Gender Bender at Australian Universities


Boethius was schooled in the primitive 1980’s when university students actually attended lectures, as opposed to listening to them online mid afternoon after breakfasting, and when books were things you held in your hand and could write in, rather than words on a screen; so it would be fair to think of him as a rather old fashioned type. Old fashioned enough, in fact, to want to tick the box marked ‘male’ when prompted for his gender on a form of some description, and old fashioned enough to expect only two categories to feature on said form, male and female. Old fashioned enough also to be astounded that, in order to complete the simple question asking for one’s gender, students at university these days are presented with a form resembling the Senate ballot paper at the last federal election.

As the Australian reported on the weekend: “What’s the deal with kids these days?” with 58 gender categories to choose from, sexual and gender identity are part of the Zeitgeist. Ask Josh Han, the queer officer with Sydney University’s Student Representative Council. “It’s about deconstructing ­societal views of what it means to be a man or a woman,” he says. “If you only have two genders, there are limited interactions. But if you have a diversity of gender identities you don’t have these closed categories. It means you can have way more than 58 gender categories. Among those 58 ­options, first listed on Facebook, are bigender, gender questioning, gender variant, pangender, intersex and 26 versions of trans, transgender and trans­sexual. Plain old male and ­female didn’t make the list.”

This was seriouVancouver_Pride_2009_(23)sly astonishing news to Boethius, as was the existence of a “Queer Officer” on campus. Presumably there is also an Intersex Officer, a Gender Curious Officer, a Pangender Officer, and so on. The Pangender Officer would have his / her / its / their / them work cut out, for, as Boethius subsequently learned, ‘Pangender’ identifying people are pronoun shy, and easily offended. It must be excessively awkward, too, for lecturers these days. How is a well meaning, progressive, and left leaning academic type, earnestly wanting to do and say the right thing (and not have his or her arse sued off) to know into which of the 58 (or more) gender categories a questioner in his / her / it (or insert preferred pronoun here) class falls? Moreover, how does one know which name the person of unknown and unspecified gender might prefer be used in class at that time, and at that precise moment in their development as a person of undetermined gender, subject as they insidiously are, to the oppressive force of social stereotyping that, cruelly and shamelessly, labels those born with a penis a ‘boy’ and those born with a vagina ‘girl’?

The Australian finds another earnest student type to offer this piece of wisdom, on names: “Kyol Blakeney, the president of Sydney University’s SRC, says these are important issues. A lot of people who transition have a chosen name that is different to their legal name. If they go to class and their legal name is called out it can be horrifying for them.”

Horrifying indeed. The damage inflicted on fragile minds, who have lived in the world long enough to make it all the way to university, by the malicious use of the name inflicted on them by callous parents at birth is a perverse thing indeed. So names are out, as are pronouns, and there is definitely no resorting to unenlightened and infantile insults like stereotyping people as ‘male’ or ‘female’ in the classrooms of today. God knows what happens when the very practical, and natural matter of toileting arises… but let’s not go there today. Boethius is beginning to marvel at how anyone can actually be enrolled in a course of study at Sydney University these days, let alone visit a campus crapper. The graduation ceremony must be a real blast too – Boethius could just picture the festivities – bearded man with plentiful chest hair steps forward and strolls excitedly across stage in high heels to collect a degree in cultural studies awarded to ‘Amanda’ as the assembled hall of students break into a frenzied show of jazz hands.

As they say in the classics (actually ‘Dirty Harry’), ‘that’s one crazy f…ed up world.’

Photo by TGlamorpuss Photo