Squash & a fat pumpkin at the Barden Family Orchard, 9/2007
I was rather amused by the purported exchange in the dept. secretary's office...the 'um, I have this student...and um...,how do I say this...' but I was most interested in the heightened anxiety that can arise in the face of this gender-ambiguity. I know the teacher didn't care whether the student was male or female, but the student could be horrified by a mix-up. More importantly, gender-identity is such a fundamental frame of reference & way in which we order other humans, we are unsettled when we cannot successfully complete this ordering. On the one hand, this makes us a bit close-minded and resistant to what should be absolutely acceptable--that someone not visibly demarcate themselves as one sex or another through any obvious gender-signals. [[An aside: I've been a bit sloppy here with the terms 'sex' and 'gender,' but intentionally so. Sex refers to one's swim-suit parts, among other like-things, while gender is something more in flux. Gender is a collection of traits/behavior/identifiers socially framed as falling on the femininity-masculinity spectrum, at least in our society. And, we expect the two (sex & gender) to map on to each other, thus the DSM's 'gender identity disorder' and 'gender dysphoria' as including those uncomfortable with the gender role of their sex. (Elsewhere societies have a third gender & other variations). Sex is also socially-constructed, in a sense, deemed socially significant and so cannot be thought of as entirely biological/natural, but that's another discussion.]]
On the other hand, T.'s anxiety surrounding gender-ambiguity is very sensible. The English language is saturated with gendered language and our non-gendered pronoun "one" cannot be used to reference a specific person, only an abstract person (which, I might add, is useless in a classroom, if we want to reference "his" or "her" last point without constantly citing the student's proper name). Obstacles abound where we resist the basic-ness of demarcation by gender.
Here's another silly language problem: To be precise, what the teacher needed to know was the student's sex-identity (not gender-identity as feminine or masculine). But saying "sex-identity" is awkward. Even further, isn't it odd that "sex," the only word we really use to refer to biological identifiers is the exact technical term we use for the activity of gettin' jiggy with it? What a collapse! The English language is so damn unimaginative, or, I should say, we are so unimaginative for not standardizing a different word for one of the two. Lame-ohs!
Lisa Bayley's wedding (Oct. 2001).