April 12, 2014

Laissez-faire Re-Interpreted: Neutralizing Reactions to Gender & Sexual Identity Queries.

Wikimedia Commons user JJ Georges

I believe that how one reacts to groups of people that may be in a minority (as far as sexual identity or gender roles go) will influence how others around them will react as well.

I care about people. Period. Not how they identify themselves sexually or how they dress, etc. I am accepting and have friends of every imaginable identity and I think this has to do with a series of events in my life that started when I was very young; these events helped shape me into who I am today.

I clearly remember being five years old at a 4th of July Parade in 1974 with my grandmother when a group of half-naked gay men in sheer, flowing, slitted dresses moved through the parade line-up. I was quizzical and excited by the sight but wasn’t sure how to react in front of my grandmother. Would she be upset if I cheered for or looked at the men?

I looked to her to see how she was going to react and she didn’t bat an eye. She cheered for them no more, and yet no less, than any other party of people in the parade—all while waving her little American flag that she was careful to never let touch the ground.

I believe her laissez-faire actions that day taught me a big lesson in life and helped to shape my mind. If my grandmother was going to be okay with it and cheer, then I got to cheer too. She completely diffused what could have become a life-long issue for me at that pivotal moment in my mental development.

And I believe this was the key—the laissez-faire reaction. The Miriam-Webster Dictionary describes this use of the word in the following way:

laissez–faire (adjective): “A philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action.

Naturally, this issue has come up again and again throughout the years and I can think of too many examples to list, but here is a sampling:

1. My dear Uncle Rob, who was married to my lovely aunt and who consistently wore women’s clothing to all the family events. (Never really made me think twice until I reflected on it just now)

2. A friend who didn’t want his daughter wearing pink dresses, let alone dresses at all, lest she become ‘conditioned’ by society (to this I asked, “Why don’t you wear dresses if you are going to make her wear gender-neutral clothes all of the time?”).

3. My daughter’s best friend announcing that her brother was moving in with his boyfriend at our dinner table quite a few years back (I followed my grandmother’s example, which has long-ago become my own, and exclaimed all about what great news this was! And my children and husband all nodded along agreeing with me).

Anyhow, to get back to my point—I feel that by not getting reactionary, but instead, by not paying any more or less attention to a situation when it comes to sexual identity or gender roles can go a long way in helping to make everything more comfortable and acceptable to people around us. Shrug it off. Ignore it. Or react in a way that we would in any other situation that seems natural to us. This will then rub off on others and help to diffuse any additional unneeded attention.

I recently saw a brilliant example of this played out on the David Letterman Show with Johnny Depp, who is engaged and happens to wear a typical women’s engagement ring.

Of course it is Letterman’s job to ask about the unusual and uncomfortable to keep the show interesting, but Johnny Depp was my hero in how he responded in being asked about his engagement ring.

Enjoy Depp’s laissez-faire answer and see how he shut down any potential excitement over the question for yourself:



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Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons user JJ Georges 


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