Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Upholding the gender binary

I was watching the local news, and the teaser before the commercial said that there was a problem with consent forms for the H1N1 vaccine at schools in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Because I have been following H1N1 news stories (with much annoyance), I decided to wait and see what this big problem was all about.

As it turns out, the big contraversy was that consent form asked for students' gender, but gave 5 options instead of 2 (male, female, other, unknown, and transgender). The horror! Isn't it outrageous of them to try and be so inclusive and disregard the binary that so many people have worked so hard to create and uphold? (I really wish sarcasm worked better online).

The Sault Star reports that local Catholic trustee Kathleen Rosilius was "astonished" at the "agenda-driven, social-engineering" language of the form. Because asking people their gender is agenda-driven. I'm sure the writers of the survey intended to convert as many people as possible to... to what, exactly? Ambiguity? The only agenda that they may have been pushing was tolerance.

I really cannot understand why people are offended with this consent form. All it does is acknowledge that there may be more gender options than most other forms that I've filled out recently (including EVERY scholarship and bursary application that I have filled out this year). How does including a few extra categories hurt anyone? How do reading these words have any kind of negative impact on anybody's lives? But omitting them does have consequences as it denies that this very omission is part of a specific agenda.

I can't help but think that if seeing words like 'transgender' and 'unknown' on most, if not every, form that requires gender information became the norm, then people who live outside of the gender binary would be much more readily accepted than they are right now.


  1. Wow! You can't please anyone anymore! If you don't include the more than one gender, you offend people. If you include more than 2 genders you offend people! It's almost a lose lose situation! I think it's important to include the expanded gender options if the document you are using will serve for future statistical analysis. One day, scientists might want to know what percentage of transgendered people got the H1N1 vaccine. I don't think there's anything sinister about it either! If the document was intended for biological reasons then it would probably have included just the binary. People need to relax a little bit. Has our ability to critically think sunk so low that we might become confused about our gender just because we are aware of the possibility? Egad!

  2. If people are offended either way, maybe we should just stop asking for gender altogether on most forms. I think that gender as a category of classifying people is only as relevant as the particular society believes it is... except, maybe, if we are talking about childbirth.

  3. Why is this even news. It's a sign of the times when the box you tick on a form causes such a stink. Everybody got on with life just fine 10-15 years ago with the regular forms. If they want to expand the category boxes I could see male, female and other. Unknown??? Is your life really that complicated that this question stumps you so much that you have to check this box.

  4. the problem with only having 3 categories is the otherization of an already marginalized group of people. And, yes, unknown is much more common than you might think, although doctor's usually take care of that at birth by letting parent's decide for their child.