Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate. -William of Ockham, 14th C.
I welcome this development. Some websites allow you to specify Male, Female, or Other, or sometimes I'd rather not say, which seems to be a catch-all option for those who don't quite fall neatly into the two boxes.
|Eenie, meenie, miny, mo...|
The news was announced by Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrison, herself transitioning from male to female.
Harrison: All too often transgender people like myself and other gender nonconforming people are given this binary option, do you want to be male or female? What is your gender? And it's kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are. This really changes that, and for the first time I get to go to the site and specify to all the people I know what my gender is.Predictably, the naysayers of the world have been roused to indignant fury, and some of them have posted their objections in response to the original Facebook announcement.
Nori Herras-Castaneda (TG spokesperson): Any time the transgender community makes advances, there is backlash, and this is a very big advance, so yes, we'll face some problems, no doubt.
|Brielle Harrison making her mind up|
So how many new options are there? Two or three? Half a dozen? Surely not more than a dozen? In fact there are over 50 new options!
I am not sure that this is a step forward! Is it really necessary to provide so many subtle distinctions? Are we really saying that there are not two genders, but instead over 50? And what happens when someone (and there will be someone) whose particular gender variant isn't included, protests that they feel excluded? And what happens to other family relationships? If I identify as a transwoman, am I still someone's son?
I haven't yet found a full list of the categories, but it will be interesting to try to pick one which describes me. Meanwhile, why not try to suggest categories of your own?
No doubt this article will evolve as the news spreads. Comments welcome. What about one from you, Brother William?
Addendum: 15th February 2014
Thanks to Helen Boyd, I have found a website which lists all the possible options, and here they are:
And once again I've learned some new words. What does neutrois mean? Or transfeminine? And how does Trans* Female differ from Trans Female? And what is the difference between Transgender Man and Transgender Male? Do we really need all these terms?
|Ahead of the times: CK one|
I can completely relate to the idea that this is supposed to be a wholly inclusive list, catering to every infinitesimal point on the gender spectrum, including those who identify with all points of it, and none, and leaving nobody left out. And yet, by creating this list, I can't help thinking that Facebook has simply added to the confusion, to the morass of terminology which makes it nearly impossible for people like me, looking at gender, to find any sort of clarity.
So which one are you?
Addendum: 21st February 2014
My thanks to Tasi for drawing my attention to Stephen Colbert's satirical (and hilarious) sketch which sends up transphobia in the media. You can watch the whole segment here. He lets loose with both barrels on the Facebook gender spectrum too, including the curious "asterisk" options.
Colbert: I believe that's when you were born an asterisk, but deep inside you believe you're an ampersand!===
Addendum: 15th March 2014
Helen Boyd drew my attention to this article in the Boston Globe, which attempts to explain some of the new gender language for outsiders, novices and the generally perplexed (in which I include myself).
The article explains the mysterious asterisk, whose existence before had puzzled me. I can see that people are reaching out for new forms of language to describe gender variants, both as a means for people to express their identity with clarity and precision, and as a means to avoid giving offence to people who find themselves inadvertently improperly referred to.
I already infer that the notion of cis as meaning "the opposite of trans" is borrowed from organic chemistry. It originally referred to the arrangement of groups around a carbon-carbon double bond. However, the article says that the asterisk is meant to be taken as a wildcard, which can therefore stand for anything, so trans* means that you can insert your own word instead of the *, a practice which is borrowed from computer search syntax (where it is at least 30 years old).
This article also talks about gender-neutral pronouns, a phenomenon which I am opposed to, despite my sympathies, for reasons I describe here.
Addendum: 3rd May 2014
Australia's High Court has just voted unanimously that some people (backed by medical advice) can have their gender legally recognised as "non-specific". On birth certificates, passports and the like, the letter X is used in place of M or F. This is not considered the same as Intersex. This has been partly driven by an individual called Norrie. You can read the news report here, or there is a discussion from the New York Times here.
Addendum: 8th October 2014
I came across a wonderful and well-thought out discussion of this same topic by Lal Zimman on the OUP Blog.