An Apartheid of Sex

I’m in this world, okay, and the people identify each other by sex.  All the time.  No kidding.  It’s like ‘Female Person Jenkins ‘ and ‘Male Person Ellis’ or ‘Person-with-Uterus Jenkins’ and ‘Person-with-Penis Ellis’, I don’t know the exact translation.  But sex-identity is a mandatory prefix.  They distinguish males from females.  Before they do anything else.

It bothers me.  It irritates me.  It pisses me off.  I mean, what’s so damned special about my sex that it has to be part of my name?  Surely my values, my interests, my abilities, my character – these aspects define my self more than my sex does.

And anyway shouldn’t I be the one to decide what parts of my self are important enough to be part of my name?  Maybe I want to be identified by my uterus, but maybe I want to be identified by my occupation.  Hell, maybe I want to identified by my blood type.

The thing is, they consider it polite.  Polite!  To draw such relentless attention to details of my anatomy!  In fact, they think that to call someone just by their name, without the penis/uterus prefix, is rude.  So it’s really hard to say anything.  And it’s even harder to do anything.  I mean, I tried just saying “Dave” one time and everybody turned and stared at me.  No kidding.  I tried to hold my ground, but I heard myself say “Sorry, I mean, ‘Mr. Ellis’.”  And everybody smiled with relief.

I even tried variations once.  I thought if I loosened up the custom a bit, it’d be easier to get rid of it altogether.  Sort of like food that’s dried onto dishes you haven’t washed in a week.

Anyway, next time I put on my best smile and said “Dickhead Ellis”.  Everybody turned and stared.  Worse than last time.  Again, I found myself saying “Sorry, I meant ‘Penis Person, Male Person, Mr. Ellis’.”

Surely this can’t be good, this obsessive marking of sex, this insistent separating of human beings into male and female.  Talk about paving the superhighway to sex discrimination.  I wanted to shout “Look, it’s not like it has to be this way!”  Why not just call people by their names, ‘Dave’ or ‘Mary’?  Too familiar for the formality-prone.  Then how about using their surname, ‘Ellis’ or ‘Jenkins’?  Too rude for the etiquette-addicted.  How about an all-purpose sex-neutral prefix like ‘Doctor’ but without the professional implications; how about just ‘Person’ – ‘Person Ellis’ and ‘Person Jenkins’?  As for the pronoun problem, they already have a sex-neutral pronoun: ‘it’.  But, stupidly, it’s reserved for animals.  Go figure.  In this world, animals are accorded the respect of a sex-free identity, but people aren’t.

(Thanks to Martine Rothblatt – The Apartheid of Sex, NY: Crown Publishers, 1995 – for the title.)



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    • Zhaszhas on April 1, 2010 at 2:56 am
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    “In this world, animals are accorded the respect of a sex-free identity, but people aren’t.”

    Hahaha truer words have never been spoken! I want to be a dog in my next life

  1. Interestingly enough I tend to refer to animals by geneder (he/she) if I know their sex, but that’s usually because I’m trying to elevate their status rather than lower it. “It” has the connotation of “object”. I can’t imagine anyone feeling comfortable being referred to as “it”.

    Gender pronouns are a strange feature of language, though. I can see where they’d come from, but I agree we don’t really need them. Come to think of it, I can’t recall the last time I actually used “Mr.”, “Mrs.” or “Ms.” when addressing someone in speech or writing. Informality is catching on… perhaps that will help?

    English at least does not have gender for words that are not for things with actual gender. I would imagine it may have greater impact on languages like French where everything is gendered.

  1. […] ‘Ms.’ was a wrong turn, since it reinforced the gender dichotomy.  I had just written my piece Mr. and Ms., which I later revised to include Martine Rothblatt’s wonderful phrase ‘the apartheid of […]

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