“Acceptance is not love. You love a person because he or she has lovable traits, but you accept everybody just because they’re alive and human.” -Albert Ellis

In my experience as a human being, I’ve seen far too often what evils can come from judging people who are different from you and the groups you identify with. We’re all unique creatures, and we all will face many of the same challenges and fears in our lives, as Natalie Merchant reminds us in her rendition of the folk classic,

Poor Wayfaring Stranger.

I don’t have the right to speak for anyone other than myself, of course, but I have not only the right but also the responsibility to speak up for others, particularly if they can’t (or aren’t there to) speak up for themselves. I’m a weird guy in a lot of ways, but no one has the right to treat me like I’m less of a person because of those things. There’s a rich and wide variety of traits to be found among humanity, and we spend too much useless energy worrying if we’re normal, and being judged for not conforming to what we’re expected to be.

Image credit: Nutrition Education Services / Oregon Dairy Council.

Image credit: Nutrition Education Services / Oregon Dairy Council.

But we’re all worthy of love, and we all deserve the same rights and respect just for being human. “Normal” is a wide range of things, and just because we don’t fall into the most common group or groups doesn’t mean that we aren’t also normal! It’s been a while since it happened, but I’d like to share a story with you from my past. I was at work, and from across the way, I heard laughter. Loud, intense laughter, like someone who’d just discovered Louis C.K. for the first time.

Image credit: E3 Detroit.

Image credit: E3 Detroit.

But he hadn’t discovered Louie or any other comedian; he had been filling out a web form, and came to the section for gender. And the options on the form were “Male”, “Female”, and “Other”. And that’s what his laughter was about. That someone’s gender might be “other” instead of male or female.

A rush of memories flooded my head. The time I was at the Jacksonville airport, and an openly gay man was accosted by a passerby for no reason. Reading a physics poster at a conference and having the author — a trans woman — converse with me about their work. When a friend of mine confessed their bisexuality to me, asking me to keep it a secret because of fear of judgment. The girl I knew who was born intersex and had surgery performed on her as an infant to assign her a gender, but never felt like a girl on the inside. The young women I knew with hirsutism, who struggled with body issues and acceptance. And the former students I’ve lost track of who’ve thanked me for creating an environment where they felt comfortable being themselves.

Image credit: Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Image credit: Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

While those thoughts coursed through me, I heard the snickers of others close to him as he went on laughing about “other”. And I realized very quickly, if I didn’t say something to him — if I didn’t challenge his understanding of what “other” meant specifically in reference to gender and of what “normal” meant in general – no one would.

So I did. I asked him why “other” was so funny in the context of gender. I asked him what we should do with people whose gender identities don’t match the body parts they were born with. I asked him about (and had to convince him of the existence of) people born intersex, and whether they deserved to be treated differently from men or women by society, and by the law. I asked him about his own children, and what if his daughter someday came out and told him that she felt like she was in the body of the wrong gender?

Intersex advocate Claudia Astorino; image credit: Arielle Duhaime-Ross.

Intersex advocate Claudia Astorino; image credit: Arielle Duhaime-Ross.

It was a difficult, uncomfortable conversation for the both of us. At the end, I wasn’t sure that I had changed his mind on anything at all, but I was sure that he would think twice before expressing such a bigoted opinion publicly. (He never did in that workplace again, for whatever that’s worth.)

I have no right to speak for the trans community, and that’s not what this is about. This is about the fact that we all have a responsibility to speak up and tell this basic truth: that all people — regardless of their race, sex, sexual orientation, and any other physical trait — deserve to be treated with respect by society and our laws, are worthy of love, and should be free to figure out and be exactly who they are.

Image credit: retrieved from Marquette University Law School.

Image credit: retrieved from Marquette University Law School.

As our society struggles its way towards acceptance of gays and lesbians, remember that there are still plenty of human beings out there who are denied basic rights (including the right to go to the bathroom) for simply being true to themselves. No one should have to go through life worrying that they’ll face discrimination (or worse) simply for being who they are. There may be a whole bunch of things that I wish I’d done better in my life, but this is one that I know I’ve gotten right, and the more of you who stand up against bigoted behavior in all its forms will hasten the coming of a world where everyone can be exactly who they are.

And that’s something each and every one of us can do to take a small step towards increasing acceptance in this world.

Comments

  1. #1 GB
    April 7, 2013

    I get your point (and agree) that everyone should be accepted for who they are.

