Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair

#8: Bodies and Behaviors - Race, Sex, Culture, The N-Word, and Crossdressing

August 02, 2023 Jarrod Blair Episode 8
Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair
#8: Bodies and Behaviors - Race, Sex, Culture, The N-Word, and Crossdressing
Show Notes Transcript

Why do we restrict some people from participating in certain cultures because of their race? Why do we restrict some people from wearing certain clothes because of their sex? In this episode, we cover some controversial questions about the relationship between bodily characteristics, like race and sex, with certain forms of expression, like culture and clothing. 

Outro music: "Mr Pleasure" by BurnishedBronze on Pixabay

Intro music: "Lofi Heavy Chill Bass & Keyboard" by Phill Dillow on Pixabay

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Hello everyone, welcome back to another episode of Virtue Vibes. I’m your host, Jarrod Blair, and today were gonna talk about the relationship between bodily characteristics, like race and sex, with certain forms of expression, like culture and clothing.  

So, as you might have already guessed, today’s episode is gonna be pretty controversial. For a lot of topics that I’ve covered so far, pretty much everyone can get behind them. I’ve talked about topics like having productive conversations with people you disagree with, giving meaningful compliments, helping homeless people, etc. But as I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s virtuous to shrink away from controversial topics, and only talk about feel-good things. Like I mentioned in episode 7, there’s no need to wade into every controversial topic, but thinking about relevant ones can tangibly help you to determine how you are going to treat people in your life.  

So that’s what I’m doing today. Since these topics are so controversial, I’d ask that you remember some key ideas from episodes 1, 3, and 4, where I talked a great deal about my approach to having healthy conversations. In particular, remember that I’m just trying to do my best to figure out what’s true and how to live well. I could be wrong. But my ideas as well as yours, can’t improve unless we are willing to think and talk about it.  

So I’m going to try to genuinely convince you in this episode of my views by sharing my reasons for thinking and living in this way, but I’ll do my best to remain open to being genuinely convinced. So if you ever want to reach out and share your thoughts, I’d love to hear them. Alright, with that being said, let’s jump into it. 

 

---interlude--- 

 

Back in 2016, I moved to Japan to teach English for a year. Most days I was teaching in middle school, but every Thursday we would teach at an elementary school. An interesting feature of Japan is that 98.5% of the population is Japanese, so when I went to these schools I was usually the only non-Japanese person there. The elementary school kids were often fascinated by this, so I felt like a celebrity every time I arrived on Thursdays to a crowd of 10 year old’s screaming “Muki Muki Sensei!!!,” which is Japanese for “Bumpy Muscles Teacher!!!”  

I remember meeting a small black girl at one of my elementary schools who was born and raised in Japan, and it got me thinking about what her life must be like. I’ve heard from a lot of foreigners living in Japan that people will always treat you differently if you don't look Japanese, regardless of how familiar you become with the Japanese language and culture. But for this little black girl, the Japanese culture is the only thing she’s ever known. So as she grows up, it must feel so strange to be treated as if she was a foreigner, as if this wasn’t her home too. In a world where people of different races increasingly mix with different cultures, one’s race becomes less and less useful as an indicator of their culture. It’s situations like this that make me wish people wouldn’t culturally alienate others simply because of their race.  

I have to admit, though, that I remember doing something similar when I was a kid. I grew up in Phoenix Arizona, which is a pretty diverse city, especially in comparison to Japan. I was into popular black culture when I was younger. Rap, Hip-Hop, Basketball, Chains, Saggy Pants, the whole 9 yards. I'm half black and half white, which, by some weird logic, means I’m just black to many people, so nobody thought twice about me doing any of this. But I remember making fun of my white friends who wanted to do the same. And I’m not talking about simple jokes. I’m talking about making my white friends feel like they were lost, confused, or inauthentic for trying to behave the way that me and my other black friends did. Why? I don’t know. I saw other people drawing these arbitrary lines in the sand and I just went along with it.  

But now that I’m older and have had some time to think critically about my behavior, I think I was wrong. I shouldn’t have made my white friends feel lost or confused. They simply admired that culture, and genuinely wanted to participate in it, just like I did. And I honestly can’t think of a single good reason for excluding them, via peer pressure, from expressing themselves in that way on the basis of their race.  

These arbitrary limitations on behavior not only limit people from expressing themselves, they also teach people to treat their race as being more important than it should be. This is why I also don’t agree with the double standard around using the N-word. Growing up, other black people told me that I was supposed to explode on any non-black person who used that word, but also that it was ok, and even cool, for me to use it to address other black people. I was allowed to sing along with the rappers when they said the N-word, but my white friends were supposed to glitch out and stay silent for those moments in the song. In a moment that we could have both been vibing together, abrupt moments like this snap race back to the forefront of the mind, and erect an arbitrary barrier between us. This is why I simply don’t use the N-word, even when talking to other black people.  I want to do as much as I can to minimize unnecessary racialized thinking and living. Some black people find it empowering to redefine that derogatory term and reclaim it in an effort to bring comradery to the black community, but I don’t buy it. I don’t think you need to racialize your life in this way in order to feel deeply connected to other black people. And it’s little choices like this start to add up over time, and before you know it, relating to people who don’t look like you becomes much harder than it could otherwise be. 

 

---Interlude-- 

 

Alright, so that was a pretty heavy and controversial topic, so let's transition to a lighter topic. How about.... crossdressing. That’s right, crossdressing. What I mean by crossdressing is simply the practice of putting items on your body, like clothes and jewelry, that are typically worn by the opposite sex. 

