Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pretty Birds and Pretty Boys

Thoughts on the Gender Spectrum

As I sat eating lunch today, I looked out our dining room’s French doors and watched the many different birds pay a visit to our locust tree. It serves as a staging area for many of them to access the bird feeders below the deck. And several scour it’s nooks, cracks and crannies for various bugs.

Some of the birds have distinctive gender differences, some have nearly none. The male cardinal is still a very vibrant red, but the female is a more muted olive green with hints of “cardinal” on the wings and tail. The male junco is slightly darker than the female. The goldfinches have gone drab for the winter. In the summer, the male turns an electric yellow with a patch of black atop his head, while the female presents a hint more yellow on her mostly greenish body. I’ve yet to figure out if there is any gender difference for the chickadee, the Carolina wren, the downy woodpecker, the red-breasted woodpecker, the brown creeper, the mourning dove or the red-breasted nuthatch. All were visitors today during my fifteen minute lunch. We’ve enjoyed over 30 different birds in our backyard.

But the view gave me thought about human gender presentation. The first thought was Why Does It Matter? Make no mistake about it….gender presentation DOES matter and I’m not really referring to the biological requirements for many species for procreation. We utilize terms commonly ascribed to one gender to demean the other. “Sissy”. “Butch”. “Effeminate”. “Masculine”. I don’t even need to add the noun to the adjective. You know what they are.

People get horribly conflicted and frustrated when they cannot determine another person’s gender. I’m old enough to remember all the hubbub about guys with long hair in the 60’s and 70’s. I also remember there were those so angry that there were, essentially, hair bashings – gang attacking someone in order to cut their hair. Recall the character “Pat” created by Julia Sweeney on Saturday Night Live. The awkwardness and intense curiosity expressed by the other characters in the skits were more real than most people realize.

The other thought is our use of the complimentary words “handsome” and “pretty”. Men are “handsome”. Women are “pretty”. Yet we refer to the “pretty” bird – which in most cases is the male. The male cardinal is a pretty, bright crimson. The male peacock spreads his pretty, beautiful tail. Ever think of a bright blue budgie as “handsome”? Why the need to be so uniquely distinguishing for the male and female of the Human species…it doesn’t seem to be an issue for the birds?

I am certainly not advocating for a genderless society. But I do think it would be healthier for everyone - and a much safer situation for transgenders - if we became more understanding and accepting of variations than of strict binary constraints.

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