Once upon a time, a man invented a vehicle. It had wheels, and an engine that powered those wheels, and a shifting lever he could use to make the engine go forward or backward.
The man was very proud of his vehicle, and the people found it useful. They drove them in long lines, forward and backward, going to some other place and coming back again. Cities created roads for the vehicles, and parking lots, and complicated rules of operation to ensure public safety and efficient transportation.
Then, one day years later, another man invented something called a “steering wheel” which allowed the operator to change the vehicle’s direction in more ways than just backwards or forwards.
The people freaked out.
“I cannot see sideways!” shouted some. “What if someone else steers as I am steering? We will crash!” cried others. “All the roads will have to change! We will need new road rules!” lamented others.
The inventor despaired. “But we turn and move in all directions all the time already,” he answered. “Surely those who wish to do so in the vehicle should be allowed that freedom.”
“It is not natural,” demanded the frightened populace.
The population voted to outlaw steering in vehicles, and some people began arguing that all turning of any kind should be banned. Until one day, when a plucky nonconformist took his case to court. The judges agreed that it was his right to be able to steer while in his vehicle. And in fact it was everyone’s right, if they desired it, to identify as a person who does not simply go forward and backwards but also in other directions. As a nonbinary vehicle operator.
The population reeled. “This will have repercussions far beyond this man’s vehicle,” they cried. “It was the wrong decision. Stupid activist judges and their liberal agendas!” But there was nothing they could do. Left and right had existed forever, and turning was every bit as natural as going forward or backward. It was just the system that had been designed poorly, to account only for two possible states, and that system had become so entrenched in the people’s minds that they believed anything that did not conform was immoral and repugnant rather than natural and beautiful.
Until one day, generations later, a child was astonished to learn that her great-grandfather’s society had only been allowed to go forward and backward. She found the idea unnatural and unnecessarily limiting, and she wondered about the poor people who had been oppressed all those years, forced to fit the poorly designed system.
This story was inspired by a facebook comment on this NPR article.