Hysterical bigotry = journalism?

April 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

Today, I was made aware of the existence of this bewildering opinion piece in The Washington Times. Bewildering, because it seems like an utterly emotional knee-jerk response to a situation that requires thought, attention, and at the very least, some form of kindness. But increasingly, kindness is a concept that I’m hard-pressed to find anywhere (least of all in the comments section of an article; do yourself a favour and read the comments to this piece only if you feel like nothing… and I mean NOTHING… can get you down).

The quick gist of this piece is:  it opposes the legislation of the US’ Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which is apparently due for vote this week in Congress. The editorial says that “ENDA purports to ‘prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.’” You would think that any right-minded citizen would want that, right? Nope. Because, as The Washington Times goes on to say:

On some matters, it is good to be discriminating. It is right to discriminate between honesty and dishonesty, between politeness and impoliteness, between right and wrong. And it assuredly is right to be discriminating in choosing who teaches our children. ENDA would make it impossible for a non-church-based charter school, for instance, to remove from the classroom a “she-male” who insists on exposing her pupils to her unnatural transformation.

Earlier on at the start of the piece, they wrote: “First-graders should not be forced into the classrooms of teachers undergoing sex changes.”

Two things that reinforce each other: that sexual orientation and gender is identity is “natural” only if it’s male/female, and as such, young children should only be exposed to what is “natural.”

“Natural” is a very suspicious term. What’s ‘natural’ within any particular society, within a particular timeframe, is reinforced by the ideology that’s at work at that point in time. Gender identity is a complex intertwining of social conditioning and political representation. As Monique Wittig has said, “The category of sex is the political category that founds society as heterosexual.” Hermaphrodite humans may be unnatural to people in The Washington Times, but they exist. Are they unnatural human beings? Nature seems to have thought they were pretty natural.  And in other taxonomic groups of animals, it’s a ‘normal’ state. The argument remains that there is no such thing as ‘natural.’ Once something ‘unnatural’ exists, it simply is. It’s simply a matter of how people choose to respond to it. I’m not saying I’ve never been guilty of using the term “natural.” However, it’s a deeply problematic and ambiguous term that needs to be dissected, analysed, and thought over.

And responding in the way The Washington Times has is simplistic and myopic. There are strong religious undertones to these claims. It makes me wonder if the writers realise that for many people, ‘the Church’ as an institution is the one that appears to be severely ‘unnatural’. And abnormal.

But I digress.

As for first-graders being forced into the classrooms of these teachers undergoing sexual changes – they’re not being forced into anything. They’re first-graders who are there to be taught. And they may have teachers who are experimenting with their gender and sexual orientation. I say, Hallelujah. Children learn what is ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ from their elders, and society at large. We blindly, or wilfully, pass on discrimination from generation to generation. First-graders, I believe, will be able to accept gender for what it is – complex and tenuous – if they see it in action, and are made to accept people regardless of their sexual orientation and gender. Isn’t this an opportunity to teach children anti-discrimination in the classroom?

I don’t think the children will have a problem accepting a “she-male”, as The Washington Times’ writers state. I don’t know much about developmental psychology, but I know that children tend to see things as they are. They may question it, but they have a greater sense of acceptance and tolerance precisely because it has not been stained and coloured by societal perceptions.

I mean, if there is a freaking pink elephant in front of me, then it exists. It’s my responsibility to carefully consider my response to it. If children can be made to understand and accept differences because differences exist, regardless of whether one thinks it is natural or unnatural, and be taught to exercise compassion and empathy as well, then yes, Washington Times… I think the kids will be alright.

The biggest “threat” to young children’s mental and emotional development, at this point in time, from the way I see it, is The Washington Times.

The piece concludes with this lovely paragraph:

Similar problems abound in this bill, which treats a conscious decision to choose a new or different sexual identity as if it were an inherent, unavoidable condition. But it’s not. It’s actually a psychological disorder, officially listed as such by the current American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Our children and our co-workers should not be forced by law to be held hostage to such disorders, nor should employers be forced to have psychologically troubled persons as the public face of their businesses.

Call me a fool, but I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a non “psychologically-troubled” person anywhere in this world. I may be loosely paraphrasing Freud here, but I think he once said that each person is essentially quite screwed. Right, he never said that, but I’m sure that’s what he meant. In Civilisation and Its Discontents, he wrote: “Even the sense of self is subject to disturbances, and the limits of the self are not constant.”

If you believe this, and it seems impossible not to when the actual effects of disturbed selves can be seen everywhere, then it seems to me that we need to be kinder towards each other. Because each one of us is “unnatural” in someone else’s eyes. If you need to succumb to hyperbolic emotion, then save it for those who set out to physically and emotionally hurt others – the serial killers, the rapists, the priests molesting boys, the racist bully beating up a ‘different-coloured’ person.  And, Washington Times, “to be held hostage to such disorders”? Isn’t that a tad hysterical? The classroom isn’t a locked prison. Go enrol your kid in a new one if you can’t stand the mere existence of a she-male. Continue to perpetuate prejudice shrouded as “sound religious belief” or a “sense of normalcy” among all your wholly-natural, normal spawn.

There are so many different ways in which human beings hurt and destroy each other on a daily basis. Get up on your soapbox and fight against war, poverty, class discrimination, racism, sexism, ageism, neoliberal capitalism. But to get all high-and-mighty from what seems to be a rabidly Christian standpoint over males wanting to be females, or females wanting to be males, and all things in-between? That’s just bigotry couched in “clever wording.”

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