I have always been fascinated by the idea of choice –the philosophy of choice. What does it mean to choose? Does the act of embracing one thing necessarily exclude the other, or merely prejudice it? Blemish it? Dishonour it? Alternatively, given an either/or situation, is it possible to throw the pair into a box and merely choose the box? After all, that’s (sort of) what Set Theory allows mathematicians to do –group together unlike things with common properties for analysis.
It seems to me there are several types of choice that range from necessary to frivolous, each with its own particular reason for being made, and each with its own particular set of consequences. Some choices are imposed from without, and some from within; some have to be made, while some are voluntary. Personal. The most compelling ones –for me, anyway- are those in that box –that set…
The issue surfaced again for me after reading another BBC news article on non-binary gendering: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-37383914 I published another essay on this topic in July, but there I was more concerned with managing its language eccentricities: (https://musingsonwomenshealth.com/2016/07/13/non-binary-gynaecology/ ) I realized even then that there was much more to it than language, but the more recent BBC article really brought that home. How can you choose between two things when you are both? It would be like choosing between your son and your daughter –a Sophie’s Choice.
And yet, it would seem that Society feels more comfortable with identifiable categories –in this case, they’re usually anatomically assigned, so from that perspective, they’re not exactly arbitrary… Just unfair. Insensitive. Closed…
Perhaps my long career as an obstetrician/gynaecologist has blurred the gender boundaries as thoroughly as it has the social, economic and ethnic ones. When you get right down to it, we’re all more alike than we might like to think, and categories eventually leak like unwaxed paper cups.
I take the bus a lot nowadays –I’m not sure why, really, except that I enjoy watching those around me. And listening. Sometimes I feel a little like Jane Goodall, only my country is the bus, and my subjects, are people, not chimpanzees in deepest Africa. The other day, I happened to be on a rather crowded vehicle just after the local public schools had opened their gates. Standing next to me in the aisle were two young girls, both around eleven or twelve years old judging by their looks. Each was wearing jeans, sneakers, and coloured ski jackets, and both were hugging their backpacks to their chests, for some reason. One, a rather tall girl with short, brown hair and horn-rimmed glasses, was rummaging in her pack for something while her friend –a blond with hair that she had tied into a rather messy ponytail, watched with interest.
“Do you have any gum in there, Cindy?” the blond said, peering into the caverns of her own pack.
“No… I was just looking for some lipstick,” she said proudly, glancing at me as she said it.
“What! Your mom lets you wear lipstick?”
The tall girl blushed at the response. “Well it’s just reddish Chapstick, but it, like, reddens my lips, too…”
The blond nodded collegially, and then pointed at the two seats in front of me that had just been vacated. After that, only scattered bits of their conversation filtered back to me.
“Yeah… sometimes, I do Cindy,” the blond said, nudging her friend.
“But you said…”
“I said sometimes!”
Then Cindy elbowed her softly, as if she understood completely. “I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like…”
“It’s kinda confusing -every so often, anyway…”
“You mean choosing which…?” Cindy seemed puzzled.
I could tell that the blond had to think about that. Then she shook her head thoughtfully. “No, more like who I am when I try to think about it…”
Cindy looked at her for a moment and then straight ahead, as if she was suddenly embarrassed. “Aren’t you just ‘Connie’? I mean no matter what you feel like, aren’t you still a Connie?”
Connie was quiet for a moment. “I guess…” They were both silent for a bit. “I don’t think names really matter though, do you Cindy?”
Cindy shrugged and looked at her. “I suppose as long as you answer…”
I could hear Connie giggle at that. “I’m still Connie… But whatever you call me, it’s still me inside.”
Cindy nodded slowly but I could tell she was still perplexed about her friend. “Have you…Have you told Father Simms?”
Connie immediately shook her head vigorously and the little ponytail almost came undone. “No way! He’d just tell my parents.”
“How about your mom and dad then?”
“Mommy thinks it’s just a phase –hormones kicking in or something…”
“Cindy I’ve always felt like this; I just didn’t say anything.” She glanced out the window and nudged Cindy again. “Better pull the cord. It’s the next stop.”
Cindy looked up and then obliged. But as they passed me, I could hear Cindy’s concerned whisper -as if it wasn’t something she dared to say it in a normal voice. “But how come you don’t think like the rest of us in the church?”
“How do you know I don’t?” Connie said with a laugh, and they both stepped off the bus, giggling.
I thought about it for a while before my stop came. If I hadn’t just read the BBC article on non-binary gender, I would have assumed they were simply talking about God. But now that I’ve had more time to replay the conversation in my mind… I’m not so sure. Maybe I was granted a privileged audience with someone very special.