It is common practice among us potty-mouthed people to describe a courageous man as having “balls.” If a man’s courage comes into question, we wonder, “Does he have the balls to take this action?”
Sometimes we even compliment women by saying she has “balls,” e.g., “Lady T has a lot of balls. She speaks her mind.”
Well, thank you. I do speak (and write) my mind. But, I would prefer that if you want to compliment me on my courage, you use the phrase, “She’s got a lot of ovaries.”
See, I object to the idea that courage = manhood, and cowardice = lack of manhood or womanhood. I’m a woman. Don’t tell me that, by having courage, this makes me more masculine. No. Courage is not an inherently male trait, so don’t make it one.
But then I started thinking about people who don’t easily fall into the “man” or “woman” gender binary.
I am halfway through reading a very interesting book called My Husband Betty. The author, Helen Boyd, writes a memoir about living with a cross-dressing husband, who is heterosexual but still embraces his feminine side (think Ed Wood without the comically bad cult movies). The book is a real eye-opener about a culture I knew very little about.
I wondered, “Would a cross-dressing man be insulted if I said he had a lot of ovaries?”
Probably. He is, after all, biologically male, and according to this book, a fair amount of cross-dressing men still identify as male.
But what about people who are transgendered? People who are intersex? People who are born with male and female sexual organs?
Heck, what about a woman who has been forced to undergo an oophorectomy? Or a man who had testicular cancer and had to have one or both testes removed? Imagine that conversation:
ME: You’ve got a lot of balls!
MAN: Used to. Don’t anymore.
One might say I’m overthinking this issue. I counter this by saying that I would rather overthink this issue than accidentally use turns of phrase that might trigger painful memories.
On the other hand…how many people are really going to be offended if I say “balls” or “ovaries” as a substitute for “courage?”
Probably not many. It all depends on the individual and hir relationships. I don’t put up with bigotry or sexism, but if a close friend called me a slut during a sly, fun-filled banter session, I’d just call her one right back and we’d both laugh. Before you know an individual, though, it’s probably best to stay away from the gendered language, because you don’t know enough about that person’s experience.
“Then what words do we use?” you might ask (at least, those of you who aren’t running away screaming, “THOUGHT POLICE! LANGUAGE POLICE! FIRST AMENDMENT BLAH BLAH BLAH!”)
Well, I like saying that a person has a lot of “spine,” but that might be weird if you know someone with scoliosis. That’s why I’m sticking with “chutzpah.”
I say, when in doubt, look to Yiddish for your phrases. “Chutzpah” is just plain fun to say and it covers all the bases. It’s hard to insult people by saying they have a lot of chutzpah – unless that person is Mel Gibson, but I think repelling an anti-Semite like him is a good thing).
Final thought: Have the chutzpah to use “chutzpah.”