The clips from old SNL sketches came too fast for my liking on Sunday night’s 40th anniversary TV special. And while I laughed at fleeting moments of Gilda as Lisa Loopner, lounge singer Bill Murray and the Conehead family, I have to admit I winced when Julia Sweeney’s androgynous character Pat appeared on screen.
They’d ask questions with the hopes of getting a gender-specific answer.
Pat first appeared in 1990, the same year my son Harry was born. And now, 25 years later, in a time of heightened awareness of gender identity and sensitivity to gender expression, I wonder how well Pat would play in the comedy arena.
Nerdy Pat had short, black curly hair, carried a few extra pounds and always wore generic black-framed glasses, a light blue western-style shirt and tan pants. The central humor came when Pat’s ridiculous co-workers tried to figure out Pat’s sex and/or gender. They’d ask questions with the hopes of getting a gender-specific answer. But no matter what they asked, the answer was always ambiguous. Pat’s middle name? O’Neill. Did Pat carry a wallet or a purse? Fanny pack.
So it was funny back then when guest hosts and cast members attempted to fit Pat into one of two gender boxes. But today we know that gender is a spectrum, and a broad one at that.
Harry demonstrated to me at a very young age that there was no clear-cut polarized gender box for him to fit in.
I remember a column my son Harry wrote in high school, while youth reporter for Milwaukee’s monthly QLife newspaper, questioning our eagerness to label everyone. He wondered if we did it because there’s some security with fitting everyone into an easily recognized group.
Harry demonstrated to me at a very young age that there was no clear-cut polarized gender box for him to fit in. He taught me that how a child expresses is their way of letting you know who they are.
Today there are young activists like Jacob Tobia who describe gender as playful. They feel comfortable with the so-called feminine and so-called masculine characteristics that are undeniably inherent in all individuals.
In socially progressive Sweden, teachers and children at some nursery schools use the new gender-neutral pronoun hen, so they can feel free to express as individuals, with the characteristics society has historically categorized as either feminine or masculine.
Our gender expression – how we dress, style our hair, walk, talk – lies between our ears. And the gender we’re assigned at birth — what’s in our pants or under our skirt, well, I don’t think that’s anybody’s business but our own. What do you think?
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