A Prescriptive Letter About The Danger Of Prescriptive Rhetoric


My opinion about gender/identity politics and where I stand as an individual within that political discourse might be an unpopular one, but it is mine nonetheless.

As a straight white male who enjoyed a well-off upbringing, I share the same identity which has thought itself the quasi-normal archetypical figure for civilization/humanity for centuries and whose words and opinions have formulated the discourse of politics, art, spirituality, ethics, morality, philosophy, etc. in the Western world for the better part, if not all, of recorded history. I do not find myself a victim and therefore do not see myself as willing or able to fight on the frontlines of gender/identity politics in the present climate.

I believe (not in the prescriptive, demonstrative way) that those battles must be fought primarily by the victims of the entrenched societal norms my archetype has established over time. A voice resonates more when it is paired with the visible archetype whose plights about which that voice speaks. The cause takes and holds greater and deeper roots when individuals who share the identity of those who have created the environment conducive to victimization are unseen relative to the group that is itself being victimized. It would be unproductive and, more importantly, presumptuous for a person like myself to be part of the visible frontlines. This does not, however, exclude me from being part of a solution.

My place, I feel, is to be an ally whose voice is loudest in his actions on the political, personal and economic levels. My place, I feel, is not to talk but to listen and to learn from the victims of the circumstances my archetype has created. Those with whom I share my identity have prescribed for centuries without the fear of punitive action, and it is time to give the same level of immediate respect to those of a different model. My own loud frustrations and ramblings on these issues, of which I am not a victim, no matter how altruistic or empathetic in nature, will not be anymore than kin to the same prescriptive activities my archetype has been doling out which have created the environment we see today – an environment in which many groups are fighting to feel equal because of an ethnocentrism we fear to confront.

My place, I feel, should be one of humility, whereby I recognize what it is my archetype has done to disenfranchise others in order to uplift the identity with which I share everything. In finding my place in this discourse, it doesn’t matter that I, personally, have not created victims. It does not take me acting like a stereotypical straight white male to look like one, have the voice of one and have that voice be representative of a group that is not victimized. What does matter is that I refrain from prescriptive rhetoric, except for my own interpersonal monologue that is being educated by the careful listening of victims’ lessons, that I act out those lessons in the public and private realms, and that I willingly give up the power of voice that was handed to me via a long and bloody line of successive racial and identity driven domination. Along with, of course, not creating more victims, both directly and indirectly.

There are historical examples that would prove that those outside the realm of the victim could have an intensely powerful and necessary voice used on the frontlines of these large society-shattering issues. However, I would argue these voices ultimately live the lives of the victims, or, by siding with the victims and using their voices to speak out, they themselves become victims thus giving their voices more force and resonance. But I, specifically, do not live in a place or time where either of these circumstances is possible. Standing at a podium in the United States and advocating for gender/identity equality will not make me a lesbian black woman nor will it get me arrested.

However poorly explained that was, it was my intent to illustrate that I cannot be a Mahatma Gandhi or an abolitionist in the place and time that I currently live. I am not trying to push off my own personal responsibility when it comes to gender/identity politics, I am merely trying to place my responsibility in a, well, more responsible station in accordance with the climate I find myself in.

My voice should speak in action and teach by example those lessons I have learned through careful listening coupled with a willingness to understand without a vain need to be a prescriptive force. I must be willing to be, not a bystander, but a quiet yet sturdy reflection of the victims’ lessons.

In light of what I have just written I cannot provide a list of ways and means a straight white male such as myself can find his own sensible position in this ever important issue. I can, however, tell you that there are so many better qualified people with whom you can talk to, listen and learn from to get started realizing what you can do and how you can help. Just google it.