I’ve been struggling for the last 18 hours for a blog topic, and you know how it is: 20 minutes before it’s time to jump in the car and head to work, you’re hit with something you’re ready to share, and possibly even worthwhile.
It came from a friend in a text message: she said “My turn to wait at the orthodontist office.” Both my boys have been doing the Tooth-Straightening Twostep for a few years now. Daniel just got his braces off a couple weeks ago. this sent Alex into a fit of anger because he got his braces on first. At one point he even muttered “My teeth are straight enough…” and wanted us to scrap the nearly $12,000 worth of treatment we shelled out. Yeah. I’m not seeing it, bucko. If your dad had to have 4 teeth extracted, and wear braces from 7th grade until AFTER his senior pictures, you can have yours on a couple years too.
And now all my friends are doing it! bless ya, you’re in for a ride.
My next thought was why? Orthodontics has no discernible health benefit. It doesn’t decrease cavities or reduce stomach cancer rates, or even make us feel happy about ourselves. We just like things straight! We put a lot of money into straight things. Straight teeth (orthodontics) straight back (chiropractic), straight bones (orthopedics). We like stuff straight. As I reminisced further, I realized that even seemingly innocuous terms pervade our metaphors: “the straight and narrow.” “Straight up, dude!” Tidy white picket fences. Little maidens all in a row. We queue up, true to our mostly-anglo roots, and behave ourselves, because, like to confound all nature, straight is good.
On the contrary, the crooked path is bad. “Come straight home” says mommy. Saving time and steps are good. Meandering will lead you down a bad path full of sloth, gluttony and non-puritanical stuff. What’s the opposite of a nice straight pine tree? Gnarled? Twisted? The opposite of “straight up” is “gnarly” (I haven’t talked to a surfer in a few years so I may be corrected on this).
So where’s that lead words like “gay” or “homosexual”? I think you see what I’m getting at. What’s the opposite of “gay”? You know what it is. Again, to our old buddy “straight”. My point is that, semantically, anything that’s against straight has to fight a cultural, semantic bias in order to overcome it.
Smarter people than I (I’m thinking George Lakoff and Howard Kurtz) have realized that words matter. If you want to win a war, you need to change the language. Metaphor is so thoroughly engrained in our cultural and linguistic psyches that we can’t really separate the some concepts without lots and lots of work.
Maybe the simple act of embracing the term “straight” has led the LGBT movement to a half-century of panemonium. It’s like being branded on the forehead for LGBT folks: Well, if Straight is good, and I’m transsexual, then I must be… What? Gnarled? Twisted? Bad? Rotten at the core? Maybe even evil?
No. I don’t buy it. Fight the metaphor, people. You need to rethink your language, if you want to rethink your identity.