Why Having No Race Is A Lot Like Having No Gender

Hand putting check mark with red marker on poor customer service evaluation form.
Hand putting check mark with red marker on poor customer service evaluation form.

It's July 4th weekend, Independence Day in the US. On that theme, I want to tell you a little story.

So, I was born of parents who were born into different races. Their birth certificates stated, without controversy, Negro and Caucasian. It was the 30s and 40s and that's the way it was done. The terms have changed over times but the meaning persists: that these two human beings are one or the other thing, and that being one of these "races" means something. Their children got a designation, too, based on parental background. In the 60s when I was born it was tradition and expected that the children of a Caucasian and a Negro would assume the designation of the darker one. Again, the way it was Done. As if one was an ink that besmirched the lack of color, literally, of the other. The Caucasian thing is so empty and pure that it is pushed out by any amount of Negro.

Of course, all this was and is nonsense. There is no such thing as race, or color. The truth is that there is no such quality and biologically we all just exist on a continuum of shared and varied genes, some for melanin and others for cholesterol metabolism and whether your pee gets a distinctive smell if you eat asparagus. The idea that you could divide humans out by skin color in a one or the other, binary way has always been ridiculous but has still been deadly serious, and not often enough questioned.

My biological parents were considered so very biologically different that they were not even legally able to MARRY in some states at that time. And yet it is only recently have I been able to fill out a legal form without choosing affiliation with my mother or my father about a thing that is a social construct, as if I was being asked about a biological fact. I just this past year had an argument with an official who told me that I couldn't volunteer at my child's school unless I chose a race, a single race, when I was fingerprinted for a background check. Eventually everyone will see how silly and absurd that is.

I thought about this issue as I heard about the person in Oregon who fought for the right to be neither gender on their driver's license. In this fight I see the idea of gender, of binary one or the other gender, fall apart under the same lack of logic that not only made me choose a "race" but really, REALLY believed it mattered.

And for those who see the end of civilization in the new pronouns and bathrooms and dress codes I want to un-reassure you: you are right. This will be the end of lining up boy-girl and grouping ourselves by gender. It will, I predict, no longer be expected that we can see in someone's clothing or hair or toilet use what shape their genitalia takes and chromosomes they carry. We aren't going to say "It's A Boy" at birth as if that was the most important thing to know about that new human, nor are we going to have to choose a bathroom everywhere we go, and choose a clothing department, and emphasize that identity on every form we fill out. We're going to stop grouping people by gender on every little thing. Not because people will make us, but because we'll see the rigid one or the other gender roles as meaningless and silly and, all too often, cruel. We'll let people be people, attracted to and loving other people, wearing people clothes and using people toilets doing people things. As of course we always have, but without the labels and the judgement and the secrecy and (justified) fear.

And you know what? It's going to be okay.

I am not a race. The driver in Oregon is not a gender. These ideas can be uncomfortable at first. Don't worry. We'll get used to it.