As a lesbian, it is always an interesting experience to join a conversation on changing gender roles and the future of the role of men. Quite reliably, these conversations usually only occur with straight female friends who are somewhere in their 30s. Men have never brought this topic up to me, and older and younger women seem to have figured out alternate ways of making peace with the subject. And if someone in the LGBT community starts talking about changing gender roles, well, it's usually a whole different conversation!
Despite how much I have in common with many of my 30-something straight lady friends, these conversations always leave me feeling a bit bewildered and a bit like an anthropologist. An on-going joke of mine is that someday I will publish a book entitled The Mating Habits of Straights, because I find the topic somewhat fascinating and just incredibly foreign from my own experience.
Now, mind you, we LGBT folks obviously also get into relationships that we talk about with our friends. My LGBT friends and I talk about partnership dynamics, planning around children and now, increasingly, marriage ceremonies or other forms of relationship commitments. But we exist in a world where these conversations happen outside of some societal weight or expectation of norms around supposed "gender dynamics."
With the rates of LGBT youth suicide and the on-going legal discrimination against my community, the general consensus could be that in many ways our lives are harder than the lives of straight people. And while that is in part true, talking to straight friends about gendered relationship dynamics always make me send God a mental thank you note for making me gay. (Yes, I was, in fact, born this way!)
No one ever told me to wait for a Prince Charming to arrive on a white horse. I didn't grow up with pre-set roles and societal expectations around how my relationships would function. I've never felt the need to discuss with a partner how we need to divide housework and childcare as life-long, equally-shared responsibilities. Whether a partner or I ever acted in a pre-outlined, supposedly-expected "gender role" has always been one of the farthest things from my mind.
In large part these conversations with my straight friends perplex me because I exist in a world composed of diverse maps outlining equal relationships without abstract gendered expectations. Try telling two gay dads that they're simply not gendered appropriately to bear the brunt of raising children. Or watch how two lesbians have always had their own equal careers, with no pre-set notion that one career would indefinitely be more important than the other after they have children. Additionally, as a lesbian, the concept of "having children" has never necessarily meant I would be the one to give birth, or that adoption isn't a 100% equal alternative to choose.
When reading articles debating the supposed "End of Men," or the supposed lack of the "End of Men," they often seem very huffy, as if dramatic prophetic declarations are required to even talk about the subject. But most of the time, while reading such works, I visualize a crowd of people debating an abstract painting and being absolutely sure that what they see in the art is the correct interpretation.
As a woman who loves a number of men, but has never been interested in them romantically, it's funny to think of men in such light. I don't go about my life or reach out to my friends for companionship or advice because of their gender. My male friends and my female friends -- and my friends who don't identify along that binary -- are not grouped into separate categories of human beings, inherently different in what they offer the world because of their chromosomes.
And so, it can be a bit hard to understand what all the fuss is about. Are shared roles and responsibilities between men and women in the world and in personal relationships changing? Definitely. Is change an inevitably challenging dynamic to go through? I'm pretty sure the answer to that is almost always yes. But if you take away what everyone tells you it means to be a man or a woman and what that implies for how you supposedly must exist in the world then, well, you just have a bunch of people trying to adapt to a changing world and do the best they can while caring for and loving the people around them. It's the abstract art of how to live, lacking defined lines clearly pointing out what things should necessarily look like.
As far as how this plays out in statistics around education and jobs and who rules the world, etc, etc -- I am grateful for the increased female presence in education and certain parts of the workforce. That's exactly what should occur in an equal society. But does that mean that men won't be able to function in this new world where women also work and where the growth of certain job markets are changing? Writing as a lesbian, I'd like us all to just pause momentarily to appreciate that I'll be the one to argue: I'm sure men will be just fine and able to continue to be successful and productive human beings.
Maybe if we stopped talking so much about things like what the words "man" or "men" mean we could all spend a bit more time figuring out the best ways to get our work done and care for our families. As far as the question of the end of "gender" -- that is a conversation I support continuing. Whatever gender means or doesn't mean is a shifting construct, as former fables or strictly held beliefs fall by the wayside and the world changes.
When you move beyond what you're told you're supposed to be because of biology, the potentials are endless. And the creativity and ability to find a way to live that works leads to healthier structures for everyone involved. There's no individual map that can direct our society through these changes. But next time you're analyzing how men and women can adapt to sharing responsibilities in new ways, check out a few of your local successful LGBT partnerships, as this is an art we've experimented with our whole lives.
This piece was originally published on Role/Reboot as part of a special series on The End of Gender. This series includes bloggers from Role/Reboot, Good Men Project, The Huffington Post, Salon, HyperVocal, Ms. Magazine, YourTango, Psychology Today, Princess Free Zone, The Next Great Generation, and Man-Making.