Reportage by Michelle Kopp
A straight-edged box with glittering ribbons imprisons gender and sexual identities like Schrödinger’s Cat—equally dead and alive at any moment in time. In theory, equally transgender and cisgender, heterosexual and homosexual . . . until the ribbons unravel and the box breaks.
“My wife is a professor in the department of economics,” I tell a colleague during coffee break. And because we live in a heteronormative world where one assumes the cat is either dead or alive, I’m frequently met with this response: “What’s your husband’s name?”
I have to come out of that straight-edged box yet again.
Heterosexuality and traditional, binary gender roles are embedded within our culture. Our world is created from our perception and interpretation of events; when the sound of hooves beat against the ground, one doesn’t think of anything besides horses or zebras because we have never seen a unicorn galloping through the forest.
My younger cousin declared his affection for men last year; he handed his mother a leaflet inked with rainbow colours—Resources for Parents of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Youth. He joked that he leapt from the closet and plunged into the fire.
‘Coming out of the closet’ has connotations as a right of passage for all gay, lesbian and transgender; it’s a life-defining moment that can be devastating as well as liberating. A declaration that results in the further segregation of categories—I’m transgender, I’m queer, I’m bisexual, I’m gay, I’m transsexual, I’m lesbian, I’m intersex, I’m two-spirited. I’m an alien from Jupiter.
The labelling of gender and sexuality into neat little categories encourages Pride and positive self-image, provides a community of like-minded individuals. But it also promotes that which it seeks to minimise—indicating that there are differences between those identifying as gay or straight, as lesbian or bisexual, as transgender or intersex; indicating that there are differences between the hoof beats of Equus.
When my cousin declares that he’s gay, when I tell my colleague that my wife’s name is Siobhan, are we reinforcing that idea that heterosexuality and binary gender roles are the norm? By default, everything else is considered abnormal—isn’t Schrödinger’s Cat, hidden in that box, equally dead and alive?
At Pride, the rainbow-coloured flag for the LGBTQ community flutters in the wind. Siobhan walks beside me, her hand within mine while the other waves a banded rose-pink, navy-blue and lavender-coloured flag. My best friend chants for equal rights for the transgendered as he holds high a flag striped with light-pink, sky-blue and white. Gender-specific blue and pink are laid to rest for neutral yellow and purple; but beneath the labelling and colours, we are still all Homo sapiens.
Last week, our daughter sat between Siobhan and myself with solemn eyes, but the allusion of a smile flickering at the corners of her mouth. She folded her hands on her lap after she crossed her legs—left over right, then shifting position, and right over left.
“Mom, Siobhan . . .” she began, “there’s something I’d like to tell you. . . . I’m straight.”
And we don’t love her any less because she has identified as heterosexual, but my parents denied the existence of my ‘lesbianism’ and still refer to Siobhan as ‘that woman I rent a house with’ on the telephone. My mother curls her lip when she notices the pink triangle sticker on the back window of my Chevy and is silent through the return trip to her house. Until the news of Elton John adopting a fourteen-month-old boy breaks over the airwaves.
“That is disgusting; that poor child,” she says.
The practice of outing celebrities and authors, as though their work can only be understood in the context of their sexuality, has become interpreted as an act of Pride in society. In another world, we would stand up and identify those choosing to live straight as folk; we would parallel the ridiculous headlines torn from the gossip magazines—uproar because Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are adopting another third-world baby, because Anna Paquin is sleeping with her husband. Because Marilyn Monroe is alive and living as a vampire in Louisiana.
Siobhan and I would like to raise our daughter in a world where institutions and society no longer flood time and space with a heteronormative worldview, where Schrödinger’s Cat is both dead and alive. When the sounds of hoof beats resonate through the air, we will think of unicorns, even though the world demands we think of horses or zebras.
Michelle Kopp is a full-time graduate student and part-time writer in Saskatchewan, Canada.