Sometimes when I read the news, I hardly know what to think or feel. The political sphere has no time for ambiguity....can't be in the discussion. One way of thinking about ambiguity contrasts it to certainty and clarity, and the latter usually come out on top. It's better to know than to be unsure about what something means, about what you are feeling, about what is to be done. But imagine a world where the response by the U.S. to the attacks of September 11 was an admission of uncertainty about how to react, of hesitancy about the best course of action, and a stated desire to consider the many possible ways to interpret and to respond to the attacks. (See SLOW). Rather than thinking of ambiguity only in a negative sense‚Äîwavering of opinion, hesitation, uncertainty about one's course of action, equivocation‚Äîwhat if we instead unravelled the negative connotations of wavering, hesitating, being uncertain, equivocating, lack of clarity? In a complicated world, what's wrong with being uncertain? What's wrong with changing your mind? What has Bush's certainty gotten us? In a world of Bush-certainty, embracing manysidedness is a subversive act.
The presence of ambiguity also pushes us to break out of a dualistic, either/or mentality and to mess up the solidity and surety of categories, which is part of the reason why it's so anxiety-producing. But sometimes people are relieved by ambiguity. Almost every day when I walk into the women's room at my work place, I experience other people's anxiety about my ambiguous gender. But one time was different. I was walking into the bathroom at the same moment as an older woman was walking out. We bumped into each other and she said, "Oh, this is the women's room" and I said "I know, I'm a woman." Her response was utterly different from any I had ever experienced: she hugged me tight and gave me a huge smacking kiss on my cheek, beamed an enormous smile at me and said, "You're great!" I wish I ran into her more often!
See Kendall Thomas's "Are Transgender Rights _In_human Rights?" for a meditation on embracing ambiguity.