Fear Makes Ugly

Okay, okay.  If you read this space regularly, you know that one of my guilty pleasures is, that I read some advice columns.   Well, here's a Q&A from yesterday's installment of Dear Prudence that really nailed an important issue:

Q. LGBTQ...BGHMNHGRESDFE?: Love your column and your advice; however, after this week’s column I had to Google the term cis-man (maybe I don’t get out enough), and when I read the definition, I thought, Seriously?! Isn’t there enough nomenclature out there that cis-people can be identified simply as a man or a woman? Am I wrong that it implies that there are more transgender people than those who are comfortable in the sex they were born into, so they need to identify specifically with cis?

Frankly, I don’t care how anyone identifies—your sexual preferences have nothing to do with whether I like you or not! In fact, I’d be just as happy not knowing, because I just don’t care. Am I wrong that it seems we are bending too far in the opposite direction to make up for persecution in the past, to the point where the majority of us will have to refer to ourselves as non-LGBTQ?

A: You clearly do care a great deal how people identify, which is why you took time out of your day to write to me about it. There is nothing inherently wrong with caring about something, but it’s never a good idea to begin an argument by being disingenuous about one’s commitment to a particular ideal or practice.

You begin by confusing two very different practices. The existence of the word cis does not, as you are perfectly aware, mean that you cannot identify someone as “simply a man or a woman.” It is not illegal to call someone a man or a woman; nor is it broadly considered to be impolite. No one is preventing you from referring to yourself as a woman or a man, if you like.

The existence of the word cisgender does not in any way imply that there are more transgender people than otherwise, no more than the word Bostonian implies that most people are from Boston. It’s simply a word one can use to describe people who are from Boston. It simply names a condition that has heretofore been thought of as a reflexive, natural state of being that did not require any sort of identification or examination. (Much in the same way that heterosexual people once resented being identified as being “heterosexual” or having an identifiable sexuality of any kind, rather than simply “normal.”)

You seem to envision a future in which the majority will “have to” refer to themselves as non-LGBTQ (namely, a future in which you seem to fear a majority may get treated as a minority). Who do you think will force you to do so? What upsets or unsettles you at the prospect of naming your own gender identity? Why does the fact that the word cisgender exists create so much fear and antipathy in you, and why have you confused this extreme resentment with a state of “not caring”? Be willing to spend some time with these questions that unsettle you, and be honest about the fact that you are unsettled—there is much to discover, and much to think about, on this subject. I wish you luck.

She was way nicer than I would have been, but then she's a professional.  I don't think I would want her job, so I am glad that she does it.  Her Exacto-Knife dissection of the letter-writer's real issue was very pleasing to read.  And the real issue is indeed fear.

When I first encountered the terms "homophobia" and "transphobia", I thought they misidentified how their subjects felt about gay and trans people.  I took those words to be referring to a dislike, to the point of prejudice.  It took more study on my part, and some focused conversations with -phobes, to realize the words are spot-on.  Homophobes and transphobes are deathly afraid.

Fearful. Ugly. I rest my case.

They have been raised in a world where MEN are MEN and WOMEN are WOMEN and any deviation from the absolute definitions of those two categories is to be brutally excised. Well, they do not wish to be brutally excised.  But early on, they made the unconscious realization that gender, sexual orientation, and many other aspects of being a messy ol' human are not digital binaries, but analog spectra.  With that realization came the also-unconscious realization that they themselves are not 100% whatever their at-birth identification ordained they must be, without variation, forever and ever.  So they clamp down hard on what they have been ordered to be, at the expense of what they really are.

And they have seen the penalties for venturing outside the box they were ordered into at the ripe old age of 10 seconds.  And they are afraid.  Fear seldom inspires admirable behavior.  Its effects are writ large on the political face of the country today.

For extra credit: anyone have an idea what BGHMNHGRESDFE stands for?

This article was updated on May 9, 2023

David F