I attended an event the other night that reminded me how complicated gender is, and yet how simply it can be handled. As I looked around I saw every point on the gender spectrum represented by people at this village gathering to celebrate a fellow’s graduation from university. There would be no way to accurately place anybody on the continua without listening to their stories over time. But it is tempting to jump to conclusions at a glance. “Here is a farmer and his wife,” we might think. “That singer is a kathoey, for sure.” “Obviously, she is a Trans.” But, if we become acquainted with these people (as Pramote and I have done) it becomes clear all is not always as it first appears, and maybe nothing is.
That raised the question for me, “Knowing as little as we tend to do, and much of what we know being wrong, how can society function?” Some societies become dysfunctional, as a matter of fact, when they become overloaded with mystery or ambiguity as when new people move in. But our village commencement party went along and village life in that village functions placidly by applying the simple principle of “mai pen rai.” (“Never mind” is the standard translation. “Let it go” is often what it really means. “Never mind” is dismissive. “Let it go” is a more plaintive exhortation or instruction.)
“Never mind” works most of the time. But in writing things take on sharper shapes. A lot of writing is being done these days, perhaps more than ever in the history of humankind. Several billion people write every day and post it on the Internet. After being aggravated for a while yesterday by seeing still another announcement on-line about “ladyboys” I decided it is still important to try to straighten out our gay discourse so we can be careful about applying it to ourselves and others.
My contribution this weekend is a simplified word list:
Gender behavioral and psychological aspects of one’s identity
Gender identity a person’s perception of their gender as male or female or something else
Sex biological aspects of one’s identity
Sex assignment an infant’s sex noted at birth by medical professionals on official records
Cisgender conforming to one’s sex assignment, also “cis” versus “trans”
Transgender not conforming to one’s sex assignment, also one who is using medical intervention to change gender identity, including reassignment surgery to alter physical organs
Intersex one with confusing or ambiguous biological sex indicators at birth
Binary the concept that there are 2 distinct sexes but also that one is either gay or straight
Non-binary gender identity outside the 2 binary categories; also “gender-fluid”
Gender Dysphoria anxiety over one’s gender; distress or unhappiness caused when a person’s gender identity does not map their physical attributes
THAI TERMS IN ENGLISH
Gay a male who prefers sex and romance with males
Kathoey a male who exhibits feminine characteristics
Third sex a female personality born in a male body as karmic punishment, a subset of kathoey
Tom a female who exhibits male characteristics
Trans short for transgender but exclusively one who is transitioning from male to female
Ladyboy a pejorative, insulting term for a “trans”
For previous blog-essays on similar themes see:
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.