There have been some great discoveries because of DNA. Should determining gender be one of them?
I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate April 25, 2016, National DNA Day, then to write something about DNA and the politics of what makes for a real man. The politics of labeling is a conversation that men hardly ever have.
I don’t know if I’m a real man because I haven’t faced the ultimate test of having my DNA analyzed. I have never doubted that I wasn’t a man. I have often doubted if I was a good enough man. I grew up with the usual cultural message that the test as to whether or not I was a man was in how much I wasn’t like a girl. I could spit into a tube and find out if I have the Y chromosome it takes and then some, thanks to DNA testing. I couldn’t learn anything about being a man, though.
Whenever I start to think about my “manliness,” I usually don’t stop to acknowledge that determining that something is a thing and putting a label on it, is part of an arbitrary political process, with a history. Some people believe that there are things called “facts.” They believe that there are things about the Universe that are known, like there are men and then there are women. If I were to argue that the “discovery” of DNA revealed that men, women, plants, animals and microbes don’t exist, I don’t think there would be many who would want to have this conversation with me.
This sounds like it would need to be a weird esoteric, “what is reality ramble”, best done after consuming intoxicating substances. It could also be kept simple. Life doesn’t come with an instruction sheet that has drawings of the parts. The designation of some parts that labels are put to have been around for so long that the history, as to when a part was first defined is not part of any historic record. There are parts that are so well established in human culture that to call for a political referendum on the ongoing utility of the designation is laughable. Where the debate action is today is on the “discovery” that sex and gender aren’t always the same. Discovery is in quotes for a reason. What is occurring is active conversations over changing culture narratives as to the social consequences as to what are we talking about when we use the terms, ‘Man’ and ‘Woman.’ Some argue that there is a scientific rightness as to how these words are used and it is important to be correct in this regard. Others mock this position as being one of “political correctness, i.e, “come on, we all know what a man is and what a woman is”.
In my lifetime not only was DNA been “discovered” but it has also been “discovered” that men can marry men and women can marry women. Who knew. The discovery” that it is okay for women to use the men’s room with men in it, as long as the women thinks she is a man, is as about as revolutionary as “discovering” that the Earth is not flat. There are some that agree if we allow this “discovery” to stand society risks going over the edge.
There are various “Parties” in the political debates over designating parts and designating “proper” relationships for these parts. The Scientific Party is very popular these days. The Religious Party, Spiritual Party, Indigenous People’s Party, Common Sense Party, Who Gives A Shit Party, all have their staunch supporters. Most men are cross-affiliated. Arguments cite evidence such as scientific research, sacred scriptures, and oppressed ancient wisdom, as support for their Party’s designation of parts and the proper positions for these parts.
How parts are defined critically affect the quality of people’s lives. They determine how people love, work and play. The Postmodernist Philosophy party needs your support, but this is not Postmodernist Philosophy Day.
DNA is about life. Designating matter into the parts organic – inorganic is just as arbitrary as all other part designations, as are the designations, matter, and energy, as are space and time, but it is interesting to contemplate a culture where living stuff went primarily by their DNA code sequences. In such a narrative microbes get equal time in discussions about endangered species. We wonder more about how organic and inorganic are all mixed up with each other.
Often the Religious Party is the one most adamant about parts being set up by something other than puny people. The debates between factions of the Religious Party can be as nasty as nasty can get. All other Parties tend to be more or less open to some discussion of the political history of the terms they are using when stating opinions. This post goes out to those who think that such conversations are for entertainment purposes only. It is not just sticks and stones that break bones. Think about it.
The “discovery” of DNA, helped to popularize the terms genotype and phenotype. Genotype is what you are, phenotype is what you look like. There is a long culture history of the critical need to be able to tell if that is a man or woman coming this way and an even longer prehistoric need. We are at the dawn of an era where this importance is going away and the progress in this direction is astonishing. I came of age when it was a radical act for a man to allow his hair to grow over his ears. I recall bitter arguments with my father over half-inch perceptions as to how much hair was too much. God forbid if I would look like a girl! I have lived to see the death of the musician known as Prince, who appeared to be robustly male, but in a feminine way. Today if I encounter a person whose gender isn’t obvious to me in the Men’s Room, I don’t freak out. I don’t care. Unbelievable.
I am grateful that I don’t worry at all that a phenotype approaching me, might have a genotype associated with a propensity for sexual assault. I tend to take it for granted that I’m not a potential target for sexual assault. I lack awareness how much time and energy women put into calculating rape risk potential in the phenotypes they encounter. It is good that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This concern needs more than a Day.
So praise be for the discovery of DNA for every rape kit that helped a victim of sexual assault be believed. Shame on the politics of collected rape kit samples going untested. Shame on any juror who thinks that finding more than one type of DNA in a rape kit, by itself, means that the alleged victim is lying. Praise be to the discovery of DNA, for every wrongly accused man who is believed at last.
DNA can be truth and truth can be beautiful.
Photo: Getty Images