are. “Sam, don’t you mean to say ‘because penis’ or ‘because vagina?'” Nope, unfortunately, I think my way of describing it is more accurate, because being perceived to have a penis is all that really matters. Because society.

So We Should Treat Women Poorly?

No. Absolutely not. My argument is that we shouldn’t treat anyone poorly. Or, on the flip side, we should treat all human beings with decency, courtesy, respect, and love. “Well that’s what the original article was saying!” No. Absolutely not.

The general message of the article is the same as all the “back in the good ol’ days” bullshit I hear every day. It’s romanticizing an era that never existed, where men treated women in X great way, and people treated their elders in Y great way, and everyone was happy, healthy, and life was good. Welp, sorry, but things aren’t great now, but they are far, far better than they have ever been in the history of time. For pretty much everyone, other than people who are sexist, racist, classist, heterosexist… just about any form of bigots and supremacists. Sorry, bigots.

Articles like the one I’m responding to here, while they might be well-intentioned, are rallying against all the progress we’ve made, while painting their flag as being for it. “I’m not sexist, but I miss the days when guys bought dinner” is tantamount to saying “I’m not sexist, but I miss the days when differing sex-based behavior and expectations were better curbed and reinforced by society.”

If you’re “just a girl who wants a guy who will buy me dinner and treat me like a lady,” fine. Assuming the “me” there is really you, and you don’t want a guy who will buy me dinner and treat me like a lady, because — actually, now that I think about it, that sounds delightful. Anyway, it’s totally okay to want someone who will take care of you. What’s less okay is for you to impose that want on all the people in the world who happened to have been born with similar genitals to you.

I was brought up by a mom who all but beat “chivalry” into me. This is something I struggled with for a long time, when I realized how problematic it is to treat people how I assume they want to be treated (back when I was starting to try to live the Platinum Rule life). I’ve since translated that chivalry into trying to treat everyone in my life with decency, courtesy, respect, and love. I try to hold the door for people because it’s a nice thing to do for people, not just people I want to have sex with. I’ll buy dinner and drinks, offer my coat on a cold night, and give my seat up on the bus for people, not just people I want to have sex with on the bus.

By treating women “like ladies,” we’re inherently making a TON of assumptions about how they, as individuals, want to be treated, based on a historically oppressive lens that has shaped who we think they are. If you actually care about the women in your life, you’ll stop treating them like women, or ladies, and start treating them how they, as individuals, want to be treated.

For some people, this might align with your assumptions. Try your best not to let that reinforce them. For other people, the way they want to be treated will fly in the face of everything you assume. Try your best not to diagnose these people as “problematic.” And for most, it will be a mix of the two.

If you want to uphold the spirit of chivalry, the best thing you can do is to stop treating women like ladies, and start treating them like people.

But Hook-Up Culture, and Women Being Poorly Treated, and Blurgh Blah Blegh

There were so many individual things about the article that really angered me that weren’t necessarily addressed above, so here they are. Blurgh-by-blurgh.

“In the hookup culture we now live in, it’s pretty obvious that chivalry is completely dead.”

Hookup culture is a clever way of saying it’s not okay for women to have sex with multiple partners, but it’s totally okay for dudes to. Men have been promiscuous forever, but now that women are up for casual sex (and apparently having it all the time, all of them, every night) it’s bad, and it’s a “culture” now. The amount of self-contradictory brain pudding inherent in this sentence makes we want to swallow a pencil with my ear.

“Dating is done. Seriously, who goes on dates anymore? It’s all about hooking up, getting a number, grabbing a drink and getting down.”

I do! And literally all of my friends, those with and without penises, do, too!

“I think I’m the only single guy I know that actually takes a girl out to a restaurant on a first date.”

I think there are two possibilities for what’s happening in your life: you hang out with shitty people, or all of the people you know aren’t looking for emotional relationships, but are still interested in sexual intimacy, which should be okay.

“If you take a girl out and show her you’re more than some douche looking to just get in her pants…”

Oh, cool, so it’s the shitty people thing. You hang out with shitty people. But there’s more to that sentence.

“…odds are, you’re going to get a second date, at least. Call me old fashioned, but a nice dinner is worth the money to get to know someone to some extent.”

And then she’ll let you get into her pants? Damnit, John. Now you’re sounding like the shitty person you’re denouncing in the FIRST HALF OF THAT SENTENCE. It’s this kind of stuff that made me so upset by this piece. And I realized I’m now dissecting this piece line-by-line. It turns out just about every sentence makes me angry. I’m going to skip ahead a bit.

“Women, for one reason or another, have become complacent and allowed men to get away with adhering to the bare minimum.” 

Oh, yep, good, because I wasn’t completely sure we were blaming women for the “hookup culture” bit. I guess the votes women have at their annual meeting for “Minimum Effort Necessary To Let Men Have Sex To Us” have been slipping up. Maybe we should rescue them from themselves. I suggest a filibuster. Ugh. I can’t keep re-reading this. I’m going to jump to the end.

“It’s pretty obvious that women own the cards, and when they start acting like it, they’ll finally start getting dinner from places that don’t deliver.”

I’m going to go find that pencil to shove into my ear now.