By Lisa Regula Meyer
Over the weekend, our family was enjoying some down time and relaxing by watching old episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. Nothing surprising or extraordinary about that, as we’re huge science fiction/fantasy geeks. The episode on was “Cogenitor,” a story of first contact with an alien species that has three sexes instead of two, and thus uses third party reproduction obligatorily. If you enjoy Star Trek, you know of the Prime Directive- a sort of Hippocratic oath for space exploration- that states a priority on non-interference in other cultures and their development. The introduction of a third sex and third party reproduction obviously got my interest, and this portrayal of third party reproduction was not much different from other portrayals in the media, like Baby Mama, or the “Friends” episode where Phoebe serves as a gestational surrogate for her brother, among others. There are hierarchies, possibilities for exploitation, qualitatively different life histories and possibilities, all the fun themes that keep surrogacy misunderstood and surrogates stereotyped (here I give a huge hat-tip to The Next Family for helping to change so many stereotypes- thank you!).
I know enough surrogates to know that this stereotype is far from the full story, but like all stereotypes, there is a small percent of people who do fit the stereotype, and one shared characteristic is enough for humans to lump lots of diversity and variation into one loose-fitting category. Our brains have evolved to categorize things, to make decisions simple and quick, because a wrong decision for a hunter or gatherer could have been deadly. Today, our brains are far too good at categorizing for our own good, and those quick decisions often get us into deep doo-doo.
Oysters make similar quick decisions when they are presented with something unusual, a grain of sand or a bit of broken shell, for example. It takes that small source of irritation and adds layer after layer of complexity to create a pearl, something unique and valued. What started the formation of that pearl was something unpleasant and not that valuable, but we almost entirely ignore that small grain in the center of the pearl in favor of the everything that came after it; it’s no longer seen as a grain of sand, but as a pearl, something totally different. For our part, we do things slightly differently. We take that small defining characteristic- be it race, ethnicity, gender, orientation- and use that as the basis for defining an individual. We ignore all the complex layers that the world and the individual have added to make a unique, beautiful individual. We see humans as inverted pearls, with the beauty on the inside.
What I’d like to see, and what I’m seeing more of every year, is seeing that individuality as the beauty that it is. I’m going to take a bit of creative license and totally reinterpret the saying “The world is my oyster” at this point. The world IS our oyster- it gives us experiences and challenges that are often a response to our identity, makes us a more complex person because of that experience, and makes us so much more valuable than those categories that we’re initially put into as a part of our identity. And not just us, this process happens to everyone; we are all so much more than the sum of our parts. Thank you, The Next Family and readers, for seeing the beauty in diversity and the value in all people. You’re helping to create a future that is far more interesting and accessible, and I appreciate that.
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