My work, as I have mentioned before, exposes me to situations and people that can be very challenging. Racism, bigotry, hatred and ignorance are the things that fill my work days. It can be draining some days to even open my filing cabinet or turn on my computer at work. I know I am going to spend another day examining the darker side of human interactions, rolling around in hate and intolerance until the stink of it fills my nostrils and makes me want to scream or punch out.
Enter S. Bear Bergman.
Bear, and hir husband j wallace, came to my office when one of my colleagues encountered them at a health and sexuality conference in Ottawa (or maybe Toronto, its been a while). Bear immediately captured the audience’s attention by beginning hir talk with “In a male to female trans surgery, the penis is split lengthwise and the internal tissue is scooped out.” Needless to say, ze got our attention. Bear laughed and joked that the comment always stops the chatter in the room and makes most of the men in the room squirm. Bear was right.
For those of you who don’t know, Bear is a writer, advocate and storyteller. Bear’s books Butch is a Noun and The Nearest Exit May be Behind You are about gender issues, gender identity, gender bending and life as a gay/lesbian/trans/queer person. At least, that’s what they are about on the surface.
My wife recently brought home a copy of The Nearest Exit May be Behind You and I started reading it on the bus last night. My seatmate gave me some very odd looks indeed. I don’t know whether it was the laughing out loud or the crying that did it. I am pretty sure she thought I was having a melt down of some sort. I gestured to the book a couple of times, as if to explain that it was the cause of my emotional rollercoaster, but I think she just thought I was having some sort of shaking fit.
Bear’s book establishes just why ze is such a successful storyteller, and makes such a wonderful advocate for the queer community, hell for humanity as a whole. Bear’s stories and experiences remind us that we’re all, in our hearts, the same. We all want to be loved and accepted. We all want to be recognized for the work we do, and helped when the work gets too hard. Bear reminded me that we need to stop and help each other out - not just when its convenient, but when people need us. Bear reminded me of the importance of family, and made me think about the ways that we define family, and what that means to me.
Most of all, and its for this reason that I am writing this blog, Bear reminded me that the sorts of situations I deal with on a daily basis are not the truth of all humanity. Many people, maybe even most, are good, decent, caring human beings. There are people out there who are fighting for equality and the rights of themselves and of others. The world is getting better, making strides forward. Sometimes it can be hard to remember, and sometimes it seems like we’re backsliding, but when I read Bear’s book, and listened to hir and j wallace speaking in my office boardroom, I knew that things were going to keep getting better. With outstanding people doing amazing things every day, the future looks brighter and brighter every day.
I don’t usually shill products - not since I left sales on that fateful day so long ago - but I can’t say strongly enough that these books should be read by everyone. They are both available at Venus Envy here in Halifax, and online from Amazon and Chapters (or at least I found them both there). Go and get them. If you can’t afford them, let me know and I’ll lend you my copy.
I also know that some of the terminology above may be new to some folks. “Ze” and “hir”??? What the hell is that you ask? I am pleased to answer. Bear, and presumably other folks in the queer / trans community, are challenging the way we identify people by gender, after all, what is gender really? Ze and hir are gender neutral ways of using pronouns, plain and simple. If only all our gender based battles could be solved so easily!
That said, I note that in Bear’s “Pre-approved version” to be used for introducing hir at a speech or presentation, Bear is now using the pronoun “he.” Not being sure which version is more up to date (as gender identity and expression can and do change for some people) I decided to err on the side of caution. Which is unusual for me, I know.
Either way, I just wanted to say “Thank you Bear” (and I am sending an email at the same time to say it to Bear’s face) for being a good person, for reminding us to look past our preconceptions and for challenging the world to do better, to be better.
As I tell my sons all the time - “You can do it!”