Posted on April 30, 2016
American icon or hate criminal?
“Boys are boys from the beginning, and girls are girls right from the start.” This bit of political heresy was brought to you by PBS. Or at least, it used to be.
Fred Rogers sang those lyrics frequently on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which aired from 1968 all the way until 2001, yet nobody ever seemed to find anything wrong with it. What small-minded bigots we all must have been. In this new, enlightened age of ours, you can’t just go around saying that one’s sex is an immutable fact of life. That would be “transphobic,” if such a word existed.
Because the prefix “trans” means “across,” the word “transphobic” must mean the irrational fear of crossing something, not opposition to the idea that any kind of person can become any other kind of person just by saying so. Then again, the enforcement of the definition of words is itself somethingist-or-other, for the very reason that it denies the possibility of a thing to become some other, completely different kind of thing. Being something you’re not is now a civil right, after all.
Had Bill Clinton given his grand jury testimony a quarter-century later, he could have said, “it depends what the definition of the word ‘is’ identifies as,” and everybody would have nodded along. The fluidity (to use a suddenly popular term) of the word “is” is nowadays taken for granted. Anybody who contends that it refers to a factual state of being is now considered to be the equivalent of a racist.
Mister Rogers’ musical reign of terror did not stop at telling the children that they have no say in deciding whether to be boys or girls, however. He even had the gall to assert that “girls grow up to be mommies, and boys grow up to be daddies,” as if he had a right to pigeonhole children into oppressive gender roles that, in Victorian times, might have been referred to as “norms.” His expectation that girls were more likely than not to remain female and have children reflects the kind of bigotry that one might expect from someone who was himself the product of a society based on the outmoded theory of predetermined gender assignment.
What’s most offensive about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood by today’s standards is not simply its failure to acknowledge “gender fluidity”; it’s the broader philosophical proposition that reality and make-believe must remain segregated. When someone would knock on Mister Rogers’ door, we knew it wasn’t King Friday, because characters from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe could not cross over into Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mister Rogers, however, was free to invade the Neighborhood of Make-Believe with impunity. He never actually traveled there, mind you. He only watched the toy trolley disappear behind the wall and imagined himself to have been on board. The message to his impressionable viewers was that make-believe is okay, just as long as you’re aware that you’re only pretending. Well, where’s the justice in that?
The right to one’s own reality is rooted in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The establishment of this as a legal precedent implies an additional right to have one’s definitions of these things validated by others. If you don’t want to be a parent, then you may decide that the unborn child you already have is really just a McNugget, and the law must agree with you. Likewise, if you’re a man, but you feel more comfortable defining yourself as a woman, then the law must let you go into ladies’ rest rooms.
There’s no telling how many millions of Americans grew up being deprived of these fundamental liberty rights by Mister Rogers and his oppressive narratives. He even used to sing to children that “you can never go down the drain.” For all he knew, there may have been children who would have found it liberating to go down the drain. If they wanted to define things in such a way as to make this possible, who was he to tell them no?
If Mister Rogers were alive today, perhaps he’d be put on trial for depriving children of their right to define the universe, and in particular for his hate crimes against gender fluidity. What could he possibly have to say in his defense? That he was merely telling the truth?
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