    However does there need to be a category for each possible permutation? Does there need to be a category for someone who is gay and in the wrong body? Are you straight if you are born male, are gay but also feel that you are in the wrong body (and therefore want to be female) and thus become a female who likes males…straight?

    How does “other” as a category help in this case unless “other” is defined. Even after it’s defined what is one supposed to do with that knowledge?

    I agree that everyone is different and that we should respect everyone. I just don’t see that having a category called “other” helps. And therefore one could find it humorous without the humor being directed at an individual.

    It’s the same with being pregnant…one either is or is not. One is either male or female…”other” doesn’t seem to apply when the question is “what sex are you”.

  2. #2 GB
    April 7, 2013

    I should add that perhaps it matters what the context was in which this question was asked.

    If it’s mental health related, or a medical issue or something relevant than perhaps it makes sense to have “other” as a category.

    In general, however, I would just wonder how this info would be used or why it would be needed.

  3. #3 Ray Hinde
    April 7, 2013

    It’s great to see a post like this on a blog that isn’t specifically on this topic.
    We’ve spent millions of years evolving a strong sense of tribe vs other and a few short thousands of years learning to overcome this.
    I think the introduction of other options for gender on web forms is important, even if only to raise awareness. Your country and mine (Australia) are at a very similar stage in introducing gay marriage equality, although your leader has openly endorsed it but regrettably ours hasn’t.

  4. #4 dean
    April 7, 2013

    what sex are you

    A big part of the confusion for many is that the meaning of `sex’ as referring to physical characteristics and `gender’ for behavioral and identifying mannerisms has been lost. In the majority of cases – note I said majority, not all – physically one is either male or female. One’s gender identification is not so simple.

  5. #5 Alfred Centauri
    April 7, 2013

    Ethan wrote: “But we’re all worthy of love, and we all deserve the same rights and respect just for being human.”

    GB comments: “I get your point (and agree) that everyone should be accepted for who they are.”

    Really? Hitler? Stalin? Pol Pot? [etc. etc. ...]

    No Ethan and GB, we’re not *all* worthy of love and acceptance. There are, have been, and will be, people that are genuinely not worthy of love, people that ought never be accepted for who they are.

    And, as human beings, we don’t *deserve* rights, we *have* rights, period. These source of human rights is our nature as volitional, rational beings. These rights are not *deserved* as they are, in fact, inalienable; these rights can only be infringed or respected by others.

    Yes, many humans are hated and/or their rights are infringed only because they are perceived as “different” or “weird” in some way and that’s just plain wrong.

    But, the claim that all humans are worthy of love and acceptance, regardless of their actions, regardless of their ideas, is also just plain wrong.

  6. #6 GB
    April 7, 2013

    AC, I don’t think this topic was started with Hitler in mind :)

    In any event, the respect with which we treat others has less to do with them and much to do with ourselves. As a society we would treat a criminal in prison with some respect as another human being.

    Love and acceptance would be another matter but that’s not what this topic was about (love and acceptance for Hitler).

  7. #7 Sinisa Lazarek
    April 8, 2013

    I hope this doesn’t get misunderstood. Agree with you Ethan on almost everything you wrote, but I just don’t understand “other” group in the form. Have nothing against homosexuals or transgenders, but “other” is just silly to me.
    Regardless of one’s sexual preference, you’re either male or female. There is no “other”. From a biological perspective there is no confusion.

  8. #8 Steve Morris
    UK
    April 8, 2013

    Alfred, if Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot don’t deserve love, then who else doesn’t? Where do you draw the line? Who draws the line?

  9. #9 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    Re: Steve; If they aren’t as human as anyone else, then you’re doing what they were doing to.

    Which is a fairly human thing.

    But also shows that they are human too.

  10. #10 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    “Have nothing against homosexuals or transgenders, but “other” is just silly to me.”

    Medical science has 25 categories of sexual identity. Straightforward male/female are two.

    (note: I used straightforward rather than straight since some of the sexuality of a genetically male or female engaging in homosexual acts may be due to a minor shift of biological imperative, since such spectra are continuous, not discrete, so straight wasn’t the word to use)

    Various forms of chimerism account for other classifications.

    And non-sexual too. only the species is inherently sexual, the individual is almost entirely absent the need: the average length of the descendent line for humans is five, IIRC. After that you have no direct descendents. About 125-150 years.

    Other is needed.

  11. #11 Sinisa Lazarek
    April 8, 2013

    @ Wow

    I have never before heard of 25 categories for gender in medical science. Care to elaborate?

