My dad’s oldest brother was born in 1932. When he went to school (he went to Catholic school), the instructors forced him to be right-handed, even though he was a natural lefty. That was common practice back then. To train the left-handedness out of children. By the time I could form a relationship with my uncle, he wrote right-handed. I watched him do crossword puzzles on Sunday mornings after church right-handed (in INK…Uncle B was a firefighter for 30+ years, but he was a smart, smart man). So maybe a lot of folks would consider that training to reform his natural difference that made him a nonconforming minority successful.
He played golf a lot at the golf course he could walk to from his home and mowed grass at for extra money (he was a union firefighter with twelve children…he wasn’t a monetarily wealthy man), and he played golf left-handed. He showed a whole bunch of kids (all of his and all of his grandkids…and me) how to toss football and hit a baseball with a bat, which he demonstrated…left-handed. He turned pancakes with a spatula left handed.
He wrote right-handed after years of borderline (or maybe actually) abusive treatment to stifle his natural left-handedness, and it created a habit that stuck. He did those crosswords right-handed. But…he could still write left-handed. And he did sometimes as a parlor trick, to mystify his grandchildren with his ambidexterity. Grampa (Uncle B) can write the same sentence right-handed or left-handed, and it doesn’t look any different! Gasp!
I mean…he was still left-handed. All the stereotypical nuns cracking knuckles with rulers did not beat that out of him.
What kind of damage was my uncle’s left-handedness really doing to anyone? None. We, as humans, still put this type of arbitrary restrictions on people to ‘correct’ nonconformity in appearance and behavior that doesn’t hurt anyone. We do it with appearance codes (which I personally hate)…women must wear high heels in some places in the business and entertainment world still…there are places in time and space that don’t allow men to wear facial hair or long hair…there are places that criticize if not outright punish people with African ancestry for wearing their hair as it naturally is…
But more frighteningly, we do it with gender norms. I’ve written before about how my son is automatically expected to play sports, and he’s not into them, and that makes people assume certain things about him because he’s a boy. When I was a girl, I didn’t like wearing ‘girls” clothes or playing with exclusively ‘girls” toys, and people made certain assumptions about me too.
And my son is obviously cisgender in appearance and has a lot of other traditionally masculine interests (like engineering and outdoorsy stuff and thrill seeking and video games…)
And I am obviously cisgender in appearance (now) and I have always ALSO had SOME traditionally feminine interests (Strawberry Shortcake and cooking and baking and writing love stories…)
My son and I both never questioned our gender identity (he still could, but so far, there are no signs of that). But I mean…for people who DO question that and struggle with that? And/or their sexuality? The unrelenting assumption and pressure to conform must be overwhelming.
Some people think moving away from a gender binary is somehow harmful, and think those who don’t conform should be forced to. To me, though? I don’t get this. It seems to me almost exactly like what happened to my uncle when he was a kid, being forced into right-handedness for no real discernible reason.
Now that people who are gender nonconforming and/or nonbinary are somewhat more accepted in some spaces/with some people in media and public life, it seems to some people like these appearances and especially behaviors, and being open about that struggle and confusion and self-acceptance and discovery are ‘trends’ or ‘phases’ and therefore maybe not ‘real.’ But I think what is really happening is…society is slowly easing up on rigidly training conformity. So more people feel safer to be who and what they naturally are, and figuring it out in a more open way, without fearing guaranteed and complete negative social consequence.
No one forces a left-handed person to be right-handed anymore. And that’s good. Because it really served no purpose other than making everyone the same, which to me, doesn’t have much value.
Sometimes I wonder how much more my uncle could have learned (and he was an incredibly smart man anyway) had he not been needlessly drilled in his early learning years to write right-handed and spent that time reading or doing scientific experiments or making up creative stories or poetry or exploring higher math concepts. And even after all that effort…he was still left-handed.
And I wonder how much more people could learn and do and be if part of their mental energy wasn’t expended worrying about fitting into gender and sexuality norms and if they’d be accepted if and how they don’t conform.
A person can train or force themselves (or someone else can train or force them) to be something that goes against their nature for the sake of required conformity. That’s possible. I’ve seen it. My Uncle B wrote right-handed. A person can learn to hide and deny who and what they really are. But really? They’re still left-handed on the inside. Hiding and forced conformity doesn’t really change left-handed.
And being left-handed shouldn’t really be such a big deal.