Removing My Gender Goggles

We all have one — that little voice in your mind that occupies your ingrained Throne of Judgement. The one that immediately sees an object or a person, decides what it is, and then categorizes it into like me/not like me, I like this/I don’t like this, friend/foe, good/bad, etc.

Evolutionary, I am sure this voice has saved humankind’s skins on more than one occasion, allowing us to differentiate between danger and harmlessness, between a rock and a sleeping bear. But in today’s fast-paced world of instant gratification, it has transformed into this screaming Holier-Than-Thou monstrosity that constantly demands attention and satisfaction.

The advent of light-speed search engines and smartphones make it painlessly easy to feed to beast.

And in some ways, this is fantastic. Humans are constantly seeking knowledge and understanding, and these technologies allow us to do that more efficiently and effectively than ever. But in other ways, I believe, it makes us quicker to judge, and faster to frustrate if we are thwarted in our quest.

One of my New Year’s resolutions that I have really tried to stick with (going almost 2 months strong, is that a world record or what) is to be less inwardly judgmental. Not to the point where I, as elementary school teachers so loving impart to their students, treat everyone like they are blue; while excellently simplistic for younger generations, an adult-level knowledge of cultural appropriation and world history does not, and should not, condone this erasure of difference. No, what I am trying to do is mostly gender-based.

Sex is biological; gender is a social construct. We are taught from birth that there are boys and there are girls, a rigid dichotomy determined by sexual organs and fostered by normative social behaviors. And I realized that, while I firmly believe that sexuality is a spectrum and people should be free to identify as any gender they want to, I was still inwardly adhering to those norms. I would sit on the bus and unconsciously tag everyone entering or exiting: guy. girl. guy. guy. Wait….I think….yup. Guy.

And if I came across someone that stumped me (“Are those skinny jeans? Is that long hair more masculine of feminine? Is that a man bun?”), I would subtlety try to crane my neck to satisfy my underlying curiosity. Embarrassing, right? What is even more embarrassing was that I lacked the self-awareness to realize I was doing this. Again, totally not on purpose — the surface of my mind would be occupied with homework due, thoughts on the weather, trying to remember if I had plans later. But when I finally caught myself doing this, it came as a shock. I was better than that, wasn’t I? Didn’t being a socially progressive liberal feminist wring that annoying gender dichotomy out of me when I started college? WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?

Reflecting on it more, I realized nothing was inwardly wrong with me. I was just letting the wrong voice, the one that subconsciously “others,” dominate my relaxed mental state of mind. Social progression takes work, hard work, ask any activist. The work lies not just in changing policies and procedures, but in changing the way people think about everyday phenomenon. And it is an ongoing, uphill battle, because racism is not over, and neither is sexism, ageism, or the subtle/open oppression of minorities anywhere. These fights have been fought for hundreds of years, and may never end.

For me, on a personal level, the struggles of the past few centuries are a constant daily reminder to rise above my ingrained tendencies to categorize, to immediately decide, to judge. To believe everything I was taught, to conform. I am better than that, I know I am. It’s high time to remove my gender goggles and stop trying to classify every person I see. And I am determined to continue to catch myself pulling this kind of bullshit and calling myself out on it until I stop.

Even if that takes a lifetime of New Year’s resolutions.

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