The Gender Revolution, Televised began as a layman’s rumination on gender identity—what it means, what it does, how it starts. I suppose it was also fueled by my pessimistic view that whenever society has an opportunity to learn some great lesson, it typically squanders it, focusing instead on rants and curiosities. That’s certainly been true for pretty much any racial, religious, or gender-based scandal in recent history.
That being said, the closet optimist in me still believes that lost opportunities can be—and often are—internalized in our collective self, the way a fledging student might seem to ignore a teacher’s advice, only to employ it later without even realizing it. There’s some precedent for this. For instance, the Dred Scott case, the Scopes Trial, and Plessy v. Ferguson all initially reached shameful conclusions, though their legacy sparked a positive reversal.
Obviously, the poem’s title is a nod to Gil Scott-Heron’s socially scathing, pulse-quickening piece, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, first recorded in 1970, which itself begins with an acknowledgment of that frustrated, counter-culture anthem coined by Tim Leary a few years earlier: Turn on, tune in, drop out.
I love addressing social issues in poems, but nobody really wants to hear a bunch of dry, imageless pontifications, whether they agree with them or not. So especially when it comes to modern poetry, I think it’s a matter of retraining the pipe-smoking, analytical brain to do what children do with ease—that is, be visual. Seize and keep hold of the primal thread afforded by imagery and scene, regardless of whatever else wanders in. While this particular poem began as a rumination, I didn’t even realize at first what I was ruminating on; I just had the silly image of bowties on an ultrasound, and the question of how society might respond to such a thing.
Smarter minds than mine have scratched themselves raw, trying to decide whether gender identity is a wholly social construct or is, on some level, as immutable as race. I don’t claim to be an expert on much of anything, but I do think that complex issues and disquieting social hypocrisies (and apathies) can often be understood simply by replacing certain variables with absurd exaggerations, similar to how satire works. Thus, in certain settings, even something as innocuous as a bowtie could ignite the same aggression, anxiety, and short-sightedness as a foreskin. But great or small, it’s also true that instinctual, misguided rushes to judgment can still be a catalyst for change, given time.
Also, I hate bowties. But hey, other people love them, so I must be missing something.
Michael Meyerhofer's poem, "The Gender Revolution, Televised," appeared in Issue 55 of Hayden's Ferry Review.