Tell Us Who You Are – A Penis or Vagina?

TransgenderSymbol.svgFill out any form, or take a silly quiz you found on Facebook, and you’re quite often confronted with someone asking if you are male or female. So what if you’re not? For most people gender, also termed biological sex, is a simple thing. Most people are born, and identify as, either male or female. However, the gender binary of male and female is not so easy for some. Some cultures have accepted this so-called alternate gender long ago. In South Asia the Hijra have been documented throughout history, generally accepted and even included in the Kama Sutra. It wasn’t until British involvement in India that they were called “a breach of public decency” and subsequently labeled a criminal tribe. In North America there were more than two genders in Native American tribes. Again it was the European folks who had such a problem with the idea.

I wasn’t really confronted with this potential landmine of political incorrectness until I became a staff writer for a feminist publication. I’d written an article and had it rejected because it wasn’t sensitive enough to non-cisgender individuals. First I had to look up what cisgender meant, especially since it hasn’t been added to most dictionaries. Then I had to rewrite the article a little. It was after that I was bombarded with terms I was as unfamiliar with as I had been with cisgender. (In case you’re like me, cisgender basically just means you identify as the gender you were assigned at birth. I’m a cisgender female because I was born with a vagina and uterus, and also think of myself as a woman.)

Wikipedia became my friend once again as I struggled to understand the different terms. We can get carried away with political correctness, but on a personal level I just don’t want to hurt people through ignorance. I’d like to understand the struggle others may be facing. I know what it means to be female in a male-dominated world, so I try to empathize as much as possible with anyone who might be facing discrimination and/or oppression, or simple lack of understanding.

One thing I discovered was the term intersex, which is the correct term for what many call hermaphroditic. Apparently a hermaphrodite means something entirely different in the scientific community, so if for no other reason than scientific, I’ve stopped using the word hermaphrodite when talking about human beings. It simply doesn’t apply. According to the Intersex Society of North America, approximately 1% of live births are sexually ambiguous to some degree. Chances are very good that you know people who are intersex, even if they themselves are not aware of it. Keeping in mind that the term intersex refers to physical characteristics, and has nothing to do with how a person identifies psychologically, it becomes obvious that the gender binary of male and female loses much of its foothold in reality. Since most census bureaus do not account for the trans* community, there are few statistics on those who consider themselves transgender or transsexual. However, the Williams Institute at UCLA, in their 2011 report, estimated that approximately 1 in 350 adults identify as trans* in the United States.

When we’re asked if we’re male or female, however, what they’re really asking is whether we have a penis or a vagina. The more we consider this, the more intrusive the question seems. Do the people at motor vehicles really need to know what’s in my pants in order to issue me a licence? At one time there was no picture on a driving permit, so all our so-called vital statistics were listed. Understandably our height and weight are still a part of that, but with an image you no longer need hair and eye colour. Nor is gender required. My gender can’t verify whether or not I look like a woman to a police officer. Even on my Ontario health insurance card they have my picture, and of all government organizations you would think they would be the first to understand that gender is far more complex than they give it credit for.

Health insurance in Canada covers all the basics of medical care, and if a person has more than one physical gender the attending physician would treat whatever was necessary regardless of the existence of a penis or a vagina. So even on my health card, and perhaps especially on my health card, I question the need for gender definition. Only in my detailed medical records would it be necessary to define such a thing, as a doctor would need to know the anatomy of their patient.

Canada has had legalized marriage equality for almost ten years, and prior to that most provinces had already legalized it. So when it comes to marriage licences it’s not really a necessity here either. There are still some places fighting marriage equality, so in legal terms they apparently need to know the gender of people filling out their applications, but for any place where marriage equality is law it’s unnecessary.

There have been a number of celebrity instances where people have either changed their physical gender, or have allowed their children to decide for themselves rather than pressure them into a gender they’re not comfortable with. People come out more frequently now, not just as homosexual, but also as transgender or transsexual. When articles are written, often an asterisk is used with ‘trans’ in order to be inclusive to all trans-folk. Even with the recent celebrity attention, though, the general population is often completely unaware of even the difference between transgender and transvestite, so the subtleties are going to elude them.

