In this month’s guest blog, Philip Patston shares his thoughts on our beliefs, values and assumptions about diversity, disability and identity.
In his 2010 Venus Project lecture, Jacque Fresco questioned society’s values, assumptions, beliefs, even language. Why do we get upset about swear words, when we don’t even mean what the words mean (bullshit has nothing to do with shit from bulls)? Laws are made when humans don’t know how to fix a problem. Politicians were relevant 100 years ago, but now what they do machines could do more efficiently.
Six years ago this kind of thinking changed what I do in my work on a day to day basis. I used to run training workshops; now I find myself mainly facilitating exploratory conversations. I can’t honestly say to a client, “I know exactly what your staff need to know about diversity,” because what they need to know is changing so quickly.
All people really need to know now is how to work out what changed since they left work last night. And that may be as simple or complex as a conversation about what people who change their gender have in common with conjoined twins.
A few years ago I watched a documentary about Trishna and Krishna – orphaned Bangladeshi conjoined twins who were separated in Melbourne in November 2009. The surgery took 32 hours and was performed when the girls were aged two years and 11 months.
It was a compelling watch. Lots of tears, swells of dramatic music, gory surgery scenes and doctors congratulating themselves on “a once-in-a-lifetime operation”. A medical miracle, it seems.
Then why did I feel so luke-warm about it all?
Even as I write I’m not sure where my lack of enthusiasm stems from, but I think it has something to do with people who opt for gender reassignment surgery. Let me try to explain.
There was an assumption before the girls’ final operation that separation was the only option, because their conjunction was an aberration. Even though the surgeries leading up to the final one were traumatic and life threatening. Even though they were learning to sit up and operate as a functional unit.
Everyone, including their adoptive mother, wanted them to be normal and that was not questioned.
Contrast this with someone wanting surgery to change gender and you get the opposite reaction entirely. Their desire to change is the aberration and they are encouraged, often compelled, to see their current form as normal, even if it seems wrong to them and causes distress.
Am I alone in noticing a contradiction in logic? Has anyone else wondered what would happen if the assumptions were switched?
Imagine if conjoined twins were viewed as an unusual but natural – not to mention interesting – example of diversity. Awkward for sure, especially in the sisters’ case, being joined at the head. But they wouldn’t have been the first. And who are we, anyway, to risk one if not two lives arguing with Mother Nature?
Then imagine if feeling that you were living in a body wrongly gendered was seen as totally unacceptable and causing distress beyond reasonable necessity. Surgery in this instance is not life threatening, so why wouldn’t it be treated as routinely cosmetic?
You may be thinking what I’m suggesting is odd, even outrageous. But I’m not trying to be right. I’m just considering another stance in order to explore deeper the beliefs and assumptions that govern our collective behaviour. And considering the link between supposedly opposite issues on the social spectrum is a good way to do that.
Creatives do the same when considering a new painting technique or an innovative choreographic move. Poets use unique phrases to create vibrant images from words on a page.
I get more disappointed when artists and performers exhibit prejudice towards diversity, such as gender fluidity, because I expect them to be able to think more creatively about the world than ordinary folk.
Luckily, in general, the creative community is accepting of diversity, though I think we could be doing more to promote it in wider society. I think we could more actively apply our creative bent to designing a society that was far less concerned with conformity and propping up the establishment. We could be actively constructing a collective ideology that continually delighted in the next unique characteristic that humanity exhibited.
Are you having these conversations in your workplaces, communities, even homes? If so, I’d like to hear about them. If not, contact me and I’d be happy to help you initiate one.
This blog was originally posted on www.philippatston.com. It has been reposted on DPSN with permission.