Society craves categorization, wants a convenient way to distill complex concepts into easily digestible labels. Humans also require certainty as to who may be their allies and enemies, a vestigial survival trait that reduces the population to friend or foe. Frequently, this taxonomy creates artificial binarity, a semantic distinction devoid of subtlety that pigeonholes people into two opposing groups, even at the risk of trying to smash a square peg into a round hole. This perplexing polarity thereafter creates unnecessary conflict and consternation that could be avoided by understanding the power of the spectrum, a third option that more readily reflects the realities of existence.
We are comically awash in false diametrics. Female/male, Democrat/Republican, Jewish/Catholic, black/white, and on and on and on. As an organizing principle, these reductions tell us very little about the actual person bearing these lazily-constructed and applied monikers. Incomplete, inaccurate, and yet perceived as indispensable, we need an awakening, we need the confidence to push back against the tide of reductionist thought.
Progress comes in painfully small increments. The recent proliferation of “Other” or “Non-Binary” options on official forms is a belated recognition that gender fluidity is not just something concocted at a trendy Parsons School salon. It is, at long last, a release valve for those who have been crushed by the illusion that failing to fit neatly into one box makes one less worthy of this beautiful life. Crushed is too light a term; this insidious paradigm has murdered many radiant souls, and not just figuratively.
American politics is not likely to embrace an alternative to the two-party system any time soon. It is a curious, although historically and financially explicable, outcome, given that extremism threatens to destroy any hope of cooperative governance. Just as there is room for a man to express his/her/their feminine side, there should be electorally viable groups that reflect the reality of individual views. Where does the pro-gun, pro-inclusion, anti-tax person who believes in certain social programs find a political home? Does a fiscally conservative person from the city have to swallow their distaste at bigoted members of their lifelong party in order to advocate for their financial views? What about the proto-socialist that believes that the Democrats are too far to the center, but isn’t yet ready to form a local Communist Party?
Racial and religious distinctions are the wedge splintering our populace further. Though there putatively exist a continuum of ethnic identities and a gamut of spiritualities (or absences thereof), in practice there is an infernal dualism between the majority and everything else. Being on the wrong side of this “either/or” dichotomy is an invitation to abuse, discrimination, so much worse. We have not even begun to understand what it will take to reach a stage where all feel equal protection under the law and, more importantly, equal treatment in every interaction, large or small.
The third option is a misnomer: rather than limiting the universe to three, instead of two, options, the third option really stands for the infinite possibilities that we have to craft our society in our own image. It is a cipher for the ability to see solutions that blend the most positive attributes of all choices, while minimizing the drawbacks. It is messy, confusing, subject to change, sometimes indeterminate, and requires a great deal of thought and not a little faith. It is life.