Gender options

Lynne Murphy lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Tue May 7 17:55:16 UTC 2002

--On Tuesday, May 7, 2002 1:42 pm -0400 Mark A Mandel <mam at THEWORLD.COM>

> Both these people have had medical procedures to align their bodies
> with the X (sex, gender, what you will: the obligatory dyadic choice
> that our society imposes) that they feel they belong to. Current usage
> shows that "transgender(ed)" is the term that such people choose to
> describe their situation. Is that choice any less legitimate than, say
> "Inuit" over "Eskimo"?

No, but it's more likely to be misunderstood because 'transgender' means
more different things to more different people than 'Inuit' does.

For the record, if it seems that I'm complaining about the philosophy assn
including 'transgendered' as a category, I'm not.  I'm just interested in
the meaning shifts in it that are akin to the meaning shifts in 'queer':
from specific to theoretically general to specific in practice.  The
'specific in practice' bit signals a return to the status quo as far as
understanding of gender goes:  it's female, male, male-to-female, or
female-to-male, but always with a definite value rather than a mutable one.

And I also see similarities to other kinds of labelling that have gotten
'mainstreamed'--e.g., black, African American, gay, etc.  As the terms are
used in the mainstream society, they get bleached of the particular
meanings or usages they had as self-labels and are semantically more like
the terms that they ended up replacing.

Obviously, people-labelling is an issue that concerns me a lot.  I've gotta
stop responding here and get back to the other things that ought to be
concerning me today!


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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