Monday, February 13, 2023

Public Behavior

When you go out in public, you are expected to adhere to certain standards - or were, anyway.

We don't leave the house as much as we used to.  Blame CoVid, blame getting old, blame trends in modern society.   But when we do leave, we often put on clothes we don't usually wear around the house.  We shave and "clean up" to look "presentable" because that is what one does.

When you go out in public, you don't want to draw attention to yourself or appear odd or different.  You don't want to intentionally offend others with your appearance or actions.  Well, that is the standard we used to have, anyway.

I don't like to shave - nor am I prepared to grow a beard.  So I shave, particularly when we go out, to be "presentable".  I don't like it, but I do it.  I don't want to look like Steve Bannon or some drug addict or homeless person.  I want to look presentable and normal and not draw undue attention to myself.

Of course, what is, and is not, "presentable" has changed over time.  Back in the day, people wore more elaborate costumes that covered most of the body - modesty was the name of the game.  Over the years, clothing styles changed and became less modest.  Women's clothing in particular exposed more flesh, which might have been unacceptable in the early 1900's but was more the norm by mid-century.   Now, granted, as new styles appeared, many were controversial at first.  The "mini-skirt" caused a lot of controversy when it first appeared, but oddly enough went back out of style over time.   On the beach, swimsuits got smaller and smaller - and then inexplicably bigger again.  Today, women can wear a thong but men rarely appear in a speedo.

Although such swimwear might be acceptable at the beach, if you show up at work in a thong or shirtless, wearing baggy "board shorts" you probably would be fired.   What is acceptable at one venue is verboten at another.

Well, except of course, Walmart.  Apparently anything goes, there.

But Walmart illustrates the issue.  People make fun of folks inappropriately dressed at Walmart simply because they are deviating from social norms.  Also a lot of what you see there is ugly to look at, disturbing, or unsettling.

The same is true for people who "open carry" in stores and shops.  Are they expecting a shootout?  It makes other people feel uneasy and on edge.   And that is why, in the past, people didn't walk around with guns on their belts, except in the old West.

Maybe that is the whole point of social norms - to put people at ease.  And this goes back to our caveman days - as I noted before.  Back then, you could tell if someone was of another tribe or familial group by the way they talked, the clothing they wore, and yes, the color of their skin.  That is why racism is so hard to fight - we are programmed from eons of experience, to distrust those who are "different" from us.  It is piece of hard-wired programming that is hard to fight.

So people try to "fit in" in our society, with our hair styles, clothing, accents, and mannerisms.  It is a very natural thing to do.  And we gawk at someone who is "different" or, if in junior high school, we bully them for being different.  It's wrong of course, but it is also a sad part of human nature.  The solution is to make bullies accountable for their actions.  Trying to get bullies to be "friends" with the bullied - as some well-intentioned know-nothings try to do - is doomed to failure.

This is not to say we should all be conformists or clones.  Indeed, it is the outliers who set the stage for new styles and habits.  Those shorter skirts didn't appear overnight, and the "early adopters" got a lot of harassment - or even arrested - for their efforts.  It pays to be on the leading edge of the herd - where the grass is fresh and green and not pooped upon - although don't expect any accolades.

When I was in high school, I wore the "hippie" costume of my older brother and sister - blue jeans, work shirts, work boots, long hair - what today would be considered the costume of a Trump supporter.  Sounds pretty innocuous, but back then (1972) kids at my school wore "nice" clothes - slacks and dress shirts and dress shoes.  I got a lot of flack for being "different" but by the time I graduated, most of the kids were dressing the same way I was, five years earlier, as by then, it had become a style.  Kind of funny in many respects - why did I seek out approbation by trying to be different?  Why did the kids feel they needed to strike out (literally) at me?  And why did they fail to see the irony in adopting that style later on?  Beats me on all three counts.

The trailing edge of the herd is far less attractive and just as dangerous in terms of being predated by wolves.  When Mennonite women go to Walmart, with their long flowery dresses from 1908 and "coffee filter" hats, well, people gawk and stare because they are different.  Same shit, different day.  Then again, you go to a Mennonite picnic wearing a miniskirt you will be asked to leave.   You are not of the tribe.  That's the point of the costume - beyond mere modesty.

