16 January 2011

Third, Or Not Specified

Lately I've read a couple of interesting gender-related stories.  One comes from Nepal, the other from Australia.

In the conservative Himalayan nation, which was a monarchy less than three years ago, this year's census will include a "third gender" category. This action came as a result of an order from that country's Supreme Court  mandating that the government encact laws to protect transgender people.

I think it's interesting that such things should happen in such a conservative country.  Then again, Spain, which was considered one of the most conservative and staunchly Catholic countries in Europe, if not the world, legalized gay marriage a few years ago.  So, a couple of years ago,  did Iowa, which--depending on whose definition you accept--is at least partially in the Bible Belt.

So why would jurisdictions not known for being avant garde do something that sanctions what many of its citizens oppose, at least in theory?

I think that answer can be found at least in part in something a Nepalese official said about being able to count and locate transgender people.  Governments everywhere like to keep tabs on people. And conservatives like order, or at least the appearance of it.  I am reminded of something that a Dutch minister once said about his country:  Its "liberal" policies, like the legality of marijuana, are actually rooted in the deeply bourgeois Calvinism that defined the country for centuries.  Nobody, he explained, likes order more than a Calvinist, or someone who's been influenced by Calvinism.  So, he said, by legalizing marijuana and prostitution, providers and customers are no longer criminals and are instead citizens who are bound by the responsibilities of, and entitled to the protections of, Dutch civil law.  In other words, the government can keep some kind of control over them.

That, by the way, one reason (along with having a gay daughter) why Dick Cheney has voiced his support for gay marriage, while Barack has not.

Speaking of control:  How much of it can anyone have over someone who's gender is "not specified?"  That's the case of  Norrie, a 49-year-old Australian who was born male and had gender reassignment surgery twenty years ago.   Norrie, who goes by only one name, was "ecstatic" about surgery but frustrated over having to take hormones and over dating men who, when they "found out I was a trannie, told me I wasn't female."  Some of them threatened violence.

Finally, Norrie decided "Nobody can define me as male, and nobody can define me as female."  Two doctors agreed and, as a result, Norrie now has papers that say "Sex Not Specified."    

In one sense, I'm happy to see this.  I have long felt that there are more than two genders.  While I am female in my mind and spirit, I know that some things about me are, and will always be, male.  Some have to do with my experiences, but I think that others have to do with innate characteristics.  I am content, and in many ways comfortable, in living as what most people would see as a straight woman (even if I am, in fact, bisexual).  I claim my right to so live; at the same time, I support the right of people to be more androgynous or to live by whatever else their gender identity and sexuality might be.

On the other hand, the ruling puts Norrie in a bind:  Her gender identity, while unbound from the gender binary, is still defined by the government, which could (at least in theory) change Norrie's status as it sees fit.  Keeping Norrie and other people dependent on a government to define who they are can't be anything but limiting.  Under those circumstances, how does one travel, particulary to a place that rigidly enforces the gender binary and still outlaws all forms of sex that don't involve a man getting on top of a woman.  

Still, I think that the Australian Government's issuing documents in your name without the gender distinction is one the better things that could have happened for a lot of people.Some day, perhaps (though probably not in my lifetime) people will have the liberty as well as the means to live by whatever they think is right for them.