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An Animal You Only See in Zoos
never in the wild
If you haven’t seen it, here’s video of the “socially minded” CEO of Harry’s Razors describing his commitment to nurturing both “birthing people” and “non-birthing people” at his company. Remember this public language, and let’s talk about something else for a moment.
A few years ago, I spent a week trying to recruit other families for a quick weekend camping trip into the mountains. I failed, so I told my daughter — my wife regards sleeping on the ground in the woods as so incomprehensible an activity it seems barely human — to expect a quiet weekend of hiking and reading.
And indeed, it started that way.
But, as my uterus-having birthing partner and I often note in discussion, we’ve somehow created a ruthlessly efficient machine of extroversion. The first time I looked up from my book, my daughter was sitting on the other side of our campsite with another girl; twenty minutes later, she was up to four. By dinner there were too many for our campsite, and the roving child army expanded across the neighboring stream and into the hillsides, effortlessly achieving tactical superiority.
She has done this in twenty states, gathering children.
When you’re the lone adult man on the campsite where all the children go, the other parents eventually come over to offer a friendly hello, by which I mean that they eventually come over to make sure you’re not Scott Wiener or offering free candy out of your panel van. I’ve been hey-how-are-youed by open carry dads in deep red territory and by REI-geared dads in my home state who end up talking about their academic field and the cultural trajectory of the small liberal arts college. I’ve done this exchange in all conceivable cultural settings short of “Amazonian tribe making first contact with the outside world.” And in every setting, every time, absolutely without fail, it goes like this:
“Hey, I’m Kayla’s dad, I see she’s been hanging out over here. I hope that’s okay.”
Left dads, right dads, left moms, right moms. They say, that’s my son, or that’s my daughter, and I’m [name here’s] mom or I’m [name here’s] dad. Period. Always. Then you bullshit for a while, and then the dads come back with beer, and then you bullshit some more.
In parentworld, you lose your name for a few years. At school events, people introduce themselves as “Jane’s dad,” and identify you by your child. “Hey, you must be [name here’s] dad, I’m [name here’s] mom.”
But never — never once, anywhere, ever — have I encountered any form of “Hi, that’s my child, I’m zher front-hole-having bleeder parent. i’M tHeIr uTErUs hAVeR!!!!” A maybe eight year-oldish boy stormed over to our campsite on the remote California coast once to show us the proper way to burn things in a campfire, using a technique that mostly involved shouting; his parents, who ended up hanging out on our campsite for a couple of evenings, were sculptors and painters (with a strictly non-figurative aesthetic) who worked as professors of studio art. I am extremely confident that they weren’t in any way culturally or politically right-facing. They were Jack’s mom and Jack’s dad. He was their son.
Our increasingly deranged performative gender language, spinning endlessly into more and more Khmer Rougian invention — bonus hole-having chestfeeders! uterus-having birthing person bleeders! — is a public language, a cultural commodity for the stage and screen. No one does this. I live in woke-suburban Los Angeles, my wife is a working member of the WGA, our daughter attended a precious little Westside private school until the irritation overwhelmed me and we fled, and I spent years in grad school and then teaching as a humanities adjunct in a variety of academic settings. You can’t live in a deeper blue milieu than I live in. No one has ever spoken to me this way. It’s a thing public figures do on television.
I can’t prove this, but I know it in my bones: When the woke CEO who talks on stage about equity for front-hole-having bleeders goes to his child’s parent-teacher conference, he holds out his hand to the teacher and says, “Hi, I’m Greta’s dad, good to meet you.” The people who do this performance as public figures don’t do it as people.
We’ve evolved an aggressive cultural performance that doesn’t exist in any form of nonperformative interpersonal human life. It’s only media product.
It exists between mediated identities, not between people, which means that it isn’t real and should be aggressively disregarded. Live as a person.
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