You are currently browsing the archives for 10 February 2013.
Displaying 1 entry.

Who, what, and not just equality

  • Posted on February 10, 2013 at 12:57 pm

At the heart of so much inequality is the insistence that what we are matters more than who we are. A king is a king, no matter what their personality. A soldier, a leader, an engineer, all are wanted for what they are. They fulfil a role. And traditionally a woman has filled a role, a man has filled a role, and anyone feeling they were not what they appeared to be in this respect had no role. A wife had a role, a husband had a role, and similarly were wanted for what they were. You could be my husband because you are a man. You could never be my wife, because I am a woman.

It is much easier when we can know what we are by knowing what we are not. And to my mind, there was a lot of this behind the discussions of equal marriage. Why was it increasingly referred to and discussed as ‘gay marriage’ rather than ‘equal’? I think that many commentators, many politicians and journalists did not want it to be a matter of equality, because they do not regard people for who they are, but for what they are, and because they need reassurance of definitely not being ‘one of those’, themselves.

There is a lot I liked in null in the Commons this week. I really would commend its full reading to you, if you didn’t hear it. Even if you don’t particularly like him, because it contains a lot of common sense.

‘Let me speak frankly. “Separate but equal” is a fraud. “Separate but equal” is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus.’

In other words, you cannot do what I do, because you are not one of us. And if you are allowed to do what we do, you will inevitably change what we are too. We need separation! Never mind about me as a person or you as a person, think about what I am, what I represent, and what you are. ‘What’ matters more than ‘who’. And for the dogmatically ‘biblical’ (who interpret the bible so piecemeal and wrongly):

‘The Bible is complicated. But its enduring message is not that homosexuality is wrong, it is to “love thy neighbour”. It offers no caveats. “Love thy neighbour” whether they are black or white, rich or poor. “Love thy neighbour” whether they are short or tall, gay or straight, man or woman.

‘Love him, even if he used to be a she.

‘So how can we claim to love our neighbour if we do not allow them to love someone else in turn?’

Love has nothing to do with what you are, only to do with who you are. But the trouble is, we so easily define ourselves, find our security, but being something. We separate ourselves from criminals, because we do not wish to be associated with what they do. But that is also why prisons have revolving doors. We separate ourselves from the homeless because we would never take them in, and it is someone else’s job after all. We hope that someone else can see the person and meet their needs, but to us they are something we dare not get too close to. Politicians of a certain colour have been inclined to regard people without sufficient employment income as skivers, shirkers and work-shy, despite the many interviews with struggling individuals who cannot get out of their situation. The politicians never have to deal with the ‘who’ behind the ‘what’.

I am troubled by an NHS that, as far as I can see, treats my son’s condition as a thing, to see once in a while and ponder over, rather than seeing him as a person with something preventing him from finding work, having a meaningful life, and getting started on earning his pension fairly and equally with his peers. He needs care, not his condition.

Maybe you separate yourself from gay and lesbian people, because it reaffirms what you are, and you might be questioned by association. If you are gay or lesbian, you are likely to be defined as something in priority over who you are. And for many people I will not be me primarily, but ‘the woman who used to be a man’, classified by what before who.

And ‘what’ matters so much … I didn’t lose my daughter, wife, home, family, cousin, aunt because of who I am, but because they feel ‘I can’t be properly what I am if you are going to be one of those.’ (i.e. a woman, let alone a transwoman) Yes; in the most important ways, the ways that matter most to me, what I am really does trump who I am.

But then I recall 20 years ago thinking desperately that my sole role in life was in terms of what I could do, rather than being appreciated for myself. I even wrote poetry about it in a splurge of desperate creativity, likening myself to a stone cairn on a mountain track, where what was placed on me defined me and gave people their position, but wishing people would instead take a stone with them and value a part of me.

So what is love? I leave you with this from Iris Murdoch:

‘Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.’

I just want someone to love me, fully, for who I am, not for my gender to be the first and most important question to be asked in order to give me legitimacy. Am I real? Touch me, I dare you …