"I sometimes think we sort too soon."
-Albus Dumbledore, “The Prince’s Tale,” Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Me, too, Dumbledore, me, too.
The other day at work a customer called me "sir" then "ma'am" then, frustrated, threw his hands up in the air and said "I don't know which." I turned beet red and said nothing; not my usual tack, but I was surprised; most customers just ask my name and figure it out. Why did this guy even have to say "sir" or "ma'am"? Habit? Well, who could blame him for that. Humans have been sorting people since we had the brainpower to make categories and with most people being born with either male or female genitalia (and most intersexed people having been surgically put in one category or another from birth), gender is one of our favorite ways to categorize. In today’s modern world, we have blue for boys, pink for girls, different bathrooms, different schools, clubs, sports teams, movie marketing schemes, you name it.
It is my personal, and probably highly un-scientific, belief that the evolution of society is part of the larger evolution of man. I believe that great changes in social practices that were created to support biological structures, down to the very art of courting, and also the acceptance of gay and trans people, mark a return to a simpler idea of sex and sexuality (and gender as it relates) that we still find all around the animal kingdom. The spectrum of accepted sexual behavior for animals is much greater than in humans. I believe this is reflected in human history, since there are many ancient societies that not only accepted, but revered transgenderism, as I may have mentioned in previous blogs. So right now, today, the society we have just happens to be slow to accept, but that doesn’t mean that these things are unnatural and unable to be accepted by humanity. We all have that ability inside of us.
One of factors that has certainly slowed the progress and acceptance of the queer community is the fact that there is much gender and sexuality sorting from a young age. The idea of gay teens has thankfully come to be much more accepted in the last decade. High schools have Gay/Straight Alliance clubs and shows like Degrassi and Skins feature young gay characters. But even on those shows, which love pushing the envelope, I’m still waiting for a trans character. I think that has something to do with the fact that society still hasn’t figured out what to do with transchildren. A little while ago, my boss asked my opinion on this very subject to which I responded that if my child was trans, it would be a complete non-issue. I told her that I was not sure if I was ever going to be a parent, but that if I did become one someday, I had already decided on giving them gender non-specific names and possibly using either an alternate pronoun or both pronouns off and on. I told her I understood that even in 15 years, this might make my children the weird kids at school, but that I hoped to imbue them with a personal strength that would transcend that. Also, they’ll be the kids with the trans parent, so that might be a fait accompli. She made no secret that she thought that was crazy, but there’s no way in heck I’d ever be able to sort children like I was sorted. I just couldn’t do that to another human being.
Which brings me back to Dumbledore. Commenting on Snape’s bravery, he wonders if eleven is too young to decide what house someone is best suited for. It’s true, Snape would have made a great Gryffindor. He had that potential. But he also showed a Hufflepuff’s loyalty to Lily and certainly had the intelligence and skill to be a Ravenclaw. The Sorting Hat thought Slytherin would benefit him most and arguably, it damned him in the end since it was his connection with his fellow Slytherins and his particularly Slytherin personality traits that led him down the path to becoming a Death Eater. It was only when he began to work to make up for the mistake that cost Lily her life that he truly became the greatest version of himself, the person Harry would later describe as the bravest man he’d ever met. Of course, unlike transchildren, Snape wanted to be where the Sorting Hat sent him, which of course brings up the point of sorting and categories in the first place. Yesterday I was watching a Season 2 episode of Kyle XY, one of my favorite current shows, and Kyle said something that got me thinking: “People try to tell us who we’re meant to be, but it’s up to us to decide if the label fits.” I can live with things being that way for transgendered people now and I can deal with how things have gone for me in my life, and I can even proudly say that I’ve been challenged by this reality in a way that has made me come to realize the measure of my own emotional strength, but as there is no reason that I can see for these structures and walls that only seem to divide humanity, I have to ask: Why do we sort at all?