  12. #12 Sinisa Lazarek
    April 8, 2013

    p.s. sexuality maybe, but talking about gender. Except for hermaphrodite, I can’t think of anything else.. what are those 22 categories? Can’t even find anything online

  13. #13 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    In the meantime, read through this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_differentiation

    And consider what would happen if hormonal signals were such as to create the brain structure of a woman-style brain in a body where there were genetic markers creating the testes.

    Since we can’t see brain structure, we’d call them male.

  14. #14 Sinisa Lazarek
    April 8, 2013

    Precisely,
    like I said before… have no problem with males wanting to be females or vice versa. And indeed if you feel like a man or woman, yet are “trapped” in opposite gender body, declare yourself as whichever gender you want. But it still leaves no more than 2 choices.

  15. #15 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    Note: I have a nephew who for the first two years of his life only had one testicle and has always, ever since he could talk, wanted and needed to play with dolls and wished to be a princess. He otherwise looks entirely like a boy.

  16. #16 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    “like I said before… have no problem with males wanting to be females or vice versa.”

    Irrelevant and a non-sequitur. You were asking why there needs to be “Other”.

    The reason for that is many people are not one or other. And they may not want to be male or female.

    “And indeed if you feel like a man or woman, yet are “trapped” in opposite gender body”

    Who is trapped? They are only “trapped in an opposite gender body” because people insist there is either male or female and NO OTHER.

    What if one half (the lateral chimerism) is female and the right half is male? Who is trapped in the body of the “other” gender?

  17. #17 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    It seems like my post which included a link to chimerism gender issues gets eaten by the spam filter Seems to be the website URL it doesn’t like, so patch these together:

    http://www.

    gender

    .org.uk/about/04embryo/43_comt1.htm

  18. #18 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    Further to #13: Since we can’t see brain structure, we’d call them male.

    The problem isn’t that they’re female.

    It’s that they’re not male, but we’d be shoe-horning them into a category of male when their brain isn’t wired to accept the expectations of that role.

    If we force them to change to female, they now have people shoe-horning them into a female role for which they have a hormonal disposition to act otherwise and therefore have to suppress their chemically induced emotions to fit the role or be ostracised.

  19. #19 Sinisa Lazarek
    April 8, 2013

    I guess that I’m looking at it from a different perspective. You are talking more about self expression and how they feel etc. Which is important and which is IMO what Ethan is talking about.

    I’m just saying that a form which one fills has “gender” just as a category… same as your address or phone number. It’s just paperwork. If you have two people with same name they can still be different gender. If you have a penis you tick “male”, if you have ovaries you tick “female”. If by some awfull mutation you have both or neither, that’s bad, but still doesn’t really warrant “other” category.
    All I’m saying that “gender” field in forms shouldn’t be overblown as having something to do with civil rights. Self expression is not at stake.

    Your nephew also has a right to declare himself as he wants. I’m sure he has an opinion if he sees himself as a guy or as a girl. He’s not “other” as far as gender. And Ethan’s examples are classic transgenders, which is again either way.
    We can agree to disagree, I just don’t see a point of “other” in gender terms :)

  20. #20 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    “I’m just saying that a form which one fills has “gender” just as a category… same as your address or phone number.”

    And there are more than two of both of them.

    “I’m sure he has an opinion if he sees himself as a guy or as a girl. He’s not “other” as far as gender.”

    Yes he is.

    You’re just continuing to insist there must be only two.

    But what is the gender of a pair of twins one male and one female?

    Both male?

    No.

    Both female?

    No.

    Neither male nor female?

    No.

    “Other”

    Yes.

  21. #21 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    “If you have two people with same name they can still be different gender.”

    So can one person with one body. Or siamese twins. Or twins extant. And we don’t demand that those two people with the same name must fill in one of male or female only for their shared gender.

    Because we accept that someone’s identity is solely defined by their name.

    So why do you insist their identity is solely defined by their gender, and if it isn’t one that you choose as acceptable, they must decide one or other?

  22. #22 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    Maybe you could come up with an answer to the query:

    In a lateral chimeric person is male on one side and female on the other,

    a) What gender are they?
    b) If they must choose one, why does the other half not exist?

  23. #23 Sinisa Lazarek
    April 8, 2013

    ““I’m sure he has an opinion if he sees himself as a guy or as a girl. He’s not “other” as far as gender.”
    Yes he is.”
    - that’s not your call to make, nor mine. It’s his. I asked if he had an opinion, not you. And since you call him “he” you consider him a male. Your not calling him “it”.

