THE DIMMER SWITCH

I learned something recently, useless information really, but interesting. I learned that Thomas Edison received the patent for the rheostat (Dimmer switch) 8 years before receiving the patent for the light bulb. Maybe he had a ceiling fan he needed to regulate.

I was also talking to a friend the other night in the wee hours of the morning. We were talking about how much of society views gender or sexual orientation as a light switch. It’s either on or off. Light or dark. Male or female. Gay or straight.

The fact is, when it comes to human sexuality we share much more in common with the dimmer switch. There are infinite and subtle variations in how we view ourselves, how we present to others and who we find ourselves attracted to.

For the uninitiated, I could attempt to list examples, such as “poly, genderqueer, lesbian, androgynous” and on and on. But frankly, I’m growing tired of labels. I suppose it helps in casual interaction with people for them to put me in a neat little box, but I’m not so sure there is a box on a form that I can check that would accurately describe me.

My rhetorical question to the world is: “Why can’t you just accept me as I am without hanging a label on me?”

Labels are limiting.  On, or off. Up or down. When you use a dimmer switch you communicate differently vs the traditional on/off switch. “Please turn the light off.” It’s clear, unambiguous and there are only two options. Everyone in the room agrees. 100% consensus, the light is off. But with the dimmer switch, the communication changes and it becomes personal and subjective. Just right for me, might be too dark for you to read a book you are looking at. (a “book” is a manually operated non backlit analog ancestor of the Kindle) There is also no “Label” for the limitless stops along the way from fully light, to completely dark. The perfect setting has no name, but you know it when you see it.

People are like that too. We are all little snowflakes. Some fit more neatly in a box than others and that’s perfectly OK. But to again use an example unrelated to gender, imagine if we needed to identify ourselves on legal ID, at jobs or in casual conversation by what food we eat, but the boxes are designed by a society not fully understanding of the non binary nature of food consumption.

Your choices are: Vegetarian or Carnivore. Check the box.

Do I even need to go into the infinite possibilities that are real life food choices for people that just don’t fit the box? What if I like meat and vegetables? How is a vegan different from a vegetarian? I eat meat, but not red meat. On and on it goes. We like what we like. Imagine having to live your life according to what box you are required to check. Imagine a doctor checking it for you at birth and growing up KNOWING that the doc checked the wrong damn box.

That’s me.

Thankfully I have been able to get my box changed on my legal I.D. not only is it a big help in just living my life, it’s also a safety issue.

But as far as exploring my sexuality along the way, being transgender starts messing with the labels again. I have been seeing a girl lately…does that make me a lesbian? After all, I was born male, so some (especially governments) might see me as male no matter what I do. So does that make me hetero? What does it say about her? My point is, why does it even matter? I can clutter and muddy the issue on an infinite scale. The only people it should even concern in the least are those people involved in the relationship. (Notice I didn’t say 2 people, because many people enjoy the company of more than one other person in their relationships.)

It would be a boring task to create an unending list of check boxes for all of the possibilities when it comes to gender or sexual orientation. Maybe instead of the boxes, we can have a fill in the blank…or better idea, quit worrying about labels altogether.

Even back as far as 1872 when Thomas Edison patented the rheostat, there was understanding that sometimes “On and off” just didn’t cut it. If we can grant that dignity to the humble light bulb, perhaps it’s time to extend that to people.

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