Tuesday, May 12, 2009

a tangled issue

The New York Times recently ran a fascinating opinion piece on the legal issues surrounding same-sex marriage and transsexuals:


It's hard to think of a more omnipresent dualism than gender. It's almost impossible for most people (I know it is for me) to interact with other people in any way at all without classifying them as either male or female. In the majority of cases of real-world interaction, the classification can be made fairly easily, though, as the article points out, not always consistently or coherently.

It's equally complicated in the case of online interaction. When the only clues one receives are written text, and possibly an avatar which may be genderless or intentionally different from the person it represents, the decision becomes very arbitrary. I've convinced people that I'm of the opposite gender before on the internet, often without even trying (is that an embarrassing thing to admit? I'm not sure). And people tend to attribute gender even to genderless constructs like AIs, based on clues that in this case are completely spurious.

So, what's my take on all this? I'm really not sure. I'm as deeply tangled in it as anyone. Part of me wants to say that gender is another irrelevant distinction that'll become obsolete with the advance of technology. Another part sees it as an important part of our culture, albeit one that should be under our control rather than used to control us. And of course there's the backwards-looking part that keeps pointing out that this distinction has a biological basis. For now, the most I can say is that it's something that merits further thought. Oh, and if you're interested in this sort of thing, my good friend ekblack often writes about gender issues and other fun stuff. Check it out!


  1. I have, in fact, been consistently identified by strangers online as a girl, supposed based on my writing style. I suppose it didn't help that I went by the internet handle "Aurora" in many places.

    Fun stuff.

  2. Hmm, interesting article. It is a bothersome issue...were you inspired to look into this cause of the whole Miss USA thing, or just happened across the article?

    And, most people mistake me for a guy, I have no idea why. Maybe it's because my names seem to come off constistantly 'guy-ish'?

  3. Gender is tricky online, Names that start with a A tend to be more feminine, like in the case of Astell or Aurora.

    I tend to be often considered a guy online, most likely because of how I tend to act or by the names I pick (I mostly use male names...I dunno, I just feel better doing that online.) and I guess it doesn't help that I use male avatars so I probably trip up a lot of people.

    Kinda can be awkward when someone has even the slightest romantic interest towards you just because they thought you were the opposite gender. @_@

    You're very true on the point of dualism and gender. We all have our feminine sides and our masculine sides, you can't really just be one or the other, but in the end I end up classifying someone in my mind as a male or a female. It is pretty impossible to not... D8

  4. Interesting article. Yeah, you obviously can't determine someone's gender through text alone. I honestly thought you were a girl when I first joined Telos (lol, sorry). I only assumed because of your name and how you talked.

    I'm often mistaken as a girl because of my artwork and how I speak sometimes as well. Kinda embarrassing, really. Especially when someone says your drawings of guys are hot which leaves me rather speechless. I'm like, "Oh... uh, thanks?" lmao. I mean, nothing wrong trying to appeal to the female and maybe gay audience but you can't help but feel a little awkward.

    Like Ide said, guys have their feminine sides, and girls have their masculine sides. It's just how we are. \o/

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  6. "Legal scholars can (and have) devoted themselves to the ultimately frustrating task of defining “male” and “female” as entities fixed and unmoving. A better use of their time, however, might be to focus on accepting the elusiveness of gender..."

    I like this quote.

    I think I read this article differently since I was brought up from a different culture/world as well as being an anthropology student. See, I think what most people who read this article see gender/sex as something determined by biology (male = penis Y-chromosome, female = boobs & X-chromosome). Some cultures however have different definitions of gender. There is an Inuit culture that has 4 genders based on spirit and there is another culture(Nua I think) that believes gender changes.

    In that Inuit culture, when a masculine-male and a feminine-male wed, it may not be considered a same-sex marriage, although they both have what constitutes a male in the West. Please note that the terms masculine-male and a feminine-male are most certainly incorrect, but I do not speak their language as well as it is difficult to directly translate their ideas into something we understand. Those terms are just simple incorrect terms to help us understand.