    “But what is the gender of a pair of twins one male and one female?”
    - exactly that. One male and one female. Or however THEY consider THEIR gender. Individuality. I do not know a single person that doesn’t know which gender they are. And that is bias, yes. But do you know a single person that for themselves doesn’t think of male or female, but considers themselves “something else”? This isn’t about how you would categorize them. It’s about what they think of themselves.

    “So why do you insist their identity is solely defined by their gender”
    - i didn’t say that nor do i mean that. not once was that a point or an issue.

    “In a lateral chimeric person is male on one side and female on the other,
    a) What gender are they? – if there are two brains, every individual is gender they feel they are. If chimeric effects are in organs/dna etc.. again, that individual is a gender which they feel they are. Again… if you have knowledge where the individual didn’t know, mentaly, what gender they are, please, i would like to know.

    “b) If they must choose one” again.. who they? if two heads one body… who sais the other half doesn’t exist? They are both male and female as individuals.. just stuck in same body below head. If it’s i.e. a male with some female parts, again.. if he himself feels a male then that’s what he is.. regardless if he has 3 tits.

    The bottom line is this. Are there people out there who think of themselves as “something else” in terms of gender?

  24. #24 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    - that’s not your call to make, nor mine. It’s his.

    Yet you won’t let him make that call. You say that he has to be male or female.

    “So why do you insist their identity is solely defined by their gender”
    - i didn’t say that nor do i mean that. not once was that a point or an issue.

    Yes you do, even if you don’t know you meant it. “Why must there be ‘other’?” is insisting that male or female defines them. There are no shades of grey.

    “In a lateral chimeric person is male on one side and female on the other,
    a) What gender are they?”

    if there are two brains, every individual is gender they feel they are.

    They are only allowed to feel one of the two choices YOU play to them.

    And way to not answer the question, dude.

    If chimeric effects are in organs/dna etc.. again, that individual is a gender which they feel they are.

    They have both forms of sexual organs.

    Still not answering the question.

    “b) If they must choose one” again.. who they? if two heads one body

    Go read the fucking link, you odious tit.

    Read up on what chimerism is. Google the fucking thing.

    Then when you’ve done that, answer the fucking question again without the monstrous assertion that this chimeric are some sort of Lovecraftian gestalt being.

  25. #25 Morgan
    April 8, 2013

    Sinisa Lazarek:

    The bottom line is this. Are there people out there who think of themselves as “something else” in terms of gender?

    Yes, there are.

    You seem to acknowledge that there are people who can’t be neatly classified as either male or female (though you seem to think this is automatically a bad thing – an “awful mutation” – where to those people it may simply be how they are), so why is it “silly” to have a category for them?

  26. #26 Sinisa Lazarek
    April 8, 2013

    sorry wow, but with a mouth like yours, this discussion ends. If you can’t argue without insults and swears.. your loss.

  27. #27 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    SL, you DESERVE being called a fuckwit.

    THIS
    http://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120902143048/en.futurama/images/8/8f/Dixie_Chicks.png
    isn’t chimerism.

    And I note that rather than find out what chimerism is, since it isn’t your multi-headed monstrosity, you decided to whimper about how bad you been done.

    Cry me a river, you pustule.

  28. #28 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    PS “my loss”? WTF? No, I’ve lost NOTHING worth missing if you decide that rather than investigate you’d prefer to whine and bitch about how bad you been treated.

    There was no “discussion” with you. You didn’t even bother thinking at any point along, you just went “well, I am completely OK with them choosing either male or female” WHEN THAT WASN’T THE FUCKING POINT OF THE ARTICLE!!!!

  29. #29 Wow
    April 8, 2013

    “You seem to acknowledge that there are people who can’t be neatly classified as either male or female”

    SL’s “solution” to this is to allow them to change themselves if they want to, but they must still choose either male or female.

  30. #30 Tony Rotz
    USA
    April 8, 2013

    Real Love is unconditional. Nothing else.

  31. [...] the weekend, the blogger at Starts With a  BANG wrote about acceptance and love. Ethan is a theoretical astrophysics/cosmology physicist who writes [...]

  32. #32 Angel Gabriel
    The book of nature understands the immense value of diversity.
    April 9, 2013

    Wow is correct.

    Sexuality is not a simple thing.

