What should the asa’s gender categories be?
The ASA is trying to respond to a request from its members to expand the options for gender on its membership form. Right now, the choices are female, male, and prefer not to answer. There is no category that acknowledges transgender members at all, but creating a new category scheme is not as easy as it might seem. For example transsexual people and transgender people have not always appreciated being lumped into the same category. Some people reject gender categories altogether and might prefer a “none” or some other less alienating gender-non-specific category.
These gender categories are important for a number of reasons. First, by having exclusive gender schemes, the ASA is not acknowledging its trans members. Second, it is a missed opportunity to collect data on the size of the trans membership in the ASA. Third, gender categories are communicative; they tell members who may not be aware that transgender sociologists work among their ranks. Finally, it is important to get the gender categories right because they are teaching sociologists what the “appropriate” categories to use are, setting an important example for us as we design survey questions , courses, departments, etc.
The ASA staff have brought the matter to the Committee on the Status of LGBT Persons in Sociology, but there wasn’t consensus there. They propose (and are planning to implement), the following scheme:
- other: ___________
- prefer not to answer
I am not an expert in trans issues, but this scheme sounds wrong to me in all kinds of ways. It conflates the transgender identity with the FtM* and MtF** identities, which is not a problem for some people, but others see transgender as quite different from the identities that indicate a “switch” of genders. The “other” category is one way to capture gender non-specific individuals, but it is not the most inclusive way to do so.
I looked for guidance from some trans activism website, but there is a lack of consensus on this issue there, too. We seem to be working from scratch here. With that in mind, I am going to propose three additional schemes as conversation starters.
First, the Elegant Gender Scheme:
- prefer not to answer
Second, the Thorough Gender Scheme:
- No gender
Prefer not to answer
Third, the Open Gender Scheme:
- gender identity: ___________________________
I wonder if others have opinions on this issue. While I don’t imagine there is one right way to do this, I can see quite clearly how easy it is to get it wrong.
*FtM = Female-to-Male = a man who was born in a female body
**MtF = Male-to-Female = a woman who was born in a male body