Friday, June 01, 2012

The Wrongful Hearth of Identity

(With many belated thanks to Carl Sagan, whose poetic visions of scientific endeavor still sing to me in my dreams.)

We treat genitals as if they are extraordinary. Sometimes we approach them with religious awe; at other times, we shun them as if from them all evils flow. But what makes genitals so magic that we grant them such power?

The genitals, in essence, are an intricate complex of glands and organs--but there are other complexes of glands and organs far more intricate, like the brain or the gastrointestinal tract. The genitals create hormones necessary to the regulation of life and growth in animals, with profound impact on moods--but so do the hypothalamus and thyroid glands, among others. The genitals include specialized glands for producing fluid--but the liver and pancreas do likewise. The gentials produce specialized cells capable of independent, albeit short-lived, existence outside of their origins, and can be frozen, thawed out, and returned to its original purpose--but bone marrow does this as well, and in even greater quantities. The genitals rest, by happy accident, at a dense juncture of nerves, bringing possibilities of pleasure through manipulation--but so does the neck and shoulders, which also respond happily to caresses and nibbles.

But we humans add one more characteristic to genitalia that do not exist, as far as we know, in any other species. We assign them meaning--specifically, social meaning. While we generally don't see genitalia aside our own with great regularity, we imbue the genitals, and the effects that come from them, with great significance in our everyday lives. To them we attribute identities, roles, and dogmas that do not take into account any other capacity of the person. We mold our expectations based on our assumptions of what's between our legs. And we expect others to meet those expectations, no matter how ill-suited.

We over-generalize when it comes to the genitals. For such a complexity of organs, we presume such simplicity in its variations, an either-or dichotomy that fails to acknowlege that complexity by its nature bears forth variability. Our dogmas prevent us from recognizing, as we do with other organs, that each person has a different stasis--that what is ideal for one person may not work so well for others. Our tasks, then, if we are seeking truth, is to embrace the variations that rigidity of thought insists isn't there--but which scientific endeavor tells us are there all the same. Just as our souls were once falsely enshrined in the heart, so our identities' hearth kept without reason in the genitalia.

If we are to be free, we must begin to challenge the ancient notions of only two sexes, two genders, created directly by the hands of God. We must allow for a multiplicity of genders, unmoored from unquestioned assumptions. We must embrace facts of existence that religious leaders have previously considered heresy or blasphemy: Your genitals do not make you who you are. The only organ that can do that is in your head. In that organ, the brain, lies everything that gives people their personality, their sociability, the meaning of symbols, and the ability to deduce facts from unambiguous evidence. And here also lies the very notions of sex and gender which we must put to the test, and if found wanting, discard for better notions that conform to facts. Our brains is where our sense of self and identity lie--and where we must challenge dogmas contrary to that sense. 

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