From Ten Thousand Words by the Avett Brothers
But their good times come with prices
And I can’t believe it when I hear the jokes they make
At anyone’s expense except their own
Would they laugh if they knew who paid?
. . .
And they’ll be quick to point out our shortcomings
And how the experts all have had their doubts
Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about
As I read the articles for this week, I was overwhelmed by the power of words — yet again. And yet, they are just sounds glued together. These groupings of sounds are significant, however, because they form audible symbols that can be visually represented by images, objects, and sets of symbols that represent the sounds or words. Our worlds and our relationships are represented by symbols and invested with meanings and interpretations that facilitate communication and understanding within our cultural systems and societies. We would like these symbols, these words, to be stable. We want that which is symbolized to be reliable and consistent. We want the One Truth to be always the same, something we can trust, something we can stray from and return to since it will always be there. As language emerged as a system of symbolic representations, we wanted that system to be stable, regardless of variations, and to always point to the unchanging ultimate realities of meaning as understood in our own cultural contexts. Unfortunately, that is not the way it is. Language turned out to be a living breathing entity, always growing, always changing to meet the needs of societies and cultures that are also always living, breathing, and changing. This has proved quite troublesome in Western thought where the concept of binaries or dichotomies frame perceptions and interpretations. This becomes painfully apparent when we think about sex and gender, identity, and the various terms that have been and are used relating to these.
Sarah Kennedy relates an experience. Another person felt inclined to call her gay. Why did this person have that right to use that word? Did the word really apply? Why was it and either you are or you are not? Why did a member of the gay community feel inclined to define Kennedy outside of the box labeled gay? And exactly what does the word mean or imply anyway?
As I read the article by Riki Wilchins, I felt like I was having a conversation with my brother. Wilchin’s sense of humour and language usage are so similar to the way my brother expressed himself. The feeling of my brothers presence in the conversation was particularly enhanced in the way that Mat Keiley wrote his blog post “Chaz Bono on TV: Explaining Heterosexual Dancing to the Children.” It all made me wish that I could have another conversation with my brother, but since cancer killed him on his sixtieth birthday after a long battle, that would be difficult. He was born ten years, seventeen days, twelve hours and five minutes before I was.
Since he raised me until he left for UC Berkeley and we stayed very close after that, it would be normal for me, if he were still here, to drum up a conversation with him about our readings in gender studies. Actually, I think he would have called me after reading this set. The conversation would probably start out (and I can’t even begin to duplicate his ability to turn the language upon itself or his exquisite sense of humour) something like this:
“Greetings Mouse. Thanks for sending those readings you are doing in class. I just came up with the most brilliant idea, though I expect you already know. We are both the same gender!”
My response would be something like, “Oh my god, you’re right! We both play chess! But why did we always think that you are a boy and I am a girl?”
The rest of the conversation would be like a ping pong game until we ended up laughing too hard to be able to breath and talk. Comments included: (B=Brother, M=me)
B: Mom told me. I woulda noticed when I changed your diaper anyway.
M: Well, you have a distinct appendages dangling between your legs. Not quite constructed the same as me. Guess it doesn’t matter. Long hair, short hair, attached or unattached ear lobes. Penis, vagina. Whatever.
M: My baby room was all sorts of pastel colors — blue, yellow, green, a little pink. I must have been neutral.
B: You wore my blue baby sweater. You are a boy!
M: My bedroom when I was in high school was very pink. I am a girl! You played violin and told me the stories of operas. You are a girl!
B: You played with trains and blocks and Lincoln logs and wanted to be a cowboy more than anything. You even learned to spin your toy pistols and were pretty good with a lariat. You are obviously a boy.
M: Annie Oakley was a girl. You never played any sports. You hated football, You are a girl.
B: You only played with boys. You even wore your sailor hat to bed — and you hated dolls. You are a boy.
M: After you came out, you took me to El Capitan to oogle the guys there, I was the only one who looked like a girl in there. It was fun to see if we thought the same guy was hot or not. And there was that time when we were on a photo shoot together that you got mad at me for interrupting your approach to a really hot guy at the beach. Didn’t even strike me as strange that we were miffed at each other over the same guy. But, you are a girl.
M: When high school class rank was announced, do you remember that my two best friends’ mothers would not let their daughters associate with me anymore? Jeez– they thought that I was supposed to be a boy! They said, “Girls aren’t supposed to be smart.” Just cuz I was the only girl who took physics — jeez.
M: You hold your little finger out when you drink hot tea! You are a lady!
B: You ignored it when I came out. You shoulda acted shocked or something.
M: Why — what does gender have to do with us? We think pretty much the same — share tons of interests. ———————Besides, you came up with it! We must be the same gender! So what do we call us?
B: Brosters. Too fowl. Sothers? Pronouns? mmmm Herm? oh — got it — we are Hermsters!
Of course, the back and forth may have been a bit more personal, and we both know that I am happy being a girl and he was happy being who he perceived himself to be. And that none of that really mattered to our relationship. We were the best of friends. Gender and sexuality were a common topics between us because it was such an intriguing topic and there were so many what ifs and whys as nothing was/is set in stone. The discussions we had showed has unstable language and meanings can be and as a result how powerful and hurtful words con be.
That is why the song is first in this post: 10,000 words. Too many hurtful words. Too many people who love to talk about things they do not understand, they ways of people they do not understand.