Recently, I have been writing training courses on the new part of the Jersey anti-discrimination law that is due in September 2015. This part of the law covers gender reassignment. I have found myself struggling with what shorthand I should use for a trans person’s “true” gender in order to distinguish it from the gender they were assigned by the midwife/doctor at birth. There are several phrases in common use: acquired gender, essential gender, authentic gender and target sex. None of which I feel correctly describe the gender of someone who is trans.
“Acquired gender” suggests to me that the trans person has gone out and bought their gender. Acquire: 1. buy or obtain (an asset or object) for oneself. 2. learn or develop (a skill, habit, or quality). This implies that gender is something external to the trans person, that it is something they wear or put on. It trivialises their gender, suggesting it can be bought like any other possession, which also suggests that the trans person’s gender is something that has recently happened, rather than something that has been the case for many years.
“Essential gender” is better but still not great. Essential: 1. Necessary. 2. Very important; of high importance. 3. Being in the basic form; showing its essence. 4. Really existing; existent. It is not clear which of essential’s many meanings the phrase refers to. We all have a gender. Whether we are cis or trans, our gender is necessary, important and real. Essential, in the context of a trans person’s gender, may therefore mean showing its essence – seeing the essential gender beneath the other gender. This doesn’t really work for me as it implies that there is a layer through which one has to penetrate before the essence is revealed. As we transition and move away from the gender we were assigned at birth, closer and closer to the gender we want to be accepted as, the idea of seeing through some form of outer “wrongness” to the right gender beneath is inaccurate.
“Authentic gender” or “true gender” both have the potential to suffer from confusion. Authentic: 1. Of the same origin as claimed; genuine. 2. Conforming to reality and therefore worthy of trust, reliance, or belief. Depending on who is reading the description and what their understanding is of trans issues, they may think a trans person’s authentic/true gender is the gender they were assigned at birth.
And, as for, “target sex”: it sounds like something that archers get up to!
Personally, I like “recognised gender”. To recognise: to acknowledge the existence, validity, or legality of. Not only have I recognised my gender in such a way that I now own it, but society has recognised it, too. This, for me, speaks to the implied “deal” that we all make with society: that our gender expression will reflect our gender identity.