More on “genderlessness”

This comes from my home country of Australia. Norrie May-Welby lives in Sydney and identifies on their weblog as an “androgynous anarchist”. As you can see, I”m using gender-neutral pronouns to refer to Norrie, as they prefer. Earlier this year, Norrie made headlines by applying to a state-based Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages for a certificate of identity that did not have any gender listed on it. This means that Norrie was officially recognized as genderless. Unfortunately for Norrie, the state government quickly responded that this government department didn’t have the power to issue birth certificates as neither male nor female. Norrie is now appealing the decision with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Various news media reported on the ruling, including this video on the US cable show Young Turks. The Young Turks presenter ask some tricky questions: what pronouns should we use in English to refer to a genderless person? They point out correctly that using “it” is rude and derogatory. And they evidently feel some discomfort about the issue: at one point, the male presenter refers to Norrie as “he” and “him”, at other times as “they”.)

This also raises some interesting questions about the legal recognition of trans and gender variant people. How should gender variant people be recognized, legally? As you can see on the ILGA Trans Secretariat home page, not many countries allow trans and gender variant people to change their birth certificates or other documents, even with gender reassignment surgery. Many trans and gender variant people argue that identity documents should reflect the gender they identify as. Some people argue that this should be dependent on individuals having gender reassignment surgery to make their bodies congruent with that gender. Other trans and gender variant people argue that gender markers should be removed from administrative and legal documents altogether. What do you think?

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One response to “More on “genderlessness”

  1. On the topic of genderless pronouns, I’ve taken a class in which we were instructed to use the terms ze and zir. I found the similarity to conventional pronouns both encouraging and problematic. On one hand, ze is just like he and in that sense, it’s humanizing. It isn’t an “alien word” created for an “alien person” — but at the same time, the fact that when you hear “ze and zir” it sounds exactly like “her and her” seems like it’s defeating the purpose of creating pronouns that are, in fact, genderless. I guess it’s one of those things that depends on the viewpoint of the person using the word, but that in and of itself is entirely troublesome as well.

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