Opinion: Reflecting on Pride Month

Published: 6/23/2022 6:02:36 AM
Modified: 6/23/2022 6:00:14 AM

John Buttrick of Concord can be reached at johndbuttrick@gmail.com.

During our sophomore year at college in the fifties, my roommate cautiously revealed to me he was convinced that he was a gay person. At the time, I had no understanding of what he was telling me. As he became more trusting, he would reveal his efforts to scrutinize the implications of his feelings and how he could live them out in his daily life.

He described both comfortable and risky experiences. He would sometimes return to the dorm room full of nervous jubilant energy played out with garrulous conversation. Other times he came home demoralized, his words slurred. He would barely manage to reach his bunk and collapse into an anesthetized drunken sleep. It was a tumultuous, confusing, painful time for him.

Being his roommate was a bewildering, disorienting and anxious time for me as well, although it was not nearly as traumatic as my roommate’s journey. All of us, in our late teens and early twenties, were searching for authentic identities within our inherited culture. The parameters of my search were within the consummate binary world of males and females. My roommate was breaking out of that world to search in a broader spectrum of gender identities.

Years later, I learned the difference between male and female or masculine and feminine. Kaitlin Miller wrote in the Active Times, a publication of Michigan State University's gender and sexuality campus center, “Gender is the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, identities, and attributes … deemed masculine or feminine. Birth-assigned sex, (male or female), refers to a person’s biological, hormonal, and genetic composition. Gender identity terms and birth-assigned-sex terms are not interchangeable.”

My roommate was reaching beyond his binary birth-assigned sex of male into the realm of multiple gender identities. As a result, he encountered serious anger and condemnation from people settled only in their either/or assigned sex, male or female. They seemed to feel he was a threat to their own identities grounded in a binary society.

Therefore, his daily life vacillated between the rebuke of fearful judgmental people and the acceptance of an understanding minority. His experience led him to the spikes of elation and plunges into depression, endangering his mental wellbeing. At the time, I misunderstood his struggle but I also felt a nagging need to empathize with and accompany him during his precarious journey. Unfortunately, we went different ways at the end of the college year.

Why am I, a man identifying as cisgender (male and masculine), writing about a past roommate who was socially isolated and legally oppressed? I risk demonstrating ignorance. I may be accused of arrogance. I’m not a psychologist. But, I do believe that we have been responsible for much of the trauma that our strident binary culture has inflicted upon our LGBTQ+ friends. And we still are!

For example, it is evidenced in the discussion and attempt to pass NH House Bill 1431. The bill included “developing policies to inform parents ‘promptly’ about …developments with their child, including any action taken around gender expression or identity.” The mere fact that the bill expressed an urgency to identify “gender expression or identity” as a serious problem, suggests “that gender expressions or identities” are in some way not legal or evidence of mental illness.

However, The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, LGBTQ+ rights groups, civil rights advocates, and teachers’ unions, noted that the legislation would require schools to “out” trans students to their parents. They argued that doing so could be dangerous for some students. Like my long-a-go college roommate, students can still face labeling, bias, bullying and isolation. So many people are still uninformed or reject anthropologists’ assertion that there are both cultural identities, “gender,” and biological classifications of male or female, “sex.” Headtohealth.gov.au reports, “The expression of your gender through the way you behave and dress is an important part of your self-identity, and is central to your mental health and wellbeing.”

During these LGBT+ Gay Pride Month celebrations, we may witness various behaviors and dress expressing different gender identities. However, it’s not necessary to label each passing person with a precise category of gender. Rumi wrote, “Language is a tailor’s shop in which nothing quite fits.”

Kaitlin Miller offers “LGBTQIA2S+” as an acronym to illustrate some of the numerous categories (The Active Times, Michigan State University, 6/2). This acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and trans, queer and questioning, intersex, asexual or agender, and two-spirit. The plus-sign signifies additional identity terms.

Naming the category and its definition may be helpful for understanding but, most important, is accepting each person as they present themselves. If they choose, they may explain their gender identity and/or the pronouns they prefer for themselves.

I’m aware that recognizing multiple gender identities puts a strain on a binary society. It also challenges government laws and rules based upon sex-based absolutes. Paisley Currah, The New York Review of Books, writes, “When people with a gender identity, not traditionally associated with the sex assigned to them at birth, attempted to change their sex classification, they were unintentionally challenging the entire apparatus governing sex-based legal subordination. Sex classifications were necessary for enforcing policies that enshrined those inequalities.”

Therefore, it is necessary to update laws and rules to conform to the realities of the evolving identities within the human experience and to cultivate accepting relationships among all people.

The challenge to us all is two-fold. Work for attitudinal change recognizing that, at the core, we are all valued human beings, each with a unique personal identity. And we must work for a governmental structure that conforms to a multi-gender community. That would be something to celebrate during this Pride Month.

It would be reason for all of us, no matter what letter or no letter we claim, to be proud of working for a diverse, empathetic, caring society and country.

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