Applying for a new job is always stressful. It’s nerve-wracking enough worrying about making a good first impression in general, but when it comes to the ever more competitive job search, you also have to bring your a-game during the application process and the interview(s). Being a full time-student I’ve done this nail-biting, hallway-pacing procedure plenty of times for what I would say to be one of the most shallow job markets: retail. Because you’re being judged on your whole package, from style to personality, you have to make sure you cater to what that specific store is looking for on and off paper. Now that you’ve got the idea of how stressful it can be, even if it’s for a crappy salesperson position paying $8/hour, let’s flashback to my most recent experience applying at an undisclosed retail location in Village of Merrick Park. Upon filling out all the basic background info questions, I realized one question I typically considered straightforward (no pun intended) was a tad more complex: the gender question. What is commonly seen as an either/or, this or that, black or white choose only one checkbox, now had a third box with the word “other” next to it.
Seeing that third little square left me wondering a waterfall of thoughts. Like if the job application process is already that sweat-inducing, imagine someone who doesn’t feel like he or she fits into either of those confining boxes has to worry about that TOO every time he or she applies somewhere. Or like how “other” may be offensive to someone, as if it’s a joke or feeling even more like an outsider when really the box was added to create a more inclusive environment for those outside the gender binary. Needless to say I left the store wondering more about this topic…
For one, I think it’s great that society is pushing itself, and every one in it, to think outside the black or white format of looking at gender and sex and helping us all realize there is a grey area, that sex and gender isn’t as simple as two distinct boxes we are locked into at birth but is more of a gradient from black to white with infinite possibilities in between. But can we really blame the majority of people who don’t see it this way and don’t think twice about gender/sex being ONLY male or female? I mean the first thing a doctor says upon delivering a baby into this world is boy or girl. Then throughout elementary school boys and girls are split up. Bathrooms are divided. Recess practices segregated. Parents say things like “good girl” or “bad boy” to their infants. Or wait is that to pets? Anyway, in a world that pushes the cut-throat distinction between male and female, is it fair to blame the small mindedness of the alarming majority? So I do find great value in these “small” steps forward, like adding another box or teaching parents to not place so much emphasis on boy or girl, because they aren’t small at all, in fact they’re big, even giant, controversial steps in an evolving society. However I do believe it’s basically impossible to make everybody happy, so I’m sure there are many who assert themselves as being part of the “third gender” who don’t want to classify themselves as “other.” What I’m suggesting is the utopia, magical wonderland answer which is the hope of eliminating any judgment at all, a sort of Pangaea of humans so to speak where instead of create distinctions, or different combatting continents, we work on creating similarities. What if we all just referred to ourselves as humans? Is it safe to say we’d all check off that box? Maybe not. So for now, and possibly for always, I think a solution would be a blank box where one can choose to write, or not write, whatever they want. Hey if you choose to refer to yourself as a member of planet Zorg, then why should any body have the power to take that away from you? If you want to have “I’m female” in your e-harmony profile then you do it. If you want to write in “other” that’s your prerogative. But for those who don’t want to put any of that into print, for whatever reason, if they’re unsure themselves, if they don’t care to, etc. etc., then no one is forcing them to and they should know that that’s OK. Filled in or not, gender needs to start being looked at as a PERSONAL CHOICE.
On that note, now would be a good time for an educational side note on…gender! I know I’ve kind of linked gender and sex in this checkbox question, and I need to make the distinction between the two. While there IS a difference, that to be honest until recently I didn’t recognize myself on a day-to-day basis, I have noticed that they are somewhat interchangeable in regards to this binary checkbox between male and female. Sometimes I’ve seen gender and sometimes I’ve seen sex. So to get this air cleared up, gender is defined by FAO as ‘the relations between men and women, both perceptual and material. Gender is not determined biologically, as a result of sexual characteristics of either women or men, but is constructed socially. It is a central organizing principle of societies, and often governs the processes of production and reproduction, consumption and distribution’ (FAO, 1997). Therefore, sex is based on body parts and gender on societal rules, which means that gender can never be set in stone. For example, according to a New York Times article, in the 19th century girls AND boys “often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink as considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate.”