    Genetic “abnormality” is adaptive mutation “beyond the norm”. Thus the sexuality of fish, insects, hyenas, and humans are “beyond the norm” of one another because sexuality continues to evolve.

    The latin “abnormis sapien” means because man is wise by nature beyond the norm.

    Man is also sexual beyond the norm. The labels male and female are simply not enough from a phenotype, genetic, functional, behavioral and many other points of viewpoints for humans, or even animals and plants.

    Wow’s 25 sexual categories are not nearly enough:
    - XY male
    - XX female
    - “Sometimes this does not occur, and people with two X chromosomes can develop hormonally as a male, and people with an X and a Y can develop hormonally as a female”
    -YY salmon
    -XXY “About 1 in 1,000 people have some intersex condition — ambiguous genitals, internal sex organs that don’t match their external ones or an extra chromosome such as men with an XXY combination”
    - “the activity of a single gene, FOXL2, is all that prevents adult ovary cells turning into cells found in testes.”
    - “Protandry: Where an organism is born as a male, and then changes sex to a female.”
    - “Protogyny: Where the organism is born as a female, and then changes sex to a male.”
    - “Bidirectional Sex Changers: where an organism has both female and male gonads, but act as either female or male during different stages in life.”
    -”A simultaneous hermaphrodite is an adult organism that has both male and female sexual organs at the same time. Usually, self-fertilization does not occur.”
    - intersex: “hermaphroditism is not to be confused with intersex, as the former refers only to a specific phenotypical presentation of sex organs and latter to more complex combination of phenotypical and genotypical presentation, as well as social self-identification.”
    - ZW sex determination in birds
    -”the platypus has a ten-chromosome–based system, where the chromosomes form a multivalent chain in male meiosis, segregating into XXXXX-sperm and YYYYY-sperm, with XY-equivalent chromosomes at one end of this chain and the ZW-equivalent chromosomes at the other end.”
    - “parthenogenesis, the act of a female reproducing without fertilization.”
    - “The nematode C. elegans is male with one sex chromosome (X0); with a pair of chromosomes (XX) it is a hermaphrodite.”
    -”In some arthropods, sex is determined by infection, as when bacteria of the genus Wolbachia alter their sexuality; some species consist entirely of ZZ individuals, with sex determined by the presence of Wolbachia.”

    The book of nature understands the immense value of diversity.

  33. #33 Double Shelix
    April 9, 2013

    This was a wonderful essay, and i think you from the bottom of my heart. I have easily a dozen friends who identify as transgendered and several who see themselves as intersexed, and i myself have been frustrated by the binariness that Western society puts on apparent gender. Three or five has always made so much more sense to me, and i don’t consider myself to be particularly “abnormal” simply accepting that my way is not the only way, and neither is yours if it differs from mine.

  34. #34 Wow
    April 9, 2013

    I don’t think it’s possible to put the permutations on the census form. And if you put five on, then someone NOT on the list is now feeling *especially* excluded.

    Please indicate your sexual identification:
    Male O
    Female O
    Other O

    Seems to cover the requirements. POSSIBLY a “Do not wish to say” option. Depends WHY the question is on there.

  35. #35 Alfred Centauri
    April 9, 2013

    Tony Rotz wrote: “Real Love is unconditional. Nothing else.”

    Your notion of “real” love is, well, I actually can’t put it any better than the author of this quote:


    It is often said that true love is “unconditional,” or that “love is blind.” If this were true, falling in love would be akin to throwing darts, and we would simply happen upon certain people whom we loved for no reason whatsoever. And if love were unconditional, nothing they ever did, no matter how hurtful or evil, could make us abandon that love.

    … love is actually our response to those few people we meet toward whom we feel the highest respect, admiration, and attraction. It is not a blank check granted to random passersby, but instead the result of our careful examination and approval of another’s character. Granting unconditional love is like appraising a piece of property without examining its size, quality, or location: one is likely to grant unearned love to the unworthy and withhold love from those who deserve it most.

  36. #36 Richard Jorgensen
    United States
    April 9, 2013

    Thank you, Ethan. I read you for the science. Now I’ll continue to read you for the humanity. Dick Jorgensen, pastor, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

  37. #37 Tony Rotz
    April 11, 2013

    Real Love is unconditional, what Alfred calls love is really pride, nothing else, pride pretends to be Love but it is a false Love. Real Love is never blind, pride is. If you know the statement, ” There is a fine line between love and hate,” it is because pride and hate are both closely related.