Gender options

Jewls2u Jewls2u at WHIDBEY.COM
Tue May 7 17:20:50 UTC 2002

Isn't transgender a sexual identification used for the very small segment of
the population that is actually born with ambiguous genitalial? Making their
sex/gender neither male nor instead of being identified as
'its', they are transgender.


-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
Of Lynne Murphy
Sent: Tuesday, May 07, 2002 9:13 AM
Subject: Re: Gender options

--On Tuesday, May 7, 2002 12:39 pm -0400 Fred Shapiro
<fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU> wrote:

> On Tue, 7 May 2002, Lynne Murphy wrote:
>> One of the problems here is that 'male' and 'female' aren't
>> genders--they're sexes.
> Why aren't "male" and "female" genders, Lynne?  The usage of "gender"
> you are criticizing is as old as the one you like.

Except that when you start using terms like 'transgender', you start
acknowledging a difference between sex and gender, I think.  (My
prescriptivist motivations are less linguistic than political.)  Whether
you want to use 'sex' or 'gender' as the name for it is another matter, but
it seems to me that the question here (what gender are you: male, female,
transgender) is asking "Do you identify yourself by your chromosomal sex or
not.  If yes, what is it?"

Depending on how you define 'gender' and 'transgender', it's possible that
90% (or more!) of the population 'should' be checking 'transgender'.  I
think this form presents (yet) another example of discrete categorisation
overtaking continua in identity politics--or in mainstream adaptation of
others' identities.  If the 'transgender revolution' is about us all
recognising the fluidity of gender and identity (which in some rhetoric, it
is),then the existence of three discrete categories isn't too much of an
improvement on having 2 categories (unless everyone picks the third

It's interesting to compare this to 'mixed race' or 'multiracial' as a
relatively new category on census (etc.) forms.  (The US census actually
asked people to check 'one or more' racial/ethnic groups.  Could that be
done with genders, one wonders?)  While 'biracial' and 'multiracial'
categories are  quite successful these days (i.e., people are opting into
them even if they have the option of a single category), I can't see a
'mixed gender' category being so successful.
This is probably in part to do with the fact that one can consider oneself
'multiracial' without self-evaluation (one looks at one's ancestors), but
gender categorisation is entirely intrapsychic.  But I think it's also just
because of continued taboos on (admitting to) crossing gender-sex lines.
Actually, the last two points are not unconnected.

Blathering on as usual,

Dr M Lynne Murphy
Lecturer in Linguistics
Acting Director, MA in Applied Linguistics
School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

phone +44-(0)1273-678844
fax   +44-(0)1273-671320

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