Choosing M or F

Count the number of times in a week you are asked to choose between M or F. It will surprise you. At work, you may have to choose every time you use the toilet facilities; when you are shopping for clothes, you will be asked to choose the men’s or women’s department; when you select a book or movie, entertainment is segregated into sections such as “chick-lit” or “movies for men”; and, when you fill out a form, the place you are applying to will want to know, too (if for no other reason than to be able to address you formally).

Here’s a list of some the things that we came up with that ask us to choose:

  • Public toilets
  • Changing rooms
  • Hospital wards
  • Airport security
  • School
  • Prison
  • Military service
  • Public transport (in some countries)
  • Religious observance
  • Sports teams
  • Exercise classes
  • Application forms
  • Shopping centres (especially clothing stores)
  • Advertising/products
  • Books/movies

toiletsignFor many of the things we’ve listed a strong argument can be made for a unisex approach to them. Take shopping for instance, stores could be organised by the item you wish to purchase, instead of effectively divided into two stores, M and F. Imagine M&S having departments simply called underwear, shirts, trousers, skirts, jumpers, etc. Would this be a problem? You need a pair of jeans, so you browse through all their jeans and you come out with a pair of jeans that fit and that you are pleased with. Does it matter that the designer of the jeans had a particular gender in mind when they created them?

Ah, but what about the changing rooms, though? The same argument that we use against those who think that making trans* people use toilet facilities that match their biological sex, rather than their preferred gender, is relevant here: when did you last see a person naked in a department store changing room (or public toilet)? It never happens. Unisex facilities put nobody at any greater risk than segregated facilities and, with appropriate doors/curtains on the cubicles, are entirely private.

So, why is it a choice? Why have we come up with the idea that men and women should be kept separate? Honestly, Trans* Jersey struggles to answer this question. We don’t really know. We can only guess that it comes two parts: a) it is a hang over from when the church’s idea of sin governed our morality and contraceptives were not widely available. In the interest of stopping boys and girls doing what boys and girls might do, segregation was strictly maintained. b) it makes it easier for the marketing men. They can generalise how women respond to products, as distinct from men, and target their marketing accordingly.

The other question that is relevant here is: why did we decide that we should separate the human population into only two groups? And why pick this particular facet of humanity? Why not hair colour, or eye colour, or whether we can dance or not, or whether we like Marmite or not? There aren’t two genders. We know that gender is a spectrum. There aren’t even two sexes. 1 in 100 births are intersex (see here for more information). Like so many facets of humanity, trying to put us all into two categories doesn’t work. Right or left handed? What about ambidextrous people?

Categorising us all into two genders is unnecessary and arbitrary but it persists. We wish it didn’t. It would make living in the middle easier. So, until such time as society gets over its hang up with labeling us one or the other, we are forced to choose every day. Count the number of times.