Outer edges of the spectrum

This kerfuffle over the woman track star from South Africa? The one who may be a hermaphrodite. It brought to mind an extraordinary woman. She did something years ago that caused millions to heave sighs of relief.

There was something extraordinary about that: None of the reports of the event dared mention the very thing that prompted that collective sigh.

More about her later.

I feel sympathy for the South African woman. Some reports suggest she is half-man, physically. Critics say she probably has a flow of hormones and whatever that we normally find in men. That is why she is so strong and muscular and leaves other women athletes in the dust.

I feel more sympathy for millions of men and women who are in similar situations. We all know girls and women who look and sound like boys and men. Their limbs bristle with hair and bulge with muscles. Their voices may be deep. Their gestures and movements may look mannish.

We all know boys and men who look and sound like girls and women. They mince about, flutter fingers, throw like girls. And all that. Many of them tell us they feel they are women trapped in men’s bodies.

I feel sympathy for them because so much of our society refuses to accept them for what they are. They are people. Like you, each is endowed with certain biological ingredients. Too much of society will not accept their mix of ingredients. As if we create ourselves.

These people fall on the outer edges of the spectrum. Too many folks in the middle of the spectrum are uncomfortable with those from those outer edges. They like a sashay, but not in a guy. Arm wrestlers are okay, but not in skirts.

How does this matter? I bet you cannot imagine a burly, deep-voiced, mustached, masculine-like, bow-legged, back-slappin’ woman as our president. Or as the CEO of a prominent company. Or in any of a thousand jobs.

I bet you cannot imagine a winnowy, sultry, effeminate, coquettish guy in these positions either. People won’t elect them, won’t hire them, won’t promote them, won’t take them seriously.

Sure there are exceptions. They have talent and drive enough to vault the barriers. In the depths of our Jim Crow era there were blacks who excelled amidst the prejudice. But there are countless others of less-than exceptional talent and drive who languish in jobs they don’t like. And who rarely get accepted into social circles they aspire to. Because others won’t accept them as they are.

In the 1930’s a young woman athlete named Babe Didrikson won medals and cups in most every sport she took up. She beat all the women and a good many men. Sportswriters and fans called her one of the greatest all-round athletes who ever lived. Ah, but she was mannish, muscular, somewhat flat-chested, square-jawed. Reporters called her “girl-boy,” “not-quite female” and “Muscle Mol.”

At least one biographer said she was lesbian and named her lovers. However, Babe wanted to be loved and accepted by the public. So she ditched her slacks and short haircuts. She came out perfumed, in dresses and hats, tresses to her shoulders. She sported lipstick for the first time, and polished nails. She camouflaged herself to appear more feminine.

And then she – gasp – married a huge professional wrestler, George Zaharias. My father reckoned that when Americans read the news of the wedding they – by the millions – felt an almighty wrong had been righted. Babe had assumed a role they could accept as normal.

Meanwhile, Babe had a girlfriend move in with them. Drove George crazy, we were told. Along with the fact that she beat him in arm wrestling.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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