This conformity to societal norms extends to language as well.  I noted before that George Carlin (who, in retrospect, wasn't really as smart and clever as we thought at the time, and just a wee bit narcissistic!) didn't do us any favors with his "seven dirty words" bit.  50 years later and kindergarten kids are saying these words - is this progress?  He moved the ball down the field to the point where all sorts of obscenity and bad words are the norm.  He made it possible for people today to say racist and antisemitic things out loud, in the name of "free speech."    Gee, thanks George!

But even today, if you go out to a restaurant or store, you are expected not to let loose with a string of obscenities.  Most places will ask you to leave.  Similarly, at least in the not-so-distant past, it wasn't considered acceptable to stage a Tick-Tock "prank" in public places on unsuspecting people, nor to film your spastic Tick-Tock dances in the middle of a store.   For most people, these things are still deemed unacceptable. But few want to do anything about it.

A lot of hate lately has been heaped on the "transgender" people.  The ones I have met and known usually want to be left the hell alone.  The ones who pull it off (M=>F) really well, you would never know were "trans" as they appear more womanly than most women.   But there are the ones who look like "a guy in a dress" with poorly applied makeup and a frazzled wig that makes Phyllis Diller look glamorous.  They are, sad to say, disturbing to look at

At work or school, there is also the issue of someone arriving one day in a different gender mode than before, which can be a bit jarring.  Some people are very accepting of this, as they are able to overcome any inherent discomfort they may have.  On the other hand, others may be a bit freaked out by it and are called "transphobes."

The logic advanced by some trans folks is that this is who they are, and we have to accept it.  They cannot wear pants at work or "present" as male, for example, without having some sort of mental breakdown.  Some argue they would be forced to kill themselves if not allowed to appear in the clothing of the opposite gender or if not allowed to have a sex-change paid for by insurance money or the government.   That sort of argument rankles me, as it smacks of hostage-taking.

It reminds me of this scene from Blazing Saddles...

While I support your right to be left the hell alone, I am not sure I support the right to force other people to "accept" you.  Maybe this is a trend in our society, where people wear what they want to wear in public - pajamas on airplanes, shorts and t-shirts at work,and "yoga pants" just about anywhere.  We have changed over time, and people are more free to express themselves through clothing, hair styles, tattoos, nail extensions, or whatever.  Maybe this gender-bender thing is the next step.

Speaking of which, one of the more disturbing aspect of this are literal "gender-benders" who wear women's clothing and makeup, but sport a full Al-Qaeda beard and hairy legs at the same time.  I am not sure I understand this, outside of a costume party, as it is not an attractive look for anyone.  But maybe that is the point - to attract attention.

I'm not saying we need to go back to the days when there were actually laws on the books against appearing in the clothing of the opposite sex, only that it does make people uncomfortable if  you appear in some sort of costume, particularly if you do it badly.

I have a fear - as most people do - of clowns or anyone in heavy makeup.  I cringe when I meet someone dressed as Santa Claus - even if it is someone I know.  I enjoy watching a talented drag queen, but they sort of scare me when I am up close to them.   I consciously try to suppress that anxiety, but I don't deny it exists.  Nor do I think it makes me a bad person for having what is, in effect, an instinctive response to disguised persons.

The human brain is a complex neural network and a lot of our brainpower is dedicated to facial recognition.  It is one of the first thing a baby masters - knowing who his caregivers are.   We see Jesus in a taco or a wall stain, or a "face" on Mars because our brains are programmed to look for faces.  When we don't have a face to look at, we invent one.   And maybe that is why some "trans" people look jarring - our complex facial recognition software in our brain is saying, "This is a picture of a guy, but he also looks like a girl!  Does not compute!"

Androgynous faces have a certain appeal - there is a reason so many rock bands have "teen heart-throbs" and why "boy bands" became so popular.  Rock stars knew this and milked it for all it was worth - it was the foundation of the "glam rock" movement, and stars like David Bowie would be nothing without it.  It is like the Joe Camel picture - there is something the mind detects that causes you not to look away or maybe those disturbing click-bait ads on Facebook.  Our brains are programmed and they pick up on these things.  So when people stare at a "trans" person, it  is not because they are "transphobic" but a natural reaction to a jarring image.

