Dancing With Myself: A Dialogue On Gender & Sexuality, Part II

Steve Gershom and Joseph Prever, mutually fascinated by each other’s sparkling intellects, but again, in a way that is totally not weird, get together at the same coffee shop where they first bumped into each other, to continue their discussion on gender and sexuality. Joseph begins with an attack disguised as a concession.

JP: Have you thought a bit more about what I said? I know you weren’t trying to be sexist — I mean, all you really said was that the way you tend to approach women is different from the way you tend to approach men. And I guess we’re all guilty of that.
But it’s not ideal, right? Even if everybody does it, that doesn’t make it okay — it’s something we should be trying to overcome. You should just be treating a person as a person, as an individual. You shouldn’t come into the conversation expecting them to be one way or another.
SG: I have thought about it more, and I think this is the problem: you are assuming, categorically, that it is bad to have preconceptions about another person. I disagree. I mean, sometimes preconceptions are bad: for example, it would be wrong of me to assume that you’re stupid just because you’re American — because that would be setting up an obstacle that you’ll have to overcome later; it’s like making you have to prove to me that you’re not stupid.
And even then, even if the preconception was something good instead of being bad, it’s still undesirable. Let’s say I think all Americans are friendly; then if you have just an average amount of friendliness, suddenly you seem particularly unfriendly. So my preconception has gotten in the way of seeing the Real You.
JP: Right.
SG: But aren’t there some situations where preconceptions are good, and helpful, and even help you see the other person more clearly, instead of less clearly?
JP: Not impossible, I guess, but it seems unlikely. Can you give me an example?
SG: What about interactions between people from different cultures? I was on retreat not too long ago and met a man from Korea. I left a couple of days later, and when he said goodbye, he took my hand and pressed it in both of his. He didn’t use a handshake grip, either; it was more like he was holding my hand, like I think of a man holding a woman’s hand. And he held onto it for a long time, too.
Now, if an American had done that, I would think it was odd. I might think, “Wow, we’ve only known each other two days — why is he using such an intimate gesture?” Or I might even wonder if he was gay, because most of the men that I know don’t express friendship with hand-holding!
JP: Seriously?
SG: I said “might”! But either way — I happened to remember hearing that touch in Korean culture is very different from touch in American culture! So, since nothing else about my interactions with this man suggested that he was gay or that he believed us to be more intimate friends than we were, I just put it down to cultural differences. And it was actually really nice.
JP: So you’re saying that if he had been American, you would assume he was either gay or just presumptuous? Wow.
SG: Not necessarily! But it would have to be explained somehow, and maybe the explanation would be totally inconsequential.
All I’m saying that gestures have meanings, and those meanings vary from culture to culture. It’s the same with words: a word can have different meanings in different countries, even if the two countries speak the same language: in most of South America novio means boyfriend, but in Chile it means fianceé. So if you call somebody your novio in Chile but you just mean “boyfriend”, then people are going to misunderstand.
The lingering-double-hand-hold (LDHH) has one set of meanings in America, and another set of meanings in Korea.
JP: Still, you can’t assume so much about somebody just from one gesture.
SG: No, you’re right, that would be unfair. But at least, if this guy had been American, I would tend to assume one of three things:
  1. he was using the LDHH as a gesture of romantic feelings (because that is one thing the LDHH can can mean for Americans);
  2. he was using the LDHH as a gesture of intimate friendship (because that is another thing the LDHH can mean for Americans); or
  3. he was, for some reason, using the LDHH in a non-standard way.
JP: Okay, but why would an American use the LDHH in a “non-standard way”?
SG: I don’t know. Maybe because his family has its own way of using gestures — so in that way, you could still call it “cultural differences”, because a family is a kind of micro-culture. Some families more than others. Or he could be somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum; people with Asperger’s sometimes have trouble speaking the language of gestures.
JP: So he’s either gay, presumptuous, or autistic? Nice, Steve.
SG: Maybe! I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being gay or autistic, right? “Presumptuous” is the only one of those three that’s judgment on his character. The other two are neutral. Right? [darts a pointed look at Joseph]
JP: Oh. [blushes] Right. Okay, but still: you can’t form a whole theory about somebody’s personality based on a single gesture! I mean, when we say goodbye, are you going to be gauging my handshake to see whether it falls within the Acceptable Range For American Handshakes? Like are you going to be measuring it to see whether it’s too firm, or too floppy, or too long or too…[blushes again] [coughs]…anyway, are you?
SG: No, you’re right — it’s not good to over-interpret. Most of the time I’m not going to think about it.
JP: Maybe he’s just a really affectionate guy!
SG: Maybe! Which would be non-standard in a good way, if you ask me. Have we strayed from the point?
JP: Maybe. What was the point?


5 Comments on “Dancing With Myself: A Dialogue On Gender & Sexuality, Part II”

  1. Annette says:

    I like the dialogue form of these posts. It is a fun and refreshing way to engage.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Me too! Looking forward to reading more. 🙂

  3. richard says:

    It all comes down to religion and culture.

  4. Nico says:

    I love this series! Overthinkers unite!

  5. Angela says:

    Enjoying this series…reminds me of myself…slightly…good though.

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