It’s Simple Right? No. It’s Not.

We want the world to be simple. But it’s not. Yet, we still fall into the same trap trying to make things simple for our own comfort and ease. But it’s not. It seems the more access we get to information, the more access to news, the more access to the complexities of the world, the more we seek simple answers.

Maybe this is a failing of education, of parenting, or maybe it’s a failing of imagination.

Let’s consider gender. It’s binary right? No. It’s not. It is typically binary, but that simple word, typically, exposes the complexity. Gender dysphoria is when what a person feels inside doesn’t match what they see in the mirror. A problem of psychosis then, right. No. It’s not. There’s complexities of genetics, endocrinology, hormones, even genitalia.

During Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court, the gotcha question was asking her to define a woman. The questioner was seeking a simple answer. It seems there should be. It’s an either/or proposition right? No. It’s not. We just need to look at the biology–use the science to prove it’s binary. Yet, when we do, we find complexity, not simplicity. Typically it is simple, but then we find there’s gonadal dysgenesis. Okay, look at the chromosomes. Nope that doesn’t work either. It isn’t always XX or XY.

Here’s something simple we have learned. When individuals experiencing gender dysphoria begin receiving gender affirming care, even just affirmation of who they feel they are from their family, many begin climbing out of depths of depression as who they feel they are inside is acknowledged by those who love them, or should love them.

Yet, many panic at the prospect of accepting the complexity that science provides and seek a simple answer. So we are seeing laws proposed and passed to prevent individuals accessing the medical community for resolving gender dysphoria, even prohibitions for teachers to address students by their preferred name and gender. It’s an attempt to disappear these individuals and the “problem” they present to those in society needing things to be simple. But, it’s not. When we oversimplify, individuals can be harmed.

Jon Stewart just aired an interview with the Arkansas Attorney General about an Arkansas law prohibiting any gender affirming care for minors. The interview shows the conflict between acknowledging complexities in a situation vs. seeking a simple answer for a complex issue.

Let’s shift gears for another example. Twenty years ago, September 24, 2002, Steve Earle released a song called John Walker’s Blues. It told the story of John Walker Lindh, an American teenager who went to Yemen to study Arabic. He stayed ten months and returned in 2000, when he was 19. He then went to Afghanistan to aid the Taliban. He was captured. The end result was accepting a twenty-year sentence for one of the charges brought against him with the others dropped if he stopped claiming he’d been mistreated and tortured by U.S. military personnel when captured.

When the story broke and video of him was released on the news, Steve Earle’s first response was that of a parent and empathizing with the parents. He wrote the song, John Walker’s Blues telling his story. You can imagine the response among the press and politicians. Many headlines were of the sort claiming Earle was honoring the “American Taliban.” A song about our enemy soon after 9/11 attacks is treasonous right? Or at least distasteful. Simple right? No. It’s not. The reality is it’s an attempt by a songwriter to have empathy by understanding what occurred for an American teenager to be pulled in by such religious extremism. The reality is complex and messy, and understanding can actually be beneficial.

Life is messy. Life is complex. We’re complex living systems embedded within complex living systems, trying to order our interactions with each other with complex social systems. Embrace it.

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