Like I said, when it doesn't work well, it is disturbing.  Take the transgender Admiral, for example.  How times have changed - it wasn't that long ago that we were arguing about "gays in the military" and "women in combat" - now you can have both at the same time!  God Bless her, but damn, she looks like my Dad in a dress.  She just isn't pulling it off - so why bother?  Just wear pants - you'll look the same.  Wear panties under it - no one need know!

Or take this disgraced former Biden official who had a penchant for stealing luggage (and not as part of a prank video!).  He (and he looks like a he, not a she) just wasn't pulling it off, either - and I don't mean his repeated luggage thefts.  He looked like a bald guy in a dress, and it is jarring and disturbing to look at - at least to me.  Sadly, he perpetuated the stereotype of trans people being mentally imbalanced - in this case, serial luggage kleptomania.  He finally resigned after the second luggage theft.  Stealing Gucci or something, too - had good taste in other people's luggage!

You know, if you are going to take a high-profile job like that, you need to keep your nose clean.  Because fair or not, your actions will be projected to the trans world at large.   Ask any other minority who was "first" to break a color barrier or glass ceiling - the pressure was on them to be better than perfect.   Yes, it is not fair, but geez, this dude gave the far-right tons of anti-trans ammo by stealing suitcases and just being a general nutjob.  At least the trans-Admiral has represented trans people with distinction and aplomb.

The Admiral and the Luggage Thief...
A contrast in values.

I look at the upper half of the photo above, and I see two guys.  I look at the lower half, and I see two middle-aged ladies.  Does this make me a transphobe, or just being realistic?

But getting back to point, when I see a bald guy in a dress, who doesn't look like a girl at all, my anxiety increases.  It is a disturbing image and I can't put my finger on what it is that makes it disturbing.  I am not "hating" on trans people, just pointing out the obvious - that people who appear outside of the norm will  get gawked at and make others feel uncomfortable.  If this surprises you, then you are being intentionally obstinate.

Then again, when you see what passes for "normal" at Walmart these days, you have to wonder what the fuss is all about.   And oddly enough, it is many of these same Walmart shoppers who are objecting to the trans look.  The 350-lb girl in the "Angry Tweety" t-shirt that is two sizes too small, wearing shorty-shorts and showing butt crack - and a MAGA hat, really has no cause to complain about some guy wearing a modest dress. Weird is the new normal - so why hate on trans people?

I guess I am old school.  Mark and I don't try to draw attention to ourselves - we just want to be left the hell alone.  When traveling by RV, some folks ask us "So, are you fishing buddies?" or "Hey, left the wives at home I see!" and if that is their way of compartmentalizing two men camping together, we let them believe that.  Why go out of your way to antagonize people?  Most folks figure it out and since we don't bother them, they don't bother us.

Again, old school - we don't hold hands in public (unless in Saudi Arabia, where that is the norm for "straight" Arabs) or kiss or whatever.  I was brought up to think that signs of affection in public, outside of hugging someone when they come off a plane, or kissing them goodbye, were kind of gauche.  Back in the day, you saw a straight couple making out, you'd shout "Hey! GET A ROOM!" and laugh, because they were violating a social norm.

For gays, I guess "fitting in" has been less of a problem.  There have always been effeminate men and butch women, and society sort of went along with the fiction of "confirmed bachelors" and "spinsters" even if the reality was something else.  But when you are trans - unless you do it really, really well, it is obvious you are a guy-in-a-dress (usually - the F=>M trans people seem to pull it off a lot better).

The far-right has been making this a big issue and making big noise about it - and spreading a lot of outright lies as well - and encouraging violence, sometimes explicitly.  They are claiming that trans people are trying to recruit children.  Then, they conflate trans people with drag queens (two different things, entirely) and claim that drag shows (which are generally held in bars, where you have to be 21 or older to attend) are "grooming" children.

