Consolidating the Rules

There is an ongoing conversation playing out online. It manifests in tweets, articles, arguments, massive headlines, and reports of charges filed. This conversation is about how our society will restructure the social rules about gender. It leads to some very real dismay from people who are now worried that they don’t understand the social rules in a place where they used to be comfortable.

The problem stems from gender based social rules. These gender based rules were a given for generations. There is one set of social rules for dealing with a woman and another for a man. We treat boy children different than girl children. Male coworkers have a different set of expectations than female coworkers. This is the reason that some people become acutely uncomfortable when they meet a transgender or non-binary person. They are not sure which set of social rules should apply, and often they respond to that discomfort with anger. They want to force the non-conforming person to fit into their binary expectations.

I’ve felt that discomfort myself, and it was only when I recognized the source of the discomfort that I was able to resolve it. I had to consolidate my categories. Instead of male person and female person, I now try to just have person. Instead of male colleague and female colleague, I try to just have colleague. There are a few situations where this doesn’t work, like the social arenas surrounding dating, love, and sex. Those areas will require more categories, not less, because gender and attraction are very relevant to the social outcomes that people hope for. And it can get extremely complicated when dating social interactions are mixed together inside a workplace, college, or other location that isn’t explicitly for romantic purposes. I haven’t had much practice with this multiplication of categories since I’m monogamously married and happy with my romantic situation. Since I’ve taken dating and romantic connection off the table, the gender of the person I’m dealing with should be irrelevant to the social interaction we are having. This is true for the vast majority of my interactions

I’m still sorting my thoughts on all of this. My opinions continue to evolve as I listen to people who are finally being heard more widely than they ever were before, and as I listen to those who are clinging to (and grieving for) a social structure that they understood and felt comfortable inside. It is a complicated conversation with many nuances and special circumstances. And it is a conversation that will never be complete because social norms are always up for discussion as generations change and as technology forces people to interact in ways they haven’t before. The internet is a huge disruptor of social order, but it isn’t the first and it won’t be the last.

For my part, I’m listening, trying to offer respect, getting it wrong, fixing my errors, and working to adapt.