between knowing better and doing better, there are fuckups
I’m super jealous of my kids sometimes.
Like every single night when I tuck them into bed. And every time I give them all the organic raspberries to eat. And when I tell them to GO READ A BOOK IN THE COMFY CHAIR FOR HALF AN HOUR so I can finish vacuuming out the lint trap in the dryer because someone posted an article about deadly house fires.
And when I see the way that they unquestioningly accept progressive concepts that still trip me up, much to my horror. Ah, youth.
Confession: They-as-singular is really hard for me to execute seamlessly.
I know that’s the wrong answer. I’m embarrassed to say it out loud, much less type it here. I imagine someday sitting in front of Stephen Colbert in a fabulous bodycon dress and a wavy blowout (#JenniferLawrenceGoals) and he’s like, “So let’s look back on some of the things you’ve written,” and I’m like “Who me?” And I blush and readjust in my chair, and then I’m like, “Should I do it?” to the audience and they’re like AAAAAAAAHH and then I’m like “OK! Let’s do it!” and kick off my killer pumps and tuck my legs under myself in the chair and the audience is like AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH and Stephen’s first card says, “They-as-singular is really hard for me. - Katie Anthony” and the crowd’s like
Sometimes I cheat.
Sometimes, to make it easier for my brain to think of a single person as a “they,” I imagine that there are multiple individuals at a control panel inside the brain of that person. It’s basically an Inside Out situation except instead of feelings, each individual within the brain lives in a different spot on the gender-sexuality spectrum: butch, femme, leather daddy, twink, repressed neighbor a la Chris Cooper in American Beauty… It’s Mardi Gras in there, y’all!
I’m aware that I need to do better, ASAP. I feel a sense of urgency to grow, and that’s a good thing, right?
As they say, when you know better, do better.
But there’s a phase between knowing better and doing better that you don’t always hear discussed: the “fuck up” phase.
The phase that comes after “knowing better” but before you can actually “do better” is excruciating and thanks to fucking Albert Einstein and the relative universe, it feels like it lasts forever. I’m cursed with awareness of how badly I’ve been fucking this gender thing up my whole life, but I am not yet blessed with trustworthy instincts to steer me away from yet another slow-motion fuckup with casualties, one that was totally preventable in hindsight.
I still default to the assumption that gender is an important element of a person’s identity, I think because my femaleness is a big, beloved part of my own identity and it informs how I have viewed the world. I feel unmoored when I think about viewing the world through a lens that isn’t male or female, which I fully acknowledge is old-school and arbitrary (#OldAssBrain) and within my power to change.
Gender doesn’t really exist, people, and if you want to debate me on that you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet me @WelcometoThe21stCenturyYaDustyBiscuit. I’m also on Instagram at @Guys&Dolls&Tits&BallsLetsCallTheWholeThingOff.
If it were possible to do that work privately, intimately, then this blog post would be a journal entry and another step forward on my journey. But it’s not really possible to learn inclusion by yourself. And after I hear the stories of people who have been excluded and wounded their whole lives, I feel a sense of urgency to do better, right now, immediately, even though I don’t know how yet, just go. GO TO THEM. RUN!
My eagerness to include people outpaces my ability to safely include them.
It reminds me of the way my 4yo Buster sometimes hugs his brother, not unlike a lioness of the Kalahari.
Yes, I am hungry to do better, already.
I am so goddamn starving to make sure every person knows I love them just the way they are that I might, you know, whoopsies, forget to retract my claws before I pounce on the unsuspecting object of my affections and drag them into my loving-slash-fatal embrace. I will scream into their faces, “WHAT IS YOUR PREFERRED PRONOUN,” as they try to scramble away from me, but I will sink my claws in deeper and never let them go because I ACCEPT THEM SO MUCH. “USE ANY BATHROOM YOU WANT I’LL GO WITH YOU TO HELP YOU FEEL SAFE” I will howl as they bleed out in my arms. But I was just trying to… well, shit.
So I’m jealous of my kids, for whom I can work to build a better foundation without having to first tear down 30+ years of brick-and-mortar binary malarkey. Check out this car talk with Chicken the other day:
Chicken: I met a new friend at school!
Me: Cool! What’s his… her… the new friend’s name?
Me (don’t do it Katie, don’t do it, don’t ask, don’t to it): Is Finley a boy or a girl?
Chicken: Why did you ask if Finley is a boy or a girl?
Me (because I’m a dinosaur ): I’m just curious!
Chicken: It doesn’t really matter.
Me (chastened, taking notes): You’re so right, babe. It really doesn’t.
Chicken: Besides, Finley is a fish.
Well played, Chicken. Well played indeed. If you’ve just been owned by a 6-year-old on sexual politics, you can limp off to bed comforted that at least you’re doing one thing right.
All this to say, I’m deep in the work of expanding what my idea of gender is. I already know that the right answer is “a construct” even as I unconsciously wonder “what” Miley Cyrus is and then loudly correct myself, “Miley Cyrus is genderfluid, Miley has told you that, that’s the answer, stop waiting for Miley to finish the sentence with ‘basically a tomboy’ because that lifeboat is never, ever going to hit the water. Sink or swim, Katie. This is a fucking ancient ocean and it has always been this wide and deep.”
They-as-singular isn’t hard for me because of some grammar hangup. It’s hard because I’m in the habit of sorting people into safe and dangerous, categories that I should at this point be able to see for what they are: fraudulently marked interconnected pools through which all the fish pass freely, in which, depending on the crowd, sometimes you are dining, and sometimes you are dinner.
The truth is that every person contains multitudes (I totally just came up with that myself, totally not Walt Whitman).
They is singular. It has taken time for me to arrive there. I’m working on it.
The truth is that the part of my identity I call my femaleness could also be called my tenacity, my creativity, my ability to multi-task and think systemically, my aesthetic preference for luxurious textures and sumptuous bath products, my appreciation for functional relationships with other people who viciously side-eye James Franco and love linen sheets. Oh, and boobs. When you think about it, though, none of those things really has to do with femaleness, unless the boss tells you that they are, and you learn to use “female” as a shorthand for the parts of you that you have to defend most vigilantly.
I’ve said it before: no matter how long a person has been “woke” they’ve been asleep for longer. No matter how long I have been learning anti-racism, I’ve been participating in racism longer. And no matter how long I’ve been working to include all genders in my idea of humanity, I’ve been steeped in this binary world for longer, and it takes time in the fuckup phase before my normal will really, truly shift.
Between knowing better and doing better, there will always be fuckups. Keep learning, keep trying, and for God’s sake don’t murder the people you’re trying to love, ya goll-dang grassland cat.
You’ve got claws. Be careful.