When I admitted my general confusion here about gender in June, reader responses varied:
- helpful encouragement — from friends who could teach me about the topic.
- shared experience — from folks who were similarly confused by the whirl of the world.
- shaming, flaming and blaming — this was the greatest surprise to me. (There is a lot of Ready-To-Serve Anger on Facebook.) I didn't join the fight. I just observed the anger.
It's clearly a topic in the air.
I hope this doesn't ignite your anger.
That's not my intention. If I ignite you, it's because I'm still stupid. Believe you me, I'm sorry about that.
Here are two results — one among the CEOs in my peer groups. And the other in a variety of airports.
In CEO Peer Groups...
I processed — across the groups in a variety of ways — my quest for gender equality and greater diversity. ("Processing" means I opened myself to the members of the groups. I invested my vulnerability and candor. They paid me in great questions, suggestions, and ideas.)
There are several key takeaways for my work (as the chair of these groups):
- First and foremost, I am still at the beginning of a journey of self-education. I do not claim to be expert about any of the following ideas. I am filled with wonderment.
- We are peer groups, not because the individuals are equal to each other. We are in many ways unequal — and our beautiful differences can be what make our meetings powerful. What does make us a peer group: we value each member’s perspective equally.
- While I am open to meeting any qualified candidate, I’m focusing my outreach on communities that can increase diversity of opinion, experience, and culture.
- I will not identify others by their demographics. First, I am not the arbiter of gender or racial distinctions. Secondly, gender and race are largely irrelevant in each member’s fit and contribution in the group.
- I recognize that talking about gender, race, orientation, and class is unsettling to others. While I am not making it a primary regular topic for monthly meetings, it is on my mind and I will not shrink from raising the topic when appropriate. I am always open to a conversation on these topics.
- Gender is not as binary and constant as I have long thought. Gender is a complex dance of four attributes. The attributes shift over time along spectrums. And they don't predictably correlate with each other. They are:
- Physical sex — "My equipment" — usually but not always conclusive at birth.
- Expression — "How I dress and present myself" — see "In Airports" below.
- Attraction — "Who I like" — from Stonewall to the Supreme Court.
- Identity — "Who I think I am" — the gender I use in my internal narrative.
- I believe it is a human rights violation to combat anyone's right to self-determination. (Whether it is genetics or choice is irrelevant to me. I believe people get the right to choose their sexuality.) Therefore, because it would be unethical for me to work with a CEO whose business I don't want to help grow, I cannot work with a CEO who is in the business of combating or presuming to correct another person's sexuality (against that person's desire). I have rejected — for a values mismatch — two CEOs whose businesses would serve a parent by intervening against the will of an adolescent to presumably return that adolescent to heterosexuality.
Around the Vistage tables (artieisaac.com), I’m always grateful for the challenges, questions, puzzled looks, and encouragement from the members. (Thank you.)
Airports are great for people watching.
People watching is a challenge: how to watch others without them knowing that you are watching. My methods:
- Soften my gaze.
- Relax my facial muscles.
- Focus not on the person, but on the general direction.
- Wear a dopey smile.
- Look only at people who are moving past. (Don't fix on the person sitting across from me.)
- If a glance is returned (in the absence of explicit verbal encouragement, such as "hello"), quickly look down and never look at that person again.
I'm not striking up conversations. I gave that up in February 2014 (as you know from youngisaac.typepad.com/artie/2014/02/last-stranger.html).
So what's this got to do with gender?
In my people watching, through the decades, I have honed my powers of observation.
While it is not any of my damn business, I have gazed at people and quickly identified gender. After that, I have drawn similarly invasive conclusions about: sense of fashion, degree of happiness/confusion, comfort, and so on.
It used to be that I was pretty good at this. I could tell the boys from the girls. Why do I do this? A teacher of mine says it is natural, anthropological: I am assessing men for threats and women for mating. (Before I heard this a month ago, I thought I was just people watching.)
Once in a while -- not as often as 1 in 100, but perhaps 1 in 5,000 -- I would admire a person because the person was not revealing gender.
I would be confused. I'd think, "Well, I'll be. My gender radar is broken. Can't identify."
That would be quickly followed by, "There's a reason for my malfunction. It is none of my damn business. Artie! Artie! Look away."
And I would look away.
Recently Increased Inability
During trips this summer, I have found myself less able than ever to identify gender.
Now, about 1 inability in 500 folks is my average. (In independent coffeeshops, my failure rate rises to 1 in 200.)
Here is my conclusion.
Now that Americans feel freer than ever to express their gender as they wish, we all are one haircut and one outfit away from concealing, redefining, or confirming our gender. (See this past week's article in The New York Times, "In Fashion, Gender Lines Are Blurring" by Ruth La Ferlaaug August 19, 2015 at http://tinyurl.com/NYTgenderfashion.)
I said to a teacher, "Gosh, the world sure has changed."
She responded, "No, it hasn't. The numbers have alway been thus."
It's just now the haircuts and outfits are out.
Knowing how little I know about this topic, I ran the above draft past two trusted advisors. The first — a person who always gives me critical, constructive editing notes said, "Go with it."
"That's it?" I asked. "You always give me a lot of feedback."
"Not on this one," he said. "You have clearly worked carefully, like a lawyer, on this one. Go with it."
The second reviewer, Helen Isaac, responded with the following. (And gave me permission to include it.) Helen wrote the widely enjoyed and praised piece here "Calling Father" in June (see: http://tinyurl.com/CallingFather).
I decided that — rather than incorporate the teachings below in my writing above — I would simply show you the original draft (it is above) and the critical, constructive response (below).
I have a few problems with this essay. I think you treat writing on this blog as very much a part of your thinking process rather than an end product of that process, and I don’t want to interfere with or discourage that practice. However, a few points:
- There is a difference between Gender and Sexuality. Many transgender people transition without any change in sexual preference. This is to say, "What I Like is not Who I Am." The two are obviously related because they exist in the same individual, but the enjoyment of various sexual acts doesn't factor into gender identity as much as you might think, and vice versa. For example, conflating enjoyment of being penetrated during sex with femininity has some problematic implications if we consider the gender identity of gay men. Do not make the rookie mistake of confusing or conflating these two.
- Framing sexuality and identity as a choice is dangerous. Rather than saying "I believe people have the right to choose their sexuality," I would say, "I believe people have the right to be themselves." Later on, when you talk about the businesses attempting to correct "the will" of an adolescent, I would rethink that use of the word "will." The choice is not a choice to be hetero- or homosexual, it's a choice to embrace oneself or suppress oneself. The self doesn't change, no matter what the choice of the individual.
- Gender is a fantasy. When you talk about "revealing," "identifying," "expressing," "concealing," "redefining,” or "confirming" gender, there is an implication that gender is something real, which we as individuals can choose to deal with however we like. I disagree. Gender is a distraction, a total myth, a complete perversion of reality. It exists only because we allow it to inform our behavior — just like god, just like race, just like any of a thousand simulacra. It limits the vocabulary with which we are able to answer the question "Who am I?" to an absurd degree. If this is confusing to you, let's talk about it more, because it is the most important point you can possibly take away from this discussion.
- There are different kinds of anger. In the beginning, when you mention the angry responses to your first post, I'm confused about whom you are addressing. I can think of two types of angry responses: mine, which are frustrated because your feminism is young and sometimes lacking nuance; and others, who are defensive and sexist and reacting with hate.
[Artie writing again now...]
I'm open to your thoughts: from encouragement to flaming.
I reserve the right to learn further — and to increase my understanding and compassion.