Hence, if gender is determined “socially” and society is constantly changing, then who’s in charge of what makes someone male or female. Oh that’s right, it should be their OWN choice, if they even choose to make one. In that regard, the “other” box is a huge step forward as an attempt to invite everyone who doesn’t fit, or choose to fit, within the binary. But then again I’ve only seen this third box on this retail store’s job application thus far. Did you know that the Harvard University application only has 2 boxes?
So if you consider yourself as part of what’s called the sex and gender identity or expression (GIE) minorities, you can apply at ease without conforming yourself to work in retail but not if you want to go to a top college?! And who are these Harvard-excluded “GIE minorities”? According to Dr. Cary Gabriel Costello from Intersex Roadshow blog, they include: intersex individuals, transgender individuals, and people with variant gender expression (for those who don’t know precisely each of these mean, Costello includes definitions in his post).
Anyway, until we get, if ever, to that wonderful, fairy tale land made of sugar and spice and everything nice, where judgment no longer exists and everyone can hold hands like a United Colors of Benetton ad, I’m suggesting we alleviate a teensy bit of it in regards to the gender question by adding this plane figure with four equal straight sides and four right angles (aka a box) under the word gender/sex on any type of application, where it seems vitally necessary to list a gender at all, that has a blank space next to it. Like this: ☐ ________. Because hey if “the man” cares so much about each individual recognizing and affirming their own gender, then maybe we should make that test a little more difficult to grade.
KYLE KNIGHT, of Huffington Post, says:
The refusal of states to reflect chosen gender identity on documents may also violate the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Both Australia and New Zealand have “X” as an option, in addition to “M” and “F” on passport applications.
ZACHARY I NATAF, of newint.org, says:
Since the routine practice of correcting the ambiguous genitalia of intersexed children began in the US and Europe in the late 1950s, debates have raged about whether gender identity and roles are biologically determined or culturally determined.
According to the Intersex Society of North America one in every 2,000 infants is born with ambiguous genitalia from about two-dozen causes. There are more than 2,000 surgeries performed in the US each year aimed at surgically assigning a sex to these intersex patients.
One of the most humane and enlightened approaches was observed in the 1930s among the Native American Navajo people. The Navajo recognized three physical categories: male, female and herma-phrodite or nadle. Nadles had a special status, specific tasks and clothing styles, and were often consulted for their wisdom and skills.
CAMDEN TADHG, on connect.ala.org, says:
I’m trans and my favorite way I’ve seen the gender question asked is to have the options Man, Woman (if we’re talking gender Male & Female aren’t the right words, imo), Trans, and a Prefer Not To Answer choice, with each box having a space directly after it for writing in and the option to “check all that apply”. Don’t know if the formatting will come out here, but it looks like this:
__ Man, ____________
__ Trans, _____________
__ Woman, ____________
__ Prefer not to answer, ___________
That way people can get as specific about their gender as they chose and things can be broken down a little more in the statistics by coding the responses, but you can also get some straight-forward numbers out of it. It’s similar to how many surveys are doing the ethnicity question these days, recognizing that a person can have multiple identities and backgrounds or may have identities that don’t fit neatly in a category, but that it’s still important to gather these numbers.
I do think these numbers are important. As long as gender and sex based privilege exist, it’s important to collect statistic.
Dr. Ritch C. Sayin-Williams, director of the Cornell University Sex and Gender Lab, in New York Times, says:
Last year, a preschool in Sweden, appropriately called Egalia, opened with the goal of eliminating all gender bias by referring to the children as “friends,” instead of girls and boys, as well as avoiding all gender-specific pronouns.
Australia last month issued new passport guidelines allowing citizens to give their official gender as male, female or indeterminate. In Britain, the Home Office is also considering a third gender category on passports, according to reports.
In the United States, the transgender movement is beginning to find advocates in high schools. There are now nearly 5,000 Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs, high school organizations offering support to teenagers, registered with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a national organization whose mission is “to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.”
