“Indigenous

Gender trouble

Three weeks ago we launched an online survey to learn more about Honi Soit’s demographics and what our readers wanted. One of the questions we asked was: “What is your gender identity?” We provided fifty-seven different options, including cis male and cis female, trans*, gender nonconforming, bi-gender and intersex. Though we recognise these options were…

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daily tele

Three weeks ago we launched an online survey to learn more about Honi Soit’s demographics and what our readers wanted. One of the questions we asked was: “What is your gender identity?” We provided fifty-seven different options, including cis male and cis female, trans*, gender nonconforming, bi-gender and intersex. Though we recognise these options were not entirely exhaustive, we aimed to avoid prescriptive (and often alienating) gender binary options, and to be as inclusive as possible.

We didn’t think this decision was controversial but The Daily Telegraph’s opinion editor Tim Blair apparently did. “Was running the list an entirely serious idea??” he asked us, baffled at the prospect that a student newspaper with progressive values would recognise gender diversity on campus.

The Telegraph’s coverage points to the problem of gender exclusivity that we were attempting to address. In 2005, La Trobe University conducted one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans/transgender and intersex (LGBTI) surveys in Australia and found 67 per cent of respondents indicated that fear of discrimination had caused them to alter their daily activities in particular environments. These respondents were more likely to be younger or from rural areas. Ninety per cent had, at some time, avoided disclosure of their gender identity or sexuality.

These statistics reflect a bigger picture: when we teach our children gender, we teach them intolerance. At university, asking gender diverse students to tick a box marked ‘Male’ or ‘Female’ diminishes their identities and robs them of their personal experiences. When someone’s gender identity does not conform to the majority, they are seen as a legitimate target for discrimination, and their vulnerability to depression and self-harm increases.

Worse still, there are few legal protections against harassment based on gender identity, which means that intersex, and sex and gender diverse people are often helpless in the face of physical or verbal attacks. But inequality occurs in even more subtle ways – through traditional gender roles in every day situations like dressing, sport and relationships, or in the way we use language (“that’s gay”, “don’t cry like a girl”) to define stereotypes.

It’s also what allows individuals like Blair to confuse gender diversity with “silliness” and carelessly remark that “dozens of brand new genders [are] running all over the place”.

Luckily, change is occurring in slow but sure ways. In 2011, the Australian Human Rights Commission launched a report on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people in Australia, recommending gender diversity be included as a ground of discrimination in federal law. Gender identity support groups and networks are being set up all across the country, and many bureaucratic forms no longer require gender diverse people to provide official amended birth certificates as proof for gender identity.

On campus, the Queerkat collective has been established for people who identify both as queer and non-cis men, the Wom*ns Collective recently altered its title from ‘Women’ to ‘Wom*n’ in order to reflect a broader push for trans* inclusivity, and the Queer Collective is currently lobbying the university for students to be able to use their preferred names instead of their legal names on Blackboard. The USU recently passed amendments within its constitution in an attempt to remove every reference to gender where possible.

If the gender options in Honi Soit’s survey are starting conversations about recognising gender as a fluid construct rather than biologically determined, we’re proud to provoke them.

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