Alice Dreger has a wonderful blog about Australia’s new gender system of M, F, and X. I am still trying to figure out when the U.S. decided that sex was gender, thus forcing everyone to declare on any enrollment, financial or census form that their “gender” is M or F. I mark F but not because I think that “female” is my gender because, as I remind my students, male and female are terms for the physical body–with apologies to Anne Fausto-Sterling for not immediately declaring that, of course, bodies don’t just come in two kinds. “Woman” or “man” are terms for the cultural categories we call gender.
I mark F and wish that the form would at least give me “woman” or “man” because then I might feel that they’re actually acknowledging gender rather than trying to slip it back into biology. I could check “woman” and then pause to think how closely I fit that category since I am not a heterosexual woman as the term might imply. Now I don’t need a form that says “lesbian,” at least not a government form, although I am proud to tell the Census Bureau that I am in a same-sex partnership–and since I also check F, that must mean I’m a lesbian.
Other options might be nice. Androgyne, or, as they say in Indonesia, andro, for those who feel they are neither too masculine nor too feminine. Transgender would seem like an obvious addition, or transman and transwoman, although some transpeople might just want to check the gender they are. Or forms could have multiple boxes to tick–check women, man or trans and then check butch, femme, andro or queer. I could be a W/A for andro woman. Such multiplicity would definitely get us beyond two simple categories.
But any box or label would be limiting. As one of my friends in Indonesia told me, when she is with those who prefer to be labelled either tomboi and femme, her identity depends on who she is dating. Mostly she sees herself as andro but if her partner is a tomboi, then she will identify as femme.
But back to Australia, I think everyone should check X in solidarity with whoever the state thought would like to use X. Intersex? Trans? Dreger suggests that since intersex people usually identify with one or the other gender assigned to them, they could check X/F or X/M, a nice hybrid category. Interestingly, Dreger says that “gender” refers to one’s sense of self, while I usually define it as the social attributes culturally assigned to particular bodies. Her definition, if she means to detach it from any reference to masculinity or femininity, might be a useful way to move gender beyond bodies, leaving us only with selves. I’ll take an S please.