Dianus Blackcat, in Thinking Outside the Gender Box, says:
No other human classification has as much impact upon one’s life experience as one’s perceived and assigned gender. When a child is born, the first question asked is invariably, “Is it a boy or a girl?” From there, society loads upon the individual a plethora of predetermined expectations for behavior. Any variation in the actual behavior from the assigned behavior for that particular gender is often fiercely discouraged, regardless of the naturalness of its occurrence.
Examples of the “third gender” concept can be found throughout the history of world cultures. From North America, there were the Cheyenne “he man eh,” the Lakota “winkte” and the Navajo “nadle.” Called berdache, or two-spirit, these individuals held a special role in social and religious ritual. From India and neighboring countries are the “hijras,” male transvestites, who are most often homosexual prostitutes. Although widely stigmatized in India today, they are still called upon to perform their ancient ritual function of singing and dancing in a house where a male child has been born. Many hijras claim that they are born with variant genitals, and that this is how they find their calling. Similar ritual transvestites can be found in traditional communities in Korea and Vietnam. Among some African peoples, such as the Zulu, only a transvestite person can perform oracles and other religious function.
Inscribed pottery from ancient Egypt says:
Inscribed pottery shards, like this one, discovered near ancient Thebes and dating from the Middle Kingdom, contain a listing of three genders of humanity: males, eunuchs, and females, in that order.
Anne Fausto-Sterling, in The Five Sexes, says:
Western culture is deeply committed to the idea that there are only two sexes. Even language refuses other possibilities.
But if the state and the legal system have an interest in maintaining a two-party sexual system, they are in defiance of nature. For biologically speaking, there are many gradations running from female to male; and depending on how one calls the shots, one can argue that along that spectrum lie at least five sexes– and perhaps even more.
1969, when the English physicians Christopher J. Dewhurst and Ronald R. Gordon wrote The Intersexual Disorders, medical and surgical approaches to intersexuality had neared a state of rigid uniformity. It is hardly surprising that such a hardening of opinion took place in the era of the feminine mystique– of the post-Second World War flight to the suburbs and the strict division of family roles according to sex. That the medical consensus was not quite universal (or perhaps that it seemed poised to break apart again) can be gleaned from the near-hysterical tone of Dewhurst and Gordon’s book, which contrasts markedly with the calm reason of Young’s founding work. Consider their opening description of an intersexual newborn:
One can only attempt to imagine the anguish of the parents. That a newborn should have a deformity … [affecting] so fundamental an issue as the very sex of the child … is a tragic event which immediately conjures up visions of a hopeless psychological misfit doomed to live always as a sexual freak in loneliness and frustration.
Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) says:
We certainly would like to see people become less freaked-out by people who don’t fit sex and gender cultural norms. But there are at least two problems with trying to raise kids in a “third gender.”
First, how would we decide who would count in the “third gender”? How would we decide where to cut off the category of male and begin the category of intersex, or, on the other side of the spectrum, where to cut off the category of intersex to begin the category of female?
Second, and much more importantly, we are trying to make the world a safe place for intersex kids, and we don’t think labeling them with a gender category that in essence doesn’t exist would help them. (Duh, huh?)
Margot Magowan, on Reel Girl, says:
When I was a parent volunteer on a field trip, the naturalist asked the kids to split in two groups, so the teacher said: “Boys on one side, girls on the other, that’s easiest.” So what if it’s “easiest” at that moment? Moves like that, in the long run, hurt kids. A teacher would never dream of saying: “White kids here, kids of color there.”
“A truer nomination for our species than Homo sapiens might be Homo narrans.” -Henning Mankell
Dr.Cary Gabriel Costello, on Intersex Roadshow, says:
For people who are trans gender, gender transitioning is made traumatic in large part due to the checkboxes we must face daily. Binary gender markers are everywhere: on our drivers’ licenses and passports, on loan applications and job applications, and on websites everywhere (from Facebook to shopping sites to online radio stations). Once you’ve checked off one box, changing it is bureaucratically and legally difficult—and sometimes there’s no way to change it at all. This leads to all sorts of hassles and embarrassment, as we’re “outed” in odd contexts. Worse still, if the gender we’re living in doesn’t match the marker on our ID, we’re subject to being banned from flying, arrested by bigoted police officers, and denied employment.