“Here you go, sir. Is there anything else, sir? Would you like some hot sauce, sir? Which one’s do you want, Sir? Have a good night, sir, and thank you for coming, sir.”
Yes, that quote was something somebody actually said to me a few nights ago. It was a young man (I dually note that I’m making an assumption about his gender, just like he made one about mine with all of those sirs) working at the local taco joint that my wife and I are so helplessly addicted to, and as you might imagine I found his attempts at showing me respect to be highly aggravating.
Now, before I take my high horse out of its stall and start complaining about the bi-genderfication of western cultures and language, I will admit that this kid was probably trying to be polite. He probably, in his sheltered 19 year-old obliviousness, thought he was being kind by acknowledging me as an elder male who was deserving of respect. Oh, to be young and dumb, right?
He probably never guessed that calling me sir was not only offensive to my gender identity (for that I cannot blame him, I still look male, after all) but made me feel old on top of everything! Since when does a 29 year old get sir’d by random teenagers? I certainly don’t look elderly, but I digress.
So why did he call me sir so many times? Why did every sentence he uttered end with the a gender pronoun? Was it necessary to his understanding of my existence to outwardly and verbally label me as male?
I’m going to play the devil’s advocate for a minute and say that yes, I think it really was necessary for him to gender me, and he isn’t alone in that need. I come across people every day who feel a need (almost assuredly a sub-conscious need) to gender the people they interact with. Even I, one who is trying to break past the gender binary programming we all received from society/family/friends/school/church/etc., find myself gendering people, at least mentally. I have done all that I can to stop using gender pronouns for people I don’t know personally, but it can be nearly impossible to do that, especially if you are telling someone else about the encounter. It’s so convenient to say “this guy at the taco place called me sir, like 8 times” compared to saying “a person who had the appearance of a male called me sir, like 8 times,” and there is something very important about that difference.
In college when we discussed the human brain and how it functions on a societal interaction level the fundamental rule that you had to assume was that the human mind would almost always pick the path of least resistance when processing experiences. It almost exclusively chooses to label and separate things into various compartments of understanding. This compartmentalization process is both highly efficient at conserving energy (less thinking = less consumption of calories to power neurons) and extremely good at eliminating the “unknown” from a person’s experience… but there is a flaw to the compartmentalization process. When you allow your brain to just automatically make assumptions about what you are experiencing and don’t question the labels and compartments it ascribes to those experiences, you put yourself in danger of not only ignorance, but of logical fallacies.
If you don’t believe me then take a good hard look at fundamentalist Christians. (Sorry in advance if you are devotedly Christian, I’m sure you are a good person, I just question your judgment skills) When a person takes on the assumptions (compartmentalizations) that the Bible is infallible, that the earth was created in 7 days, that we are all the inbred descendants of two humans who had babies with their babies (gross as fuck by the way) then they are going to be forced to accept some logical fallacies and ignorance to maintain their assumptions. Don’t believe me? Then ask you nearest fundamentalist Christian friend about dinosaurs or even global warming and watch the logical fallacies start piling up. If they don’t spout something about Satan placing Dinosaurs in the ground to test the faith of mankind, or that God just feels like melting the polar ice caps, then you might be subjected to the good old “I don’t know about dinosaurs, and global warming, but I do know what the bible tells me”; otherwise known as ignorance.
So, what do Dinosaurs, global warming, and Christians have to do with me being called “sir” a bunch of times by some kid handing me a bag filled with tasty tacos?? It has everything to do with the compartmentalization of experiences to uphold a predetermined perception about the nature of reality, and we are all guilty of it. Some of us are more guilty than others, but this kid at the taco joint was particularly guilty of compartmentalizing his experience with me as an interaction with a fellow male. Without so much as a thought (this is the point, btw) he* evaluated my appearance, categorized my characteristics and rubber stamped me as a male. Nowhere in this automatic thought process did he* ever stop to consider if the process was actually working correctly. He just assumed that his categorization was spot on and ran with it. His brain eliminated any degree of “unknown” and proceeded with its other computations about his experience (you know, essential things like: does the hot chick working next to him want the D? What should he name his gamer avatar when he gets home? Did he actually like that porn he watched before his shift, or was it kind of disturbing?)
Okay, all jesting aside, what is the point of this rant? The point, my dear friends, is that if we ever hope to find a way to bring awareness of non-binary and transgender gender expressions to the forefront of thought, then we have to stop automatically compartmentalizing our experiences into labels. What I’m suggesting is that we all collectively hit the emergency stop button on the assembly line of mental assumptions and really take a look at how the system is currently processing our experiences. If we complacently sitting in the management office sipping some coffee and eating a donut while our brains automatically take care of processing our experiences then we miss the opportunity to make new experiences. We miss the chance to actively engage with reality and mold our perceptions to a more expanded viewpoint.
If we are willing to shut the automatic sorting system down and really evaluate how the brain has decided to sort our experiences then we open up pathways (neurological and physical) to changing our experiences for the better. As an example, if one continues to just assume that every bad thing with the U.S. government is a result of Obama being president, then that one is at risk of experiencing a rather limited and potentially negative life. If that one is willing to actually evaluate if the “bad” thing was a result of Obama or was a process completely independent of the office of President, then that one opens up pathways to expanding their understanding of how the government works. If they keep questioning their evaluation mechanisms they may even begin to see that the “bad” thing wasn’t actually bad at all, it was just framed by another person as bad because it disagreed with their predetermined perception. If they keep tumbling down this rabbit hole they may eventually come to understand that nothing in this universe is inherently good or bad, but just simply is.
If we can do that with gender by just beginning to question our automatic sorting of people we interact with into the binary categories of male/female, Sir/Ma’am, he/she, her/him, we can begin to see humans as something so much more complex and interesting that A or B. By actually taking the time to evaluate if we are just assuming another person’s gender rather than actually consciously evaluating their gender we open up our chances to experience a deeper understanding of our fellow humans. By just questioning whether or not we should “sir” or “ma’am” a person we derail the auto-compartmentalization process and open ourselves to exploring what exactly gender is, both for ourselves as well as others. When we open the door to self-exploration of gender and what it means to us and to others we interact with, we free ourselves from societal programming and awaken to the vast possibilities that are not only present for ourselves, but for every person on the planet.
Under such circumstances we may begin to question other parts of our life-experience to see where our minds have been glazing over that “unknown” factor in favor of lazy thinking, and when that begins to happen, the potentials are limitless. We don’t all have to be one or the other, and the minute we remember that fact, we resonate with the infinite consciousness that animates our bodies. An infinite consciousness that not only enjoys new expansions and experiences, but actually constantly craves that new expansion, that new evolution in form, thought, and being. So, I say let’s evolve our thinking so that we can find better and more meaningful ways to interact with one another than sir/ma’am.