The politics of gender have come to this: two letters, M and W, on restroom doors. Two letters that cannot begin to encompass the varieties of gender identification that we in the 21st century have learned to recognize and accept.
M and W were perfectly sufficient as long as our gender categories were limited to heterosexuals, lesbians, and gays. But then we learned that there were many more categories, included in acronyms like LGBTQQ2IA, where T is Transsexual, QQ is Queer and Questioning, 2 is Two-spirited, I is Intersexual, and A is Asexual.
We have learned, furthermore, that anatomy need not be destiny as far as gender is concerned. Individuals have the right to determine their own gender identity, and they can change it as often as they wish.
Not so long ago, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” seemed a considerable advance in open-mindedness toward acceptance by our society of those who were not heterosexual. Before long, however, we left that small step far behind, advancing in open-mindedness to today’s “Do ask, do tell” attitude to gender variety.
We have learned not to impose our own categories on individuals, but to ask them how they prefer to be viewed and addressed. And we have also learned that identification is fluid; an L today might be a B tomorrow. You have to ask.
Here is how self-identification worked recently at a county fair in a small Midwestern town. A heterosexual blonde in her late 20s sat in the grandstand amid a profusion of Daisy Duke shorts and cowboy boots, suffering through a concert by a singer who had tighter jeans than she had ever seen on a man. It was a typical country-music concert, with songs about white-tail deer, pickup trucks, fishing, and dirt roads.
The young woman had had a few Coors Lights, and the concert was less than thrilling, so she decided to find the restrooms. When she got there, she saw 10 women waiting in front of the door labeled W, but no one waiting for M. Inside the W restroom, she knew, the women would be unhurriedly checking their makeup, chatting, and taking selfies.
So she entered the door labeled M instead and locked it behind her.
When she was finished and opened the door, she found a man who said, “You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Are you really complaining about running into a cute girl in the men’s bathroom?” she asked, and walked away without looking back.
In this case, she explained later, her answer to the question “How do you self-identify today?” was, “I identify with a short line.”