Susan Slotnick – Keeping up with the times

“Wow!” I thought. Me, a mediocre student who barely graduated with a 2.25 cumulative average, left back twice in the sixth and again in tenth grade, invited to speak at an Ivy League school! I was impressed! The subject I was to talk about was my modern dance program in a men’s prison. It’s a shame that I was not able to share this honor with my mother and father who never attended college. Especially my mother who was so enamored with the Ivy League, she spoke with a refined high-class accent when pronouncing “Vassar” and “Harvard,” elongating the vowel sounds and adding a soft “h.”

Later in the lecture hall it was all going so well, before the explosion. I loved the students. They loved me. “How did you get the men in the prison to show such emotion while dancing?” a student asked innocently.

“According to brain research, men tend to express emotions physically, where women tend to be adept at expressing emotions verbally,” I answered. You would have thought someone had put a big fat dead rat on each desk. On the student’s faces expressions of disgust, even the air seemed to leave the classroom. After a moment a student said, “Just stop what you are saying! We are very offended by the direction this discourse is taking.”


“Duh! What happened?” I thought. For the next hour-and-a-half, I abandoned my notes, dropped my agenda and they taught me a thing or two.

For all of us who went to school back when there were only “him” and “her,” times have changed. According to Facebook, there are now 51 new gender options for their customers to choose from. It gets confusing, starting with the difference between sex and gender identities. They taught me sex refers mainly to biology. Gender is more about your personal sense of who you are.

Here are some examples of new gender categories:

Agender — Someone who does not identify with any sort of gender identity.

Androgyne/Androgynous — someone who neither identifies with, nor presents as, a man or woman.

Bigender — someone who identifies as both a man and a woman. Gender fluid.

Bigender people may present as men, as women or as gender-neutral ways on different days. Different genders on different days, changing labels daily would be exhausting.

A student pulled up a list on her computer of more than of 63 different genders. A partial sample of the 63 different genders:


Masculine Homosexual Man

Masculine Heterosexual Man

Masculine Bisexual Man

Feminine Homosexual Man

Feminine Heterosexual Man

Feminine Bisexual Man

Androgine Homosexual Man

Androgine Heterosexual Man

Androgine Bisexual Man

Masculine Heterosexual Woman

Masculine Homosexual Woman

Masculine Bisexual Woman

Feminine Heterosexual Woman

Feminine Homosexual Woman

Feminine Bisexual Woman

Androgine Heterosexual Woman

Androgine Homosexual Woman

Androgine Bisexual Woman


“Also, we are protesting the use of personal pronouns on campus. We want all references to him, her, she and he banned on campus. Instead, we want the new gender neutral pronouns ze, hir, zir, xe, xem and xyr used. There are dozens of gender-neutral pronouns,” the student said.

“Which are for boys and which for girls?” I asked stupidly. They rolled their eyes.

“You don’t get this at all! That’s the problem! There are non-binary students in the room, also a transgender person right here in the class. You are offending all of us!”

“Do you know the definition of non-binary?” they asked.

“Is this a test?” I thought, because I will flunk.

“Genderqueer (GQ),” also termed non-binary or gender-expansive, is a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine — identities which are thus outside of the gender binary and cisnormativity.”


“What’s that?” I asked

“Cisnormativity is the assumption that all, or almost all, individuals are cisgender. Although transgender-identified people comprise a small percentage of the human population, many transpeople and their allies consider it to be offensive to presume that everyone is cisgender.”

“Okay,” I said wondering for the very first time in my life if I was a girl. I have never felt particularly girlish or feminine. I feel like a man when I dance hip-hop with felons in prison, which is often. I am bigender, hetero, androgynous, post menopausal and confused.

At this point I tried to shift the conversation since I was too intellectually inferior to follow the new linguistic perspectives.

“So, what else are students protesting on campus?”

“At Yale, students are protesting offensive Halloween costumes.”

I suppose Superman and Wonder Woman were no good because they are cisgender. But at Yale, the protests were about costumes that offend different racial and ethnic groups.

I can get on board with that. But what about free speech and free expression? Can you forbid certain costumes? Who will be the arbiter of what is funny and what is offensive?

At Harvard, students protested propagandistic placemats in the dinning hall.

For this column, I looked at the “social justice” placemats online. They were about student activism at Yale: the term “house master” used during slavery, the refugee crisis, Islamophobia and the murder of blacks in the streets by police. Each subject gave one point of view and urged the students, while discoursing at meals, to consider “mindfully before formulating a response.” The objection appears to be that all points of view were not represented on the placements. All points of view! The mats would have to be the size of Milwaukee!

At Oberlin College, students are protesting the ethnic food served at the food court. They are angry about what they refer to as “culturally appropriative” food.

They believe egg rolls that are baked, rather than deep fried, are disrespectful and do not honor the integrity of other people’s cuisine. Ironically, the new dishes were introduced for “nutritional diversity.” The dining hall may have actually tried to be politically correct by including culturally diverse menus, however, the efforts backfired when the food was deemed culturally insulting and inauthentic. (Sam’s Club sells frozen egg rolls. Yuck! So maybe.)

Why are almost all the protests on campus today, for the most part, exclusively about concerns that affect the student’s lives limited to their campus’s issues and where they live? In the 1960’s, student protests were about big global concerns, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement and the environmental movement. Each, to varying degrees, changed government policy and perhaps changed how Americans live today.

The Facebook/selfies generation is narcissistic. Don’t they care about war, refugees, nuclear proliferation, global warming, income inequality and human trafficking? What’s wrong with these kids? They are the elite privileged class of young adults in America attending Ivy League schools.

I called Liam Appelson, a former dancer in my dance company Figures-In-Flight. He is just finishing his first year at Yale at the age of 17.


He said, “Narcissism plays a role, but mostly it’s that the college students today do not believe they can change the larger world; it’s too daunting, and yet they want to make the world a better place, starting with what is closest to themselves.”

I guess I am getting old, and I need to keep up with the changing times. So if you see me in town, don’t say, “There she is. Say ‘There Ze is.’” I’ll get used to it.