Sunday, 28 May 2017

Nowhere?

I was talking with a friend, and somehow we got onto the subject of Piers Morgan, whose present career has clearly escaped my notice. I really must make a greater effort to follow what well-known people like him are doing and saying. But there never seems to be a strong reason for doing so. So far as I am concerned, these media personalities might as well give up and go home. They make no difference to my life. That said, I don't mind Piers Morgan too much. He has polish and charm, and like all career TV conversationalists possesses a clever mind. But in this case he was flummoxed.

According to my friend - I never watch ITV, and I didn't see any of this - Piers Morgan was hosting ITV's Good Morning Britain, and was discussing life with two persons called Fox and Owl. I think I know who Fox is, but Owl is new to me. Both were describing themselves as 'non-binary' in relation to their gender. Piers was attempting to tease out what exactly they meant by the term, and whether it really had any meaning that everyday people might be able to understand. He failed to get anywhere until he pressed Owl to say what kind of prison would be the more appropriate if Owl were ever guilty of a crime and had to serve a sentence. Only two choices were possible, as the legal system was inflexible on the matter: there were men's jails, and there were women's jails, nothing else. As a non-binary person, which would Owl select as the better place to spend several years locked up in? It seems that Owl plumped for a female prison.

This is as much as I know about that TV conversation. I'm guessing that Piers Morgan followed up Owl's choice with a comment like 'Aha, then you do think of yourself as essentially female, and not as a completely genderless person?' Hoping no doubt to show that the 'non-binary' claim had no true reality, because while Owl might not be a conventional female, it still made basic sense to regard Owl as a female person, and it was a choice they would in this instance make themselves.

It's unclear to me whether Piers did really prove that point, and I have no idea what Owl said immediately afterwards to explain their choice of a female jail. Nor do I feel inclined to sit through the entire interview on catch-up TV. Still, it's interesting that there are people around who are not comfortable with even a minimum level of gender assignment, and have worked out a theory to account for their personal stance.

Well, I don't mind their having a non-standard self-perception. Not one bit. But I disagree that feeling different entitles you to jump the queue, to impose on other people, or to abandon ordinary social norms such as courtesy and kindness. And certainly not to claim, as a right, any kind of special treatment. I'd extend that to having a platform, such as a TV interview with a well-known presenter.

Somewhere in the course of the discussion, Piers Morgan apparently mentioned that there were currently some seventy terms used to describe all those who felt themselves to be something distinct from plain 'male' or female'. Seventy! What was going on?

I fear he was being deliberately obtuse. Human variation is huge. It's easily possible - if you want to do it, and put your mind to it - to invent a hundred distinct and nuanced ways to label people. Piers could have equally said 'What! Why only seventy?'

It's not hard to imagine a kind of 'gender spectrum', or perhaps a 'gender disc' - or even a three-dimensional and bumpy 'gender blob' - with most of the human population clustered in two large groups on it, but a sizeable number scattered elsewhere. Further along, or in between, or somewhere off to one side. In other words, every person alive would be somewhere, and their position (in a topological sense) would always be definable by co-ordinates. And this was where they had always been, whether they knew it or not. They might not be near either of the main clusters, but they'd still occupy a definite position that reflected their conscious self-perception, and their gut feeling about themselves.

This would be a gender model in which individuals recognised where they were in relation those cluster-people, the ones happy to describe themselves as simply 'male' or 'female'. And it should go without saying that all positions in this model would be as 'normal', and as 'good', as any other. Being a cluster-person would confer no special status. And the converse would also be true: being somewhere else wouldn't be special either.

This is in fact the way I personally look at things. Indeed, how I think of myself. I'm not necessarily at the very heart and centre of the 'female' cluster, but I'm definitely in that area on the blob. I always was; it's just that in later life I can see it clearly, and not obscurely.

An astronomical metaphor suggests itself. If you like, I've travelled long enough, and far enough, to look back and view the Gender Galaxy as a whole, and to understand where Planet Lucy is among all the stars and planets revolving slowly around the bipolar heart of that vast structure, all held together by a common gravity. And perhaps you can say the same.

What - like Piers Morgan - I find hard to grasp is the concept that a person could be 'nowhere' - or able to trickle around the gender blob like water, here one moment, and there the next. So that they might say 'I feel feminine' or 'I feel masculine' or 'I feel neuter' at different times, as the mood or impulse takes them. I just don't think that any ordinary person's self-perception really wobbles around like that.

But supposing it is possible, then life must be very trying for such a person. They'd have a point of view - and current behavioral requirements - that changed and fluctuated from hour to hour. They'd never have any proper self-control. They would never be able to build up a sensible, coherent life from a known fixed point. What goals would seem right? How could they develop any enduring personal relationships? Because to others they'd be unpredictable, their intentions unguessable, and altogether they'd be way too difficult to get on with. They'd also be unemployable, and always at odds with 'the system'.

And yet I've heard of 'non-binary' people who do have relationships and live fairly conventional lives. That makes me think that, for some at least (and to be clear, I don't mean Fox or Owl), adopting a 'non-binary' label may be a convenient way of gaining some leverage they would not otherwise enjoy.

That sounds like a blanket scepticism on my part of all 'non-binary' claims. But it's consistent with my general unwillingness to allow anybody a privilege or advantage based merely on a belief, no matter how sincerely held. There must be some obvious difference that matters. So I do say that a severely injured person has needs that trump the convenience of people with only sore fingers.

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