Among the phenomenon that is perpetually amusing is that when handed a form, people will fill it out. It doesn’t matter what it asks for, the relevance to the purpose of the form to the question. If there’s a blank line, people write on it. If there’s a box people check it. Because if they don’t, the sky will fall and society will come crashing down around their head.
At the New York Times Room for Debate, the question was posed whether checking the “sex” box is necessary:
New York City is considering a proposal that would make it easier for people to change their sex on their birth certificates. Other countries have grappled with this, and several federal agencies and states have adopted similar policies.
But why should government recognize individuals’ sex? Is there a legal need to distinguish among females, males and others?
While I wasn’t there when the first man (deliberate gender choice) told his secretary (who was female, not to mention a graduate of the Katherine Gibbs School, because that’s what all secretaries were back then) to prepare a form for the use of his office at vital statistics to record the birth of children, I imagine the conversation happening like this:
Male: Sweetheart, put together a form for people to fill out when they have a baby.
Female: Yes, sir. What should it include?
Male: I dunno, the usual stuff I guess. Name of the parents, kid, date of birth, that sort of stuff.
Female: What about the sex of the child?
Male: Sure. Why not?
And that was that. Since then, the form included gender because, well, it always included gender. Nobody questioned why it would, or should, but it did. And so it was written in stone. Much of our world happens that way, for no particular reason.
Why should the government care whether a child is categorized as male, female, or anything else that’s on the list of 28 gender descriptions that are now suddenly popular? Why is there a list at all?
Whether it’s male, female or other, there are legitimate reasons for using the category of “sex”; indeed, one powerful reason is to document, and fix, gaps in equality. Girls and women still experience discrimination and disadvantage on the basis of sex.
Should the government legally distinguish between sexes? I think not. This is not to deny that bodies have different biological capacities, or to assert that all bodies are alike, but rather to point out that sex classification undergirds unequal access to employment, marriage, parental rights, inheritance and many social services — to name a few of the consequences of creating two distinct legal categories of personhood.
This perspective hits on one immutable reality: we come with whatever equipment we come with, regardless of what anyone wants to call it. If somebody chooses to swap out original equipment for something they prefer, so what? The new equipment will be whatever it will be, categorization be damned. Only a grocery clerk would find the checked box more real than breasts or a penis.
Then there’s the fashionable view, that rejects reality in favor of their personal political fantasy:
Choosing a sex using traditional choices sends a child’s life down one or the other path: male or female. But this sex binary ignores everything contemporary science knows about sex, namely that many factors of sex difference — chromosomal, genital and hormonal — make sex a far richer set of possibilities than just male or female.
It’s unlikely that meaningless phrases like “a far richer set of possibilities” are good for anything other than a marketing pitch.
There are situations where gender matters, like it or not. Prison. Dorm rooms, should someone take issue with sharing such an intimate space with some of a different gender, unless of course it’s wrong to do so. But these all bear upon some safety and hard justification that are situation-specific. When gender matters, then it matters.
But the rest of the time, who cares? What of the people bearing those cool, amorphous names that parents find so important these days, say “Seven,” which give no clue as to gender. A resume crosses a desk, and you determine qualifications based on, well, qualifications. Is this a problem?
Much as issues surrounding the cries for re-creation of society in the neo-Victorian fashion of protecting and defending the honor of delicate flowers, whether by laws directed to criminalizing their parochial concerns or by gender-focused attacks on anyone who ponders why it is that women march around with signs that proclaim their equality on one side and their weakness on the other, we should heed the admonition of H.L. Mencken, as bastardized to apply to this question:
[Feminism] is the theory that the [women] know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
There are times it’s good to be a guy. Other times, not so much. Regardless, it’s no business of the government’s unless and until there is a hard basis for the government to know. Just because somebody decided to put a check box on a form years ago because, you know, it just seemed like a good idea the time, isn’t a reason to perpetuate it.
And if it turns out that the government’s inability to categorize or pigeonhole a person works to the disadvantage of a gender, welcome to life on the other side of the fence.