On Episode #2 of Twenty Somethings, we talked with the incredible Jesse James Keitel. Jesse is an actor and drag artist, and considers themselves to be of a gender that is non-binary - this means Jesse does not consider themselves either male or female. Much of the conversation we had with Jesse focused around the current political climate centered around gender and sexuality discussions, which, unfortunately, reflects the temperature of the overall political climate in this country and around the world. You are either on one side of the aisle, or you are on the other - there doesn’t seem to be an in-between.
One of the big issues surrounding gender is the idea of “gender inclusion”. As Jesse pointed out, those who do not see themselves fitting into the binary gender categories of “male” or “female” are often cast out of society, and sometimes physically, mentally, and emotionally abused just because of the way they dressed, or the makeup they decide to don. They are often called by the wrong gender pronoun - low-life bosses at workplaces calling them “he” or “she”, while being repeatedly told that they would appreciate it if they were called by their self-assigned pronoun. This issue in particular calls a very important question to the table - one that has been discussed, thrown out, rediscussed, raised up, shut down, run through the garbage disposal, wrung out, pieced back together, and discussed again; Should it be illegal to call someone something they don’t want to be called? On the flipside, should it be illegal to not call someone something that they do want to be called?
Let me start with this - in my opinion, if you’re the boss of a construction company, and an employee states that from now on, they are to be referred to as “they” and not “he”, and you continue to purposely call them “he”, you’re just an a**hole. Plain and simple. A slip-up here and there isn’t an issue - we all make mistakes, and getting used to a societal change like this is for sure going to take time and patience from both sides. But on purpose? For a sh** and a giggle? Yeah, you suck.
BUT - should something like this be put into law? Should we make it illegal? Should you be thrown in jail for your choice of language? What if someone wants to be called something ridiculous - a “unicorn”, or “anonymous”, or even a racial or derogatory slur? Where do we draw the line?
The line needs to be drawn at the very beginning of the argument, in my opinion. At this moment in time, I am not going to be thrown in jail for calling my girlfriend a “guy”. Would she break up with me? Of course. Should she? Of course. But that's probably where that debacle ends. There’s no law that she can then call the cops, complain that I harassed her with my words, and I subsequently am in a 6x6 metal cage 2 hours later.
So, in terms of laws, they need to be equal for everyone. The argument shan’t be made that, “well, your girlfriend isn’t going through emotional distraught from you calling her a ‘guy’, whereas a non-binary person will take that very heavily”. That may in fact be true. But in terms of the law, that isn’t up for opinion. Both situations must be treated equally, otherwise we run the risk of grave consequences in terms of free speech.
Think about it this way - if there was a law saying it was illegal to not call someone by their self-assigned pronoun, I could walk around Times Square yelling that I’m a unicorn, and ask people to refer to me as such. If they didn’t, or if they refused, I could then call the cops on them…? Does that seem right? To me it doesn’t.
This isn’t to say that transgender people shouldn’t have protections. Of course they should. Legitimate harassment at any level should be taken very seriously, and the harasser should be persecuted for their actions. But, a game of words shouldn’t be the straw that breaks the camel's back. As a collective society, we need to grow a bit more of a thick skin (referred to in the podcast so eloquently as ‘balls’), and realize people will have their opinions about us and we can’t do much to change that.
I think about something that my mother used to say to me, when I was getting picked on in grade school for the rat tail that hung halfway down my back (no joke). She would tell me to ignore those that treat me wrong with their words, because they are looking for a visceral and emotional response. They are looking for their victim to get upset. When that happens, they’ve won. It may seem hard, but next time someone says something mean to you on the street, calls you a name, or doesn’t call you the name you want, just smile, wave, and ignore them. The lack of a “triggered” response will leave them sitting in a pile of their own word-vomit, triggered themselves.
Keith Vartanian / Co-host of Twenty Somethings Podcast