An attack helicopter? Tell me another one.
I read a heart-warming article on LADbible’s Facebook page, about a couple, one parent trans female, one parent non-binary, raising their child to be whatever gender they feel in time fits them best. It strengthened my faith in humanity. It was encouraging and validating, too, as it seems this family lives very near to me, in a neighbouring town. Sometimes, trans and non-binary people can feel isolated, but knowing there is a network of others with similar experience, and some so close-by, is inspiring and reassuring.
Then I read the comments beneath the article. Sure enough, my faith in humanity was dashed to pieces. One particularly brutal thread focused on that old chestnut, ‘Well, I identify as an attack helicopter’. A score of amateur comedians took to the stage. ‘Crying laughing’ emojis abounded. They all clearly thought they were Jimmy Carr Live at the Apollo, and they made each other feel they were, too. Now, I’m clearly in danger of coming across as an uptight, humourless, over-sensitive ‘special snowflake’ here, but… What exactly is the joke?
People identify as male. People identify as female. People identify as trans male, or trans female. People identify as non-binary. This last one seems to get to some people. ‘Oh,’ they say, ‘but if people can identify as non-binary, then I might as well just identify as an attack helicopter. Build me a helipad!’
Ho, ho… Ho.
I ask these people, why was non-binary your breaking point? Why is there a finite number of genders we can identify as before suddenly human identity as we know it disintegrates we all start believing we’re combat aircraft? If something can be one thing (the colour yellow, for example), or another thing (let’s say red), then it stands to reason that something can be somewhere in between those two things (a beautiful and vibrant orange), without fear that suddenly colours might become sounds and everyone might start complaining that they can’t get to sleep because next door’s blue wallpaper is too loud.
Telling, too, that you choose an attack helicopter for your hilarious, edgy commentary on the outrageousness of non-binary identity. Couldn’t you choose a friendlier vehicle? A tug boat would be lovely. A festive barge. A happy, helpful helicopter, like Harold from Thomas the Tank Engine. But I suspect your choice of aircraft is indicative of a secret, deep-dark desire. You really want to be an attack helicopter, don’t you? Your flippancy is just a front for your true yearnings. If you could ask a genius surgeon to fit giant propellers into your skull, paint you in khaki and transform your head and neck into a state-of-the-art military-grade cockpit, you’d do it in a heartbeat. You want to be something enormous and imposing. Something that never feels small, or grounded, or stuck. Something with a gun, too. Something that can spray bullets, because spraying angry, impotent words is proving so ineffective and unfulfilling. You want to make that satisfying sound, as your propellers rotate, ‘fap, fap, fap’, to pay homage to your favourite pastime.
I can’t actually believe that we need to explain to these people, these self-styled, self-described, self-satisfied ‘comedians’, that in order to successfully attack something, your joke must be funny. And in order to be funny, your joke must, even in the most odd, convoluted, topsy-turvy way, make sense. Read any ‘comedy for dummies’ manual. Watch any classic, or indeed, alternative, comedy sketch. There’s got to be some internal logic (unless you’re Noel Fielding, but… you’re not Noel Fielding). The problem with the ‘attack helicopter’ joke is that it doesn’t make any sort of sense. The thing is, that non-binary gender is within the sphere of human existence, expression and experience. Being an attack helicopter is not. So the joke mocks people for identifying as something within this sphere, by comparing it to something outside of this sphere. Which simply elicits the response, from non-binary (or sensible) people, ‘But… that’s… not the same thing at all.’
‘Oh,’ but these people have been known to counter, ‘It’s the language I object to. ‘Non-binary’. ‘Gender-fluid’. It’s the made-up words. Nothing means anything anymore.’ All words are made-up, you ding bats. And what’s more, ‘non’ is an existing prefix, and ‘binary’, ‘gender’ and ‘fluid’ are existing words, and if you can’t work out what they mean when someone puts them together, then you have bigger problems than you realise. Did you rage similarly and claim utter confusion when the British Olympic team suddenly decided, inexplicably and misguidedly, to refer to itself as ‘Team GB’? ‘What does ‘G’ stand for? What does ‘B’ stand for?’ did you wail? ‘How are we meant to know what anything means anymore if people keep CHANGING THE NAMES FOR THINGS?!’ No. You didn’t. Of course you didn’t. Because you weren’t confused by the Olympic team, but you’re confused by non-binary people. And you find ways to criticize and mock things you’re confused by. Your response to feeling stupid is not to seek knowledge to help you become clever, but to mow down everyone who makes you feel stupid, in the hope that only you, and your stupidity, will be left to define the world.
But that ain’t gonna happen.
Because you’re stuck on the ground, and we’re the ones taking flight.