Asking the right gender questions

Last week the well-respected Urban Institute published a study on technology, teen dating violence and cyberbullying, writes Dana Beyer in today’s Huffington Post Gay Voices in a piece about the study’s approach (and those used elsewhere) to asking questions about gender identity .

“The numbers were pretty horrifying, and they were worse for LGBTQ youth, both as victims and perpetrators. As I was looking through the documentation to study how the research was structured, I noticed something very interesting about the intake forms. The first question was, “What is your gender? Male. Female. Transgender/gender-queer.” The fourth question was, “Of the following, which do you primarily identify as? Heterosexual/straight. Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Questioning. Queer. Other.”

“This is a very rational, modern presentation, following on what we’ve learned about the independence of the two human attributes — gender identity and sexual orientation — and the primacy of gender identity over sexual orientation as a biological and social phenomenon. Putting aside polyamory, you need to know who you and you partner are before you can categorize the dyad in relationship terms.

“This is also, in its way, a classical presentation, because most official forms ask for your sex after they ask for your name. The only difference here is that “sex” is replaced by “gender,” which means the same for legal purposes. But looking a little more closely, there has been, as a result of the deliberate attempt to include trans persons, the resulting creation of a third gender. This would not be out of place in many global cultures, including early Native American/Canadian “two-spirit” (“berdache”) traditions, the Fa’afafine of Polynesia, and the hijras of the Indian subcontinent. Today Australia, New Zealand, Nepal and Germany are four nations that allow a category of indeterminate sex for birth certificates. The globalization of our understanding of trans culture has influenced our actions here in the U.S. Often we are asked how we can make medical intake documents more welcoming, to indicate a culturally competent office that would attract LGBT folks. So over the years we’ve encouraged a number of changes, including replacing “husband/wife” with “spouse,” “mother” and “father” with “parent 1” and “parent 2,” and adding a line or box to be filled in next to the two basic sexes should someone want to choose another option or explicate a bit on the choice made. Continue reading “Asking the right gender questions”