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    Remove politics from sex and gender issues

    Don Wooten

    It’s a subject that always gets attention, though I should warn you that my approach to it emphasizes the chaotic, not the erotic.

    For starters, let’s acknowledge this country’s schizophrenic behavior about sex. On one hand, we are publicly puritanical about it; censoring books, trying to ban abortion completely, having the vapors about gender issues, relentlessly policing public behavior and speech.

    Meanwhile, sex is what we use every day to advertise goods and services, to promote movies and TV programs, and admit access to explicit internet sites. Until recently, female submission was considered the unspoken privilege of rock stars, politicians, and the rich and famous. (Nothing triggers lust like power.)

    As women seek to assume equal stature with men as human beings, they are starting to call out men for sexual abuse, from rape to a casual hand on the shoulder. In retaliation, men are working to criminalize abortion and stuff LGBTQ people back into the closet — and books about them off the shelf. The genuinely primitive men among us deeply regret ever having granted women the right to vote and, with it, the power to fight back.

    People are also reading…

    The hottest issue in politics at the moment is abortion. The basic issue is whether or not a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy. It is not an easy subject, being bound by centuries of religious proscription. Before religion got involved, it was a matter of male domination — which factored into it later becoming an article of faith.

    Go back some two or three thousand years and you will find that men were the sole arbiters of a child’s life or death. When a child was born, the father decided whether it should be killed or permitted to live. His decision might hinge on whether the infant was healthy or the sex he desired. Males were preferred because they could be put to work. Females might be needed as domestic help or as a future bride to be offered to enlarge the family.

    Whatever the reason, the father decided, and there was no authority to contradict him. Infanticide was the common means of birth control. So deeply ingrained was this procedure that, in Roman times, the father retained the power of life and death over his children into adulthood.

    Women were not completely helpless. Since they were historically tended only by other women, over time they gained secret access to abortifacients and “morning after” pills. Men dictated the rules, but women found ways around them.

    As Christianity took effective control in Europe, a celibate clergy declared abortion and birth control sinful, but both practices continued. In the Italian parish I grew up in, there was a saying about the church’s rules on all aspects of sex, which was always delivered in a broad accent: “You no play-a da game, you no make-a da rules.”

    But the rules remained and were translated into law. Personal and family matters were now enforced by the police and the courts. It can be considered an unconstitutional intrusion of religion into law, but it is also argued as “Natural Law” or the will of a democratic majority. In any event, if you have a divergent religious or philosophical view of abortion, you are obliged to conform, unless you live in Illinois or other states with few or no limits on abortion..

    It is one of the many variables playing into the coming national election.

    Another concerns the rising tide against the problems facing those of uncertain gender. Most of this comes from the confusion between sex and gender: They are not interchangable terms. Sex is the sum of all those physical external and internal structures we identify as male or female. Gender refers to a person’s self-representation as male or female. The two can be quite different.

    The conflict between the two is called sexual dysphoria: “a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.” It’s rare in children, but in puberty those affected can find it overwhelming. It is something that a person whose sex and gender align cannot appreciate, but it doesn’t stop some of them from dismissing or belittling the problem.

    There is almost no limit to the sexual variables that occur in humans, beginning at the genetic level, where XX equals female and XY typifies male. But there are also XXX and XXY chromosomes, among other combinations. There are people with both male and female organs. We all possess a number of male and female hormones, in varying percentages, which help shape us. In short, sex and gender are a lot more complicated than we realize.

    Again, somewhat like abortion, the interplay of sex and gender is a problem best left to individuals and families to deal with, without the interference of religious zealots or vote-seeking politicians.

    We seem to have come to terms with homosexuality, appreciating that it is not a choice but a biological fact. But there are others who, through no personal fault or capricious choice, are divided between being male and/or female.

    The question is, how do we treat those who are genuinely different? Are they to be scorned and set apart, or accepted as fellow human beings? It’s not a decision to be made in a voting booth.

    Don Wooten is a former Illinois state senator and a regular columnist. Email him at: donwooten4115@gmail.com.



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