To be a woman is something so strange, so confusing and so complicated
that only a woman would put up with it.
— Søren Kierkegaard
In FemmeStruggle (2007), the challenge of being a queer woman in a complicated world is made very difficult by how the social conventions work to make complex choices invisible, devalued and even stigmatized.
American culture values KISS, the injunction to Keep It Simple, Stupid! History, nuance, context and connections are all erased. If a choice isn’t simple, it must be crooked, twisted, evil or subversive.
We just saw America make a choice between a woman who has lead a complicated, intricate, nuanced life, full of tough decisions based on a huge volume of internal communications and a man who always strove to keep his choices simple enough for a television audience to grasp between commercials.
Simple, uncomplicated and venal choices were dismissed as just boys being boys, but the complex, thoughtful and very difficult process of finding balance and struggling with impossible compromises was seen as somehow disgusting, corrupt and anti-American.
The people revealed that they wanted a nice, KISS leader, one who appeared uncompromising, no matter how much their past was compromised by the questionable ethics of fame and fortune, to fill a massively complicated job that is all about finding compromises that serve the country and the people.
To Make America Great Again, they chose to make it simple again, simple enough that they could understand it in quick slogans and appeals to fear. They took back their country by choosing someone who promised to purify it, purging out challenges rather than working to create new, innovative, complex and challenging solutions for the future.
KISS. It’s good enough for them, shouldn’t it be good enough for the country that they love? Isn’t the point to stop the slide into a connected and complicated world, to impose our own fundamental answers? Isn’t simple and pure always the right choice? Can’t we just build a wall to separate us from them, keeping we good people from those with problems we don’t want to understand, and then have them pay for it?
For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
– H. L. Mencken
My personal challenge has always been to expose the connections that exist under the surface, to use context to expose nuance, offering a deeper way of thinking about the challenges we face everyday.
To me, this illumination is the essence of a good sermon, one that holds insight which helps us make better choices when we return to our everyday life.
Everyday, I struggle to find a way to connect with an audience that lives in a world where they are bombarded with stimuli, where their attention is consumed just in trying to get through their day.
I know that it is a huge ask to have them slow down and take the time to consider a more complex view of the world. It’s almost impossible for someone to read one of my pieces and understand it, because the context emerges over a wider engagement, links upon links, folded symbol to reveal deeper meaning.
Most people don’t want to do that very hard work, the work I talk about in FemmeStruggle (2007) that lets us own our own complex nature beyond the invisibility created by limited cultural references.
Instead, they want KISS, simple sayings that echo what they already believe, bits they can share with others to express and validate something simple that they feel.
Complicated and nuanced, ideas and notions that you have to work to get, pieces that illuminate the tough compromises the world demands, well, it’s much easier to just dismiss them as too intellectual, too complicated, too queer and too crooked.
KISS won. It was no surprise to me. Even as others couldn’t imagine how a boor could take the prize, I understood the appeal of the simple and the fundamentalist because I have faced a wider audience who has demanded that from the moment I tried to explain my experience of life to a school teacher.
The world, though, isn’t simple. It is layered, magical, deeply connected with the action of a butterfly able to set in motion huge currents and vast effects. Trying to cut it down to a size that you already grasp is just asking for surprises and costs that will swamp you.
I know why people like the idea of KISS, why they want the universe to run to their expectations and limits. Engaging the divine surprise is always hard work.
As a woman, a complicated femme trans woman, I also know the cost of that approach to the world.
And, as always, I fear and dread having to pay that horrible price.