 I’ll explain the connection with our previous conversation in just a second, but first I want to say what I am NOT talking about. I am not talking about sexual orientation. I am not talking about changing one’s sex via surgery. I’m not talking about pronouns, or any other related topics that LGBTQ advocates might care about. In order to figure out the truth about some of these controversial ethical topics, it’s important to think like a scientist and to isolate a specific variable to investigate. This helps you determine which specific things you agree with, and which ones you don’t, rather than simply accepting wholesale, or rejecting wholesale, all the different claims and ideas that some group might be promoting. So let’s focus in on crossdressing and set aside other related issues for this episode.  

So the topic of crossdressing highlights another case where people look at the kind of body someone has and then set some arbitrary limitations on their behavior. Boys wear blue, and girls wear pink. Boys wear shorts, and girls wear skirts. Boys should leave their nails bare, and girls can paint their nails with elaborate colors. Boys can pierce one ear and wear studs, girls can pierce both ears and wear hoop earrings, etc. But after you reflect on these rules for even a few seconds, you should be able to see just how completely arbitrary they really are. Do you think there’s anything special about blue and pink that prevents our cultural norms from being reversed? Have you ever seen men wearing tribal clothing in Africa, or the kilts in Scottland, that look just like a skirt? Are they wrong for wearing those? Is there any good reason why the paint on one's nails, or the location and type of earring that you choose, is correlated with a particular sex? Probably not.  

Similar to my white friends who admired black hip-hop culture, I think there are people who see these forms of self-expression being put on display, and they want to participate in it. Unless we have a good reason to do otherwise, I think we should let them.  

And now, for my most controversial claim of the day, I’m gonna talk about one very good reason why we should be more open to crossdressing, which goes as follows. I think everyone agrees that it must be awful to feel like you are in the wrong body in terms of your sex. Conservatives, Liberals, LGBTQ activists or anyone else will probably agree that this is an unfortunate mental state to be in. But when we tell people that the form of expression they want to participate in, such as clothing, is only available to bodies of the opposite sex, we actually instill in some people the feeling that they must be in the wrong body. They start to think, “I want to wear dresses, and only females wear dresses, so I must be a female,” and similar lines of reasoning, which over time can create a real disconnect between a person’s mind and their actual body. I’m not saying this is the only way that people come to believe they are in the wrong body, but arbitrary behavioral restrictions are certainly contributing to this phenomenon.  

And this restriction of bodies to certain behaviors is something almost everyone does. Some conservatives are completely against crossdressing, and others say that they are open and accepting of people wearing whatever they want. However, that openness is usually directed towards females who wear male clothing, like a tomboy, rather than a male who wears female clothes, like a... tomgirl? I even had to google that word because it is so uncommon to see acceptance of crossdressing in that direction.  

Liberal people and LGBTQ activists often do something similar on an ideological level. Even though they are more open to males wearing female clothing, and vice-versa, they often take this to be evidence that the crossdresser is in the wrong body. This means that their underlying philosophy has similar sex-based clothing standards; Boys wear shorts and girls wear skirts, so if you’re a boy who likes skirts then you just might be a girl.  

This kind of thinking that overemphasizes sex-based clothing standards not only limits people’s self-expression, but also for many people it can create a disconnect and a feeling that they are in the wrong body, which everyone would agree is an awful feeling to have. For these reasons, I think rigid sex-based restrictions on clothing is something we should probably do away with.  

 

--- interlude--- 

 

So I’ve said some tough things so far which many people would object to. Firstly, I argued that we should live without having race-based restrictions on behavior, and that any race should be allowed full participation in any culture when they have interest and put in the effort to understand and be a part of it. Perhaps I am wrong about this. But in order for me to change my mind, I would need to hear some good reason for keeping these restrictions. I would need somebody to show me why it would be harmful to allow that little black girl living in Japan to be allowed full cultural participation in that society. I need someone to explain what harm it would do if I were to let my white friends participate in black culture and music without batting an eye. Why would it be bad if nobody used the N-word? I’ve explained the upside of doing these things, so for now I am pretty convinced that I am right about this.  

Another objectionable claim that I made was that we shouldn't mind when people cross-dress, and that our overly rigid associations of certain clothing styles with certain sexes actually makes people believe that they must be in the wrong body. Perhaps I’m wrong about this as well. But in order for me to change my mind, I would need to hear a good reason why our clothing should represent our sex. Why can’t it just be... clothing? And I don’t mean to imply that it’s wrong to have a clothing section for males and another one for females or anything like that. Our bodies on average really are different, so clothing that accommodates this is quite nice. I just don’t understand why I should be upset when someone tries on styles from across the isle. 

In general, I really want people to be able to express themselves openly and honestly, and any outlets for that expression that are consistent with truth and virtue I’m happy to support. So that’s where I’m coming from, and even if you don’t fully agree, I hope I explained my reasoning clearly enough to help you see how I arrived at my conclusions, which might help you to develop your own views. If I’ve at least done that, then I consider this episode to be a success. Thanks so much for listening.  

 

---Outro--- 

 

Thanks for tuning in to Virtue Vibes. I hope this episode was challenging, in a good way. I hope it made you think about some new perspectives, and I’m really thankful that you gave me the time to try and work through my reasoning on these difficult topics. If you have any feedback, feel free to reach out. And don’t forget to share this episode with any friends who might be interested! Have a great rest of your week, and I’ll see you soon.