This is where being overly politically correct can be harmful, because there are so many terms that people just give up on being sensitive to anyone at all. Frustration with language isn’t going to help anyone find more understanding in the world. Then again, terms are also called labels. Labels are the same as pigeon-holing. For some, who feel a desperate need to belong and feel welcomed, they like the labels because it makes it easier to find others they feel are just like they are. Some dislike the labels intensely, because it separates everyone into categories. The fact of the matter is we’re all ‘normal’ no matter how we identify, and whether or not people agree that we are.

What we’re doing is taking labels, like male and female, and cutting them into tiny little pieces so everyone gets to be something very specific, when maybe what we need is to stop with the labels entirely. My vagina does not drive a car. Nor does it get married. It might be a wonderful thing all by itself, and as a recreational activity or procreational conduit, but it has nothing to do with my work and assorted daily chores. If it could wash dishes for me, I might afford it a higher place in the general scheme of my identity as a person, but since it doesn’t I wish people who have no need to know would stop asking me whether I have an ‘inny’ or an ‘outie.’

Rain Stickland
Follow Rain

Rain Stickland

Rain Stickland is a Canadian writer and producer, who is overly fond of ferrets and other furry creatures.
Rain Stickland
Follow Rain
Rain Stickland

About Rain Stickland

Rain Stickland is a Canadian writer and producer, who is overly fond of ferrets and other furry creatures.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Recent Articles Posted

    • Black Lives Really Mattering and My Friend the Boxer
      I taught college Criminal Justice, on a part-time basis for about a decade. Out of about 6 of those years, I taught in downtown Cleveland in an area where especially at night, wasn’t very safe. During that time, I became friends with a parking lot attendant and former professional boxer, ...
    • Meaning—Makes the Man and Woman–Makes the Difference
      When I was a police supervisor in my 40’s, a young patrol officer who also happened to be my friend asked me what I thought about growing up in the 70’s. Jeff, had heard there was a lot of non-committal free love going on back in the day and also ...
    • Bars, Demonstrations, and Getting Thumped…
      Many people believe that they’ll be safe going to bars into the wee hours of the morning. I'm having fun! After all, they’re not looking for trouble and things should be fine. Moreover, some people feel that they can go to demonstrations no matter what it’s about or who the ...
    • White Privilege, the Latest Distraction
      I was watching a video clip on Facebook where an African American woman was talking about white privilege. She was brow beating a white, Jewish male trying to get him to agree with what has taken off as the new buzz word regarding African Americans in America—white-privilege. The male tried ...
    • Every Day A Child Cries and Sometimes Dies—It Can Stop
      Your son looks so innocent when he pets your dog and looks into its eyes. The innocence and love you see brings a tear to your eye.   And those special times that he comes up to you to share some new excitement in his life and you notice that ...
    • Who Do You Trust? Who Do You Respect? Politics, Media and You
      What active local or national politician do you respect and trust? That’s a question I often ask people when they start discussing the state of politics in the country. I don’t have a problem with anyone talking politics or even ranting about it as long as they don’t drift too ...
    • Sitting and Staring–The Andy Griffith Show-Mayberry 2017 and What Really Matters
      I was having a snack and watching TV when my 10 year old niece walked into the room and blurted out, “Wow! You ARE old. You’re watching black and white TV!” I glanced up at her and then back to the TV and exclaimed, “You’ve never watched Andy of Mayberry! ...
    • How to Have Great Talks and Presentations
      What makes for a good communicator, teacher or speech maker? While talking, personally, I’m never at a loss for words. I know some people who know me are probably shaking their heads a bit, saying, “You certainly can say that again Steve, because you certainly do talk a lot! I ...
    • The Hypocrisy in My Fellow Lefties Needs to Stop
      I suppose many would say I'm not a true-blue leftist, and they would be right...no pun intended. I have many views that are very liberal, and yet I maintain that we desperately need to stop being dependent on government for everything. In many ways I'm what was originally meant by ...
    • Homicide and Help in America
      In the last year or so I’ve listened to governmental officials including President Obama and some criminologists saying that violent crime is substantially down in America and those Americans who think we are less safe than we were a decade or so ago are dimwits, uninformed or have been bamboozled ...