This post is part of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge, where I am challenging myself to reflect on other A to Z posts that I come across.
Our world is impossibly complex and often quite dangerous, it helps to have a system that can quickly process what kind of thing you are looking at and react appropriately. Categorization helps us make sense of a world where quick decisions have to be made, and a large amount of information has to be processed. It’s also a pretty reliable system for helping us get through situations that we may have not faced by providing a reference and a good guess. If you’ve seen a brown bear, you’ll have some idea of how to respond to a polar bear. If you’ve seen a mountain lion, you know that a tiger is dangerous. …
We have labels for what a man is supposed to be, what a woman is supposed to look like, how black people behave, what jobs a 60-year-old is capable of learning, what opportunities a poor person deserves, whether or not Muslims can be Americans. Our labels and categories help us understand our world, but they also put limits on it too. We aren’t good at seeing the shades, the subtlety, or continuity. We aren’t good at seeing the variation between two individual examples of a thing.
Kinds, Zen & Pi
I was reading Lisa’s post, quoted above, and it makes sense. Evolution has prepped us to categorize things on the fly, and in modern society that doesn’t always work well.
One thing people aren’t always good at recognizing is sexual orientation. Bisexuals and pansexuals get the brunt of this because, regardless of who they’re with, at first glance there are parts of their orientation that are always going to be invisible. Couples with one or more trans person might, on the surface pass as heterosexual, erasing their queerness, or if the trans person(s) doesn’t “pass” to the viewer’s standards then there’s several kinds of erasure there too. If someone says “partner” and the listener assumes that automatically means a same sex relationship — which could be true, and/or it could mean that the couple prefers the word as an acknowledgement that they are both equals in the relationship.
Everyone wants to be seen as more than just a first impression, as more than just a bookcover to be judged by. We may not be wired that way but we can, by virtue of self-awareness, train our brains to do more than just what evolution wired us for. We’re a social species, and we can adapt.
We can ask what pronouns people use.
Parents can ask their kids what synonym for “partner” they’d prefer used in the family holiday letter.
Before you hug someone, you can ask if they’re cool with hugs because, for example, someone with OCD might spend the rest of the day quietly but frantically going over and over and over it in their head for the rest of the day.
You can’t just see these kinds of things. Sometimes, you really just have to ask.