Three little boxes blink at me, a puzzle with no solution. Gender: Male, Female, Transgender. How am I supposed to answer this question? I can only choose one option. I could say that I am male–after all, I am. Yet it feels weird to leave the “transgender” box unchecked, perhaps suggesting to whoever is on the other side of this form that there are no trans people here. On the other hand, it seems bizarre and a bit offensive to check “transgender” at the expense of “male,” as if being trans totally defines me, as if I am not a man.
Another form I recently faced was even stranger. Gender: Male, Female, Trans-Male, Trans-Female, Other. What the hell? My gender is not “trans-male.” My gender is male; I am also a human being who is trans.
I appreciate that people are trying to acknowledge that trans people exist. I do not appreciate that doing so apparently means ignoring my actual gender as a trans person. Kinda defeats the whole purpose.
I think many people suffer a basic confusion about trans identity. Transgender is an umbrella term that shelters many people. What we all have in common is a gender identity and/or expression that is different from the sex we were assigned at birth. “Transgender” does not denote a person’s gender, per se–rather it describes the relationship between their gender and their society.
Some trans people are non-binary, meaning neither men nor women. Non-binary folks may describe their genders as transgender or genderqueer, or they may use some other term. Most trans people are men or women. We describe our genders as either male or female. This means that some people under the trans umbrella describe themselves as transgender, full stop–but most describe themselves as some gender and transgender.
When forms ask for a sex/gender, they should accommodate everybody. When I am faced with forms that don’t allow me to describe myself, I simply stop filling them out, if I can. When I can’t–such as forms for school and work–I list myself as male. I would prefer, however, to describe myself fully. In the case of forms for my university, for example, I worry that flaws in this question could affect services for transgender students.
I can think of a bunch of ways to solve this conundrum. For now, I will confine myself to one very simple solution, which, I think, accommodates all parties. The gender question should include the options male, female, transgender and other (write-in), and respondents should be allowed to check all that apply.
Give it a try!
Readers–does this solution accommodate your gender identity? How would you ask the gender question?