How Much Should Sex Matter?

Is it really necessary for us to ask people as often as we do what sex they are? Perhaps the desire for such information is a residue of an era in which women were excluded from a wide range of roles and positions, and thus denied the privileges that go with them.

WARSAW/MELBOURNE – Jenna Talackova reached the finals of Miss Universe Canada last month, before being disqualified because she was not a “natural born” female. The tall, beautiful blonde told the media that she had considered herself a female since she was four years old, had begun hormone treatment at 14, and had sex reassignment surgery at 19. Her disqualification raises the question of what it really means to be a “Miss.”

A question of broader significance was raised by the case of an eight-year-old Los Angeles child who is anatomically female, but dresses as, and wants to be considered, a boy. His mother tried unsuccessfully to enroll him in a private school as a boy. Is it really essential that every human being be labeled “male” or “female” in accordance with his or her biological sex?

People who cross gender boundaries suffer clear discrimination. Last year, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force published a survey that suggested that the unemployment rate among transgender people is double that of other people. In addition, of those respondents who were employed, 90% reported some form of mistreatment at work, such as harassment, ridicule, inappropriate sharing of information about them by supervisors or co-workers, or trouble with access to toilets.

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