July 20, 2014 at 1:00 am

Parts are not parts, after all

The Home Depot sales assistant was out of patience.

Having listened to me describe my plumbing project, he had been moving efficiently up and down the aisle filling my cart with pipes and other parts, when he said something that stopped me cold.

“All you need now are three male fittings and three female fittings,” he said, pulling them from the rack.

As a highly sensitized person, I was shocked. I’d been schooled by the Netroots Nations convention, recently departed from Cobo Center, that arbitrary gender assignation is the next battlefront in the quest to create a perfectly neutral world.

Society has for too long relied on genitalia to assume maleness and femaleness. Don’t do it, my Netroots comrades caution. Gender is not about what does or doesn’t dangle. External appearance may not match internal gender identity, no matter how conclusive the biological evidence seems. Before using a pronoun, ask first which one applies. That will avoid inadvertent insult and let everyone within earshot know you are an uber-evolved human being, and not a Republican.

“How do we know for sure they’re male and female?” I earnestly asked the salesman.

He looked uncomfortable, obviously wondering how someone of my advanced years could still need a lesson on the birds and bees. But he was polite. And direct.

“Male fittings have threads on the outside, female fittings have threads on the inside,” he explained.

I was appalled. Gender shouldn’t be determined by threading. Every individual has the right to decide whether they are a man or a woman, or something in between.

He held up the package. “It says ‘male’ and ‘female’ right on the labels.”

Thanks to my Netroots research, I was ready for this. “Labels,” I lectured, “are the enemies of equality.”

I related that at a speaking engagement the night before, a person walked into the room wearing a smartly cropped beard over a pencil skirt and stilettos. My first instinct was that this is a man in woman’s clothes. But the practice of assigning gender roles to clothing is yet another discriminatory tool of a hetero-dominant culture determined to pound square pegs into round holes.

Slapping a “W” on the tag of a silky blouse could do irreparable harm to an externally threaded wearer.

My salesman didn’t get it. Meanwhile, the knot of customers waiting their turn for help was growing restless. So I appealed to practicality.

“Think about the consequences,” I implored. “What if I take this male part home and install it, and tomorrow it starts feeling a little girly. I could end up with a leak that floods my basement.”

By now the salesman was pulling the items out of my cart and callously returning them to their assigned spots on the shelves, without regard to their individual preference.

“Look sir, or madam, if you choose,” he said, nudging my now-empty cart toward the exit. “I think you’d be happier at Menards.”

(Not entirely based on true events).

nfinley@detroitnews.com
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