The October Country is a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury, and one of my favorite books. It contains strange and fantastic tales of regular and not-so-regular people. The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse is a story about a man who wishes he was extraordinary. He fantasizes about how popular he would be if he traded in some of his body parts for more interesting pieces. He imagines himself with an artfully painted poker chip for an eye, a prosthetic hand that dispenses drinks and a prosthetic leg made from a bird-cage that houses a live bird.
I was inspired to share this story after reading a friend’s blog post about the cultural shift that is taking place around gender identity. It seems George Garvey (the main character of the aforementioned story) would be in good company in today’s society. Currently, it looks as though there are no lengths too great to achieve the perfect body. If you’re not happy with any of your parts, you can trade them in for new ones or have them made from scratch. You can change your name, your sex, your entire identity if you like.
But any movement that seems hugely popular, almost “catching,” gives me pause. Why the rush to change everything? And to what end? Are we teaching our children that if they’re unhappy with any part of themselves they should just change it? It almost seems like our culture of acceptance is turning out to be exactly the opposite. Do we need to physically alter our bodies to become accepted or do we need to work on accepting people the way they are? Are our gender roles so rigid that we must change ourselves to fit into them?
Let’s not forget, WE CREATED THE CONCEPT OF GENDER. Words and ideas like “male” and “female” are symbols that we use to represent ourselves–they are made to fit us, not the other way around. If you find that the concept of “female” or “feminine” doesn’t suit you, then change the meaning of the word, change your mind, change other people’s minds before you start hacking away at your body. Words don’t define us, we define words.
One of the reasons I came to love my name is because it fits me. It encompasses everything I am–it always has and it always will. I’ve been a size 14 and a size 4; I’ve had hair down past my shoulders and buzzed short; I wear dresses, pants, lots of makeup, none at all. I’m female, Mexican and white, I have red hair, birthmarks, freckles, I tan and burn. When I approached 30, my body started doing things I never expected and it’s still changing! Luckily, the meaning of my name expands to encapsulate all those changes and it’s going to keep doing so the rest of my life.
In short, let’s question the need to change our bodies, whatever the reason. And let’s challenge language and how it affects us. Let’s also question what’s popular and why and whether or not it’s benefiting us personally and society at large. That’s it. 🙂