I watched an episode of The West Wing last night, “Game On” which was talking about 10 word answers.
10 word answers refers to the idea of boiling down complex ideas into 10 words which make the concepts understandable to everyone.
The problem, of course, is that in boiling down something like The Middle East, Funding NASA, Economic and banking policy, Seinfeld episode 13 and gender, sexuality, and queer into simple terms is always going to be problematic.
That’s because we’re not cave-people anymore. We’re not just in the world to go out of the cave, trap, spear and kill something else and then eat it.
The world is a complex, tricky place.
I’ve recently read a number of documents which speak about what I’m going to call “people of different biological and psychological gender and sexuality”. The story goes something like this:
- The terms we use to identify ourselves are being misinterpreted by others
- The terms we use to identify ourselves within the groups which identify this way are also being misinterpreted
- We need to clearly define our terms as we are not all being heard.
The last part is important to many different people, as it should be. It’s the difference between being a Jewish person and just called Religious. The word “religious” doesn’t capture the nuance of meaning that’s present in “buddhism”, “Catholicism”, “Protestantism” and “Muslim”. It doesn’t adequately explain why Protestantism is effectively a breakaway sect of Catholicism due to historical reasons. It doesn’t explain that the Muslim holy book has incredible passages of beauty and tolerance. Each term is bundled up in a simple umbrella term. Each of the sub-categories is an umbrella term for many different beliefs, behaviours, rules of engagement, hopes and dreams.
10 words are not enough.
In the community of people which includes (but not exhaustively), people who identify as homosexual, there are lesbians and gays, and within that there are butches and queens and all sorts of other people.
Does the term “homosexual” adequately describe these people? The multitude of behaviours and lives lived, their loves, their ups and downs.
Are 10 words enough to describe a human being’s life?
We are so much more than our sexuality and our gender. We are more than our biology. We are more than where we live, who we have sex with; more than our skin or hair colour, more than what’s between our legs and our ears.
The trouble, of course, is that when describing the experiences of people who live their lives in a way that is held by society to be “different”, terminology comes into play. And terminology when used incorrectly can muddy the waters.
The key, I believe, is education, patience and time.
Education helps people understand that the caricatures of the 1970s (look at any episode of “Love thy Neighbour”, “On the buses” or “Mind your Language”) are not acceptable today. Education has and is helping “Joe Public” understand that transgender people are not gay men in dresses, that women can love each other, that some of the heinous statements of politicians and religious leaders (For example, Cori Bernardi linking gay marriage to bestiality) are in-fact complete fabrications of small-minded conservative people. Information flows freely over the internet which means that those who are interested in something can type into Google or any other search engine what they need, and find out what it means. The pen is mightier than the sword, and the most powerful thing in the world is to be informed and to inform others.
Patience is where we work out how to work the system, which takes time. The system is society; in Australia it’s a slightly conservative, western, libertarian society of personal responsibility within a number of clearly defined boundaries. These boundaries, do, however, shift over time. Speaking based on circumstantial evidence alone, there has never been a better time in human history (in the west) to be a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, or intersex person (and any variation thereof). There is more awareness, help and support available to the people who fall within these groups either biologically or mentally. The changes in the last 30 years for people have been great, and yet, as with everything human, there is always more to do.
I don’t believe 10 word answers, simple terms to describe complex things, can ever work in todays world. I don’t believe that redefining things that have terminology already attached is an answer unto itself.