Being a Pink Lady

I saw her as soon as I got in the door. It had been a few years, but she looked pretty much the same as I remembered her, maybe a little thinner. I looked for signs of what my mother had told me, but saw nothing. She was the same old Elizabeth. Her mother smiled at us, and introduced us to their other dinner guests.

Her name isn’t really Elizabeth, but I have to change it. Even so, people might figure out who I’m talking about. That’s what happens when you grow up in a small town. But this is worth telling, I think, and it doesn’t reflect too badly on her. So she’s Elizabeth. I’ve known some girls whose real names were Elizabeth, but this isn’t about any of them. This is about a girl whose name isn’t really Elizabeth.

I remembered how worldly she and her older sister seemed when I met them. They talked about all kinds of things that I didn’t really know about, like the Oranges. Who knew there were towns called the Oranges? Their mother and my mother were friends, and we saw them every so often.

I remembered the summer after fifth grade, when my mom kept repeating, “Elizabeth had her outfit for the first day of class already picked out … on the last day of class!” At the time I didn’t expect to see that outfit on that day. I was still expecting to go back to my old school and see the same old kids that I had failed to get along with for the past five and a half years. But my mom suggested a change. Maybe I should walk the other way to the other bus stop, and go to the other school with the hippie kids. Maybe I’d get along better with them than with the country kids. She talked to the principal, and it was arranged. And there I was, on the first day of school, looking at Elizabeth in her carefully selected outfit.

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The Sixteenth Gender

In my recent post about gender categories, I focused on describing the way people tend to view gender categories, and why. In my last post I discussed the empirical basis for Eleanor Rosch’s theories of categorization. In this post I’m going to be prescriptive. Unlike cranky prescriptivists, I’m going to justify my positions in terms of my personal agenda and priorities. You will probably agree with my prescriptions to the extent that you share my priorities.

One of my priorities is honesty: honesty with yourself and honesty with others. Other priorities are freedom, fairness, safety, respect and caring. I also like consistency, but not foolish consistency. I dislike and distrust innatism (also called nativism). A good set of gender categories will balance these priorities, giving people the freedom to live their lives as they wish, while being fair and honest to others. It will be reasonably consistent and avoid innatist assumptions.

There are really three possibilities for the gender assignment of “gender-non-conforming” people, which would include not just transgender people, but also intersex people and other people who are hard to put into one category or another. A given person is either in one gender (a man or a woman), both, or neither. I’ll take up these possibilities in order of how I feel about them.

In this post I’ll start with the possibility I like the least: “neither.” (more…)