F.A.Z.-Column by Emanuel Derman : Gender Surrenders

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Bild: Kat Menschik

The attributions of gender are getting more and more difficult. That’s why we have to think about them anew.

          When my son was about two years old, he used to confuse the words ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’, and ‘red’ and ‘green’, even though he wasn’t color blind and was already quite sophisticated with language. This persuaded me to half‐believe that the concepts of time and color were by no means self‐evident, but were rather inventions or discoveries – like agriculture or metal‐smelting, – made and then transmitted through the generations. Perhaps when a child remarks that the leaf of a tree and a sweater are both green, he or she is isolating some immensely abstract quality of two vastly different objects, a similarity that was once beyond human comprehension.

          I thought of this again when I read a trendy article in the New York Times called Generation LGBTQIA that described how the cutting edge (so to speak) of sexual rights on university campuses is now focused on transgender and even more exotic minorities. Same‐sex marriage is quotidian, but the notion of gender has become progressively richer, for better or worse, and LGBTQIA stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, and Ally.

          Feeling neglected and victimized

          According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, we can think or experience only those things we have words for, and invent words for them only when we begin to categorize and abstract the sensations. The Eskimos, some claim, have many more words for types of snow than we do, because snow is important to them and so they discovered how to discriminate and conceive of it more finely. Similarly, we couldn’t feel groovy until the 1960s, and we probably can’t any more.

          The traditional male and female symbols are ♂ and ♀, but a quick glance at Wikipedia shows several more that apparently arose in the 1990s in the LGBT culture: for a virgin female, for a transgendered male, for intersex, for asexual, and so on. “Youth today do not define themselves on the spectrum of L.G.B.T.,” said Shane Windmeyer, a founder of the student group Campus Pride, as quoted in the Generation LGBTQIA article, whose crux is that digital gender states are not enough for us liberated Sexkimos, and that transgender kids feel neglected and victimized by now regular, previously irregular, LGB people.

          A red circle isn’t enough

          If digital gender isn’t rich enough, then perhaps we need an analog scheme with enough dimensions to make everyone a minority, something like the figure with three boxes I came up with below, with each box a continuum.

          The first box on the lower left describes “biology” that depends on the structure of the sexual organs, that can lie between 0% and 100% on either of the male and female axes. (I assume that femaleness and maleness are independent characteristics, and that femaleness is neither the opposite nor the absence of maleness.) The little red circle on the left side of the Organs box shows the Cartesian coordinates of someone, for example, whose organs are predominantly male with a slight touch of female.

          But that red circle isn’t enough, and further qualities are shown in the box to which it expands to the right. Whatever gender your organs, what’s almost as important is what you feel like: masculine, feminine, or something in between? The red circle in the box to the right denotes your experience of yourself on the masculine and feminine spectrum. In the example, psychological gender is mostly female, with a little bit of male.

          But no matter what you feel like, what also counts is what gender you’re attracted to. Hence the coordinates of the final circle in the final box. (To be entirely accurate, what you’re attracted to could itself be some configuration of the three boxes rather than just some mix of masculine and feminine, but that would involve us in what mathematicians call recursion, which I’m avoiding for now.)

          Varying identities

          In this scheme there are many genders that don’t even have names yet. The figure below contains diagrams of just a few gender states that do. The Male Lesbian is a physiological male who feels like a woman and is attracted to women. The Transgendered Male is denoted by the removal of male organs and the (presumably imperfect) creation of female ones.

          A much briefer form of notation, like musical staves, would consist simply of three sequential boxes with dots inside. That tells you most of what you need to know.

          Some of the students in the Generation LGBTQIA article claim to have identities that vary with time, so that the coordinates in the final two boxes move about each day or week, rather than remaining stationary. Schopenhauer wrote: You can do what you want but you can’t want what you want. Arlo Guthrie in the 1960s sang: You can get anything you want in Alice’s Restaurant. Maybe eventually you can be anything you want in Alice’s Restaurant too, with no‐one giving a damn about it, and no one feeling victimized. Is that groovy? I don’t know, but neither I nor you have much control over it.


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