Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Yo of Gender and Thomas Beatie's Pregnancy

Language has always been harsh on the notion of gender neutrality. The romantic languages are laden with relegated masculine and feminine forms and his/her and (s)he never really worked well when man has made an attempt to address his fellow human counterparts of unknown gender.

But language mirrors who we are and how we feel, and I'm learning more each day that our society wants to imprison and keep separate the notion of maintaining dichotomous gender. There's XY and XX, Adam and Eve, he and she. Anything in between or outside the norm makes most of us uncomfortable, and for that reason a gender neutral pronoun has never caught on.

At least not until recently. In the 1990s Baltimore, Maryland students started popularizing "yo" and linguists have been paying increasing attention to the tiny revolution kids have started on the playground (Click here to see NPR's January 31, 2008 story on "yo"). Instead of saying he or she--or perhaps better yet, his/her--students started casually referring to their counterparts as "yo." "Yo sat down on the chair" they say, and although some are dissatisfied with the gender neutral candidate I think it's a significant step forward.

Significant because it marks a small group of young people who are freeing their notion of gender. As hopeful as yo seems though, we still live in a world that's uncomfortable with anything that deviates from the traditional gender norms. Masculine and feminine descriptors are too often stabs like "he throws like a girl" or "you should act like a lady for a change." But in such a fluid society men should be allowed to love musicals and women should be allowed to follow football.

Even if the English language is ready to lose some of its gendered tendencies society is not. Men and women are expected to perform their genders, and if someone who is genetically of one gender performs the opposite gender people are shocked and personally offended.

I thought at one point that the emergence of yo and the transexiness of David Beckham and other "beautiful" males would help us slowly lose our sense of gender but it has not. The reaction to Thomas Beatie's pregnancy has revealed that we are right where we've been since the advent of language; uncomfortable with liberation from gender.

It's the puzzled stare from newscasters, comparisons to sci-fi, and the appalled reaction from citizens that disappoints me most in reference to Thomas Beatie's pregnancy. Too many people are astonished and unaware when it comes to the situation. It's okay to feel angry and confused about Thomas Beatie. After all some people have gone through life without ever hearing terms like top surgery or ftm. We can forgive these people simply because they do not know.

What's difficult for me is the people who undermine the legitimacy of Thomas Beatie as a human being. Beatie may not have male anatomy but he acts and feels like a man. Some people may argue that he can't be a man because he is performing the very sacred female act of having a baby. I personally believe that Beatie's having a baby doesn't compromise his manhood. He's acted like and been accepted as a man for more than eight years. In my mind this doesn't take away his maleness. In fact I would argue that in many ways it makes him what we would traditionally call "more manly."

Regardless of Beatie's sex or people's religion I will argue a simple point. Thomas Beatie and his wife are people. Like most other people, they want to raise a child together. They believe they can bring another person into the world and teach them right and wrong. Beatie wrote an article about his pregnancy for The Advocate (click here to read it), and there's no question that what he wrote was not only thoughtful, but also elegant. The decision Beatie and his wife made was a significant one. Whether they anticipated such a barrage of publicity or not is unknown to me, but I hope that one day people will look on this as a pivotal point in history, a point when we started unchaining the strict notion of divided genders and started seeing people for who they are. If that doesn't happen then I at least hope that we remember one simple thing.

The girl Beatie and his wife bring into this world is a person. The couple who had her are happy and stable, and they will love their child the way any heterosexual straight couple would love their child. We need to treat the Beatie's with respect. After all, they are opening our minds to a concept that has existed (but been squelched) for decades. We can continue to look on this situation like a freak of nature abnormality or we can turn our heads and respect these people for the human beings that they are. And maybe, just maybe, we can see Thomas Beatie for more than the gender roles he is breaking. I anticipate that day, the moment when CNN's story stops focusing on gender violations and starts seeing Beatie and his family as people who love like anyone else.

Yo can only hope.


Today's music recommendation: The Rescues. Get lost in their beautiful lyrics and layered sound.


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