Ignorance is bliss, we tell ourselves.
This lie is right up there with Sticks and Stones, and has much in common with it. The big lie here is that ignorance is only bliss until it is challenged. Ignorance, the state of not knowing something, has an inherent blissfulness, inasmuch as you aren’t worrying about it. That seems to be its only advantage. The disadvantages soon stack up. The problem with ignorance is that it has the habit of biting you on the bum and, like nearly all bum-bites, it isn’t particularly pleasant when it happens.
When we come face to face with a situation that we are completely unprepared for, survival instincts kick in. The first thing that happens is a fear response, adrenaline, fight-or-flight, etc. you know the drill. Now, a million years ago, this reaction to the unknown had significant survival advantages and those who reacted with fear lived to pass on their genes. The Croods‘ motto was “Never not be afraid”. This had served them well, and Mummy and Daddy Crood had survived to pass on their DNA to their children.
Now, in modern, Western society, one is not all that likely to run into a hungry tiger or be suddenly required to out-run an enraged hippo (you can’t, but that’s beside the point). The fear/threat response is still strong with us, however. As is often the case, Yoda has the measure of it, once we’ve taken the first step from ignorance into fear.
Ignorance leads to fear, for we are faced with an unexpected adversary that may well eat us, bite us, poison us, shoot us or, as is more likely these days, embarrass us. Many of us, of course, would rather be eaten and/or shot at than be embarrassed in front of people we know.
Fear leads to anger, for we are upset that the situation has developed in a way that is causing us embarrassment. We do not wish anyone to see that we lack knowledge in an area, and are angry with the person or situation that has exposed us.
Anger leads to hate, for we learn to hate the things that make us angry.
Hate leads to suffering, for we nurture hate at our peril. The person we hate can go for days without our hatred affecting them, but we carry it with us every moment of every day. There is suffering on both sides of this and, before long, we are waving light sabres around and cutting off people’s hands.
There is a variety of ways we can address our ignorance. One way is to deploy humility and admit that there are things we don’t know and that, sometimes, we just need to learn stuff. Learning new things is fun: it lowers stress, promotes brain plasticity and is a great way to meet new people and have new experiences. The possibilities are endless.
Another popular way to deal with our own ignorance is to ignore it. Denial is a powerful tool and is effectively and widely deployed by people in all sorts of situations. As a rule, it’s not very healthy, but is so much less effort than learning and so much less embarrassing than admitting that you don’t know something.
Denial has friends in rumour, gossip, extrapolation and hearsay and, because we are talking about a primal fear response, it is nearly impossible to argue with rationally. Any argument, or sentence, or even a single word, that might be perceived as not agreeing with the denier is perceived as an attack, and will be met with a swift, instinctive counter-attack as a simple survival mechanism. Often, in such situations, the non-denier is forced either to attempt a kill or to withdraw, neither option is particularly fulfilling.
Lori, over at Raising my Rainbow, has been having a time of it over the last couple of weeks. Her son is gender-nonconforming, and she has been working as an advocate for him for a long time, and has taught me many of the things that I now know about children like CJ. At her recent PTA meeting, however, there were a couple of parents who had been drinking deeply at the rumour-fountain and stockpiling hearsay, mostly concerning where CJ uses the toilet. Their fear was expressed by their statement that they didn’t want a girl in the boys’ toilets, looking at their sons’ penises. Their statement displays such a shocking failure to understand the concept of a door that I find myself spluttering and unable to form a counter-argument. Charles Babbage summed it up more succinctly than I ever could.
Given that the children under discussion are seven years old, most arguments that could be deployed will end up prematurely sexualising the children. This seems to be a very common theme when discussing young transgender and gender-nonconforming children. People who have them have spent a long time learning about them. People who do not have them fill in the blanks with rumour, hearsay and fear-stoked backlash. The PTA meeting descended into a shouting match where a small number of parents stole the agenda and made sure that everyone got to listen to their diatribe of hatred aimed squarely at a seven year old child and his family.
Marlo Mack, the Gendermom, is facing similar attitudes daily. Her child is transgender and, at age six, she is years away from spending time dwelling on sex. She is a child, purely and simply. Whatever she keeps in her pants is, frankly, nobody else’s concern. That’s why they’re called private parts. What she does with them, at this age, is empty her bladder. In a room with a door.
The people who, in their ignorance, assume that small children behave in the same way as the worst adults that they can conceive deny personhood to those small children. The people who think that a child should behave and/or dress in a specific way based on body parts that they never see do the same. And, they spend far too much time thinking about other people’s children’s genitals.
And that’s creepy.