Granted, there are some trans people who feel they need to create "safe spaces" for trans teens.  But as I noted in an earlier posting, I am not sure that is a good idea - kids are very impressionable and the human brain isn't fully developed until about age 25.   Kids are very keen to jump on a bandwagon, if something seems trendy and popular - or even unpopular.  As I noted in a previous posting, trans is the new goth, and if you want to take on the "troubled teen" mantle, well, announcing  you are trans is one way to do it.  But I think parents should hold off on hormone therapy or whatever, until the kids are of legal age.

And as for puberty blockers (delaying puberty) - someone explain that to me.  The only advantage of that might be you live longer.  Think about it - your body starts its inevitable decline toward death the moment you hit puberty.  Medical science is obsessed with extending the last decade of life, in pain and discomfort.  Why not extend the first decade instead?  Just a thought, but then again, medical experiments on children seem to me to be a risky idea.

But I digress.

So what's the point of all this?  Well, I think this whole issue is being overblown.  As I noted before, RuPaul's "Drag Race" (which I have never seen - I don't "get" cable) has been on for fifteen seasons.  But for some reason, 2023 is the year Republicans finally noticed drag queens and decided that, unlike Chinese spy balloons, they are a threat to the American Way of Life™.   It is bullshit of the first order.

But it is part of an overall plan. Rather than solve real problems, the Governors of some States - all eyeing Presidential runs in 2024 - are passing laws (or merely proposing them, which is the same to their constituents) "outlawing" drag shows or "trans" people (how do you outlaw people?).  The number of trans people in the world is a tiny fraction of a percentage of the population.  I am not sure a few folks who want to cross-dress or have sex changes are really going to upset the whole apple cart.

I am not sure that a sex change is really going to change your life, either - but then again, I'm not in their shoes so I don't know.  I do know this surgery is expensive, and I have issues about making it mandatory for insurance (or medicare or medicaid) to cover, as it would increase costs for all of us.  After all, what did people do before this surgery was invented?  They must have survived somehow.  And no, I don't buy the argument, "give me this surgery or I'll kill myself!" - again, that's just hostage-taking.

Similarly, we need to defuse this "pronoun" nonsense entirely.   While you might want to be called by certain name or pronoun, you can't force people to do so.  Or more precisely, trying to force people to do things is going to backfire in a big way.  Again, I take issue with Lesbians (and it is usually Lesbians) intentionally seeking out Christian bakers, wedding planners, caterers, limo drivers, florists, or wedding photographers, for their wedding.  It seems to me that they are trying to cause a conflict in order to achieve celebrity (on both sides - does it really mean you'll go to hell by baking a cake?  If so, you won't need an oven there!).   It seems to me that "being left the hell alone" is a better thing to wish for than "in your face, whether you like it or not!"

On the other hand, going out and hating on trans people just for publicity - as some authors and comedians seem committed to do - strikes me as just mean-spirited hate.  Maybe you have issues with Israeli politics, that doesn't condone antisemitism.  Similarly, if you have issues with trans athletes and fairness in competition, that doesn't mean trans-hate is OK.  And let's be real here - the trans hate has ratcheted up in recent months - when you accuse people of being "pedophiles" that is encouraging violence.

I am sure there are some that would decry what I am saying as "Uncle Tom" or whatever.  But let me be clear on this - I don't have much patience for "Visible Christians" either - or anyone who puts their religion or politics on their sleeve or the back of their pickup truck or whatever - trying to goad people into confrontation. If you want to run a business, run a business - leave your politics and religion out of it,  Trust me - its a far better business plan.  There is a reason why Lara Boobert's gun-themed restaurant failed - other the fact the food sucked and they didn't serve beer.  Politics, religion, and business just don't mix.

And in that regard, the same is true for the work environment.  No one wants to hear about your political beliefs or religious beliefs in the workplace.  It's a place to work, not socialize.  And similarly, no one wants to hear about your sex life or your gender issues - just do your job, right?  I mean, how hard is that?  But that's just me - I show up for the paycheck, not for the socialization.

But maybe we are entering a new world where everyone gets to do their own thing - and people of all cultures and genders and whatever will mix together in peace and harmony like they do on Star Trek.

Maybe, but my experience with humans would seem to indicate otherwise - we are a tribal people, and if you look around the world, at the migration problems and the wars going on, you can see this is evident.  Maybe humanity just isn't ready - and forcing them to accept diversity will backfire.

Just a thought.