Piers Morgan, who used to write homophobic stories in The Sun before that became socially unacceptable, is currently making hay from the idea that there are more than 100 genders. It’s based on a comment made in a video where someone was rather clunkily trying to express the idea that gender is a spectrum.
We’re familiar with the gender binary: male or female, boy or girl. But most binaries are shortcuts. There’s a whole world of colours between black and white. We use binaries to simplify that, but sometimes they over-simplify. The trick is to understand them for what they are: quick descriptions that apply a lot or even most of the time, but that aren’t the only possibilities.
The thing about this 100 genders thing is that when I go to LGBT+ and trans-specific events, nobody’s talking about it: the most obscure identity I’ve ever heard somebody describe themselves as is “non-binary”. Nobody’s getting irate about this stuff because they’ve got more important things to worry about, like basic human rights such as access to healthcare and not being murdered.
That’s not to say there aren’t people out there coming up with ever-longer lists of possible genders, but those people are generally in the corners of social media and academia. Going too far is what they do.
It’s important to question who’s telling you a story that makes a particular group look bad. These myriad genders are regularly trotted out by the right-wing press, but I simply don’t encounter LGBT+ people talking about it. It appears to be a classic case of people taking a couple of really extreme and/or niche views and trying to persuade people that they represent the entire group.
Put it this way. Piers Morgan isn’t talking about the healthcare crisis for trans people or the elevated suicide rates among LGBT+ teenagers, the things that really affect LGBT+ people and that LGBT+ people really do care about. He’s just pointing and laughing at them and trying to get you to point and laugh too.
Here’s an example of a big story about genders: Facebook’s infamous 50-something genders, which were then increased to 71. This was widely reported as 71 genders. It wasn’t. It was 71 possible responses on a form, most of them duplicates or slightly different ways of saying the same thing. For example:
Cis, Cisgender, Cis Female, Cis Male, Cis Man, Cis Woman, Cisgender Female, Cisgender Male, Cisgender Man, Cisgender Woman
…Trans, Trans*, Trans Female, Trans* Female, Trans Male, Trans* Male, Trans Man, Trans* Man, Trans Person, Trans* Person, Trans Woman, Trans* Woman, Transfeminine, Transgender, Transgender Female, Transgender Male, Transgender Man, Transgender Person, Transgender Woman, Transmasculine, Transsexual, Transsexual Female, Transsexual Male, Transsexual Man, Transsexual Person, Transsexual Woman
The Royal Opera House in London used to do the same (and probably still does; I haven’t checked in lately). When you buy your tickets you can choose from these titles:
Advocate, Ambassador, Baron, Baroness, Brigadier, Canon, Chaplain, Chancellor, Chief, Col, Comdr, Commodore, Councillor, Count, Countess, Dame, Dr, Duke of, Earl, Earl of, Father, General, Group Captain, H R H The Duchess of, H R H The Duke of, H R H The Princess, HE Mr, HE Senora, HE The French Ambassador M, His Highness, His Hon, His Hon Judge, Hon, Hon Ambassador, Hon Dr, Hon Lady, Hon Mrs, HRH, HRH Sultan Shah, HRH The, HRH The Prince, HRH The Princess, HSH Princess, HSH The Prince, Judge, King, Lady, Lord, Lord and Lady, Lord Justice, Lt Cdr, Lt Col, Madam, Madame, Maj, Maj Gen, Major, Marchesa, Marchese, Marchioness, Marchioness of, Marquess, Marquess of, Marquis, Marquise, Master, Mr and Mrs, Mr and The Hon Mrs, President, Prince, Princess, Princessin, Prof, Prof Emeritus, Prof Dame, Professor, Queen, Rabbi, Representative, Rev Canon, Rev Dr, Rev Mgr, Rev Preb, Reverend, Reverend Father, Right Rev, Rt Hon, Rt Hon Baroness, Rt Hon Lord, Rt Hon Sir, Rt Hon The Earl, Rt Hon Viscount, Senator, Sir, Sister, Sultan, The Baroness, The Countess, The Countess of, The Dowager Marchioness of, The Duchess, The Duchess of, The Duke of, The Earl of, The Hon, The Hon Mr, The Hon Mrs, The Hon Ms, The Hon Sir, The Lady, The Lord, The Marchioness of, The Princess, The Reverend, The Rt Hon, The Rt Hon Lord, The Rt Hon Sir, The Rt Hon The Lord, The Rt Hon the Viscount, The Rt Hon Viscount, The Venerable, The Very Rev Dr, Very Reverend, Viscondessa, Viscount, Viscount and Viscountess, Viscountess, W Baron, W/Cdr
Facebook’s 71 options are nothing compared to the 200-odd here. It’s exactly the same thing – titles that matter to the holder and maybe their peers, but hardly anybody else – but you won’t find oleaginous presenters scoffing at that because they want to get an honorific one day too.
I’m not suggesting we should shoot the messenger, as appealing as the thought of Piers Morgan in front of a firing squad might be. But it’s important to look at who the messenger is. Not all messengers are honest.
For example, when I first came out my options about the supposed trans lobby were very different from the ones I have now. And the main difference is that back then, I didn’t know many trans people or organisations. My information came from a handful of journalists and an even smaller handful of idiots on the internet. Some of those journalists turned out to be in cahoots with bigoted pressure groups; some turned out to be listed as formal supporters by US evangelical outreach groups; still others just turned out to be hateful arseholes. They were deliberately framing stories in the worst possible way in order to demonise what I now know to be a very ordinary group of perfectly decent people who often have very difficult lives and who don’t deserve to live in the climate of fear and hatred that’s being created around them.
I’ve written before about the loony-left reports of the 1980s, many of which were entirely fabricated, and about the anti-trans (and anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim, and anti-disabled people, and anti-working class people) stories routinely run by certain outlets today. The idea that newspapers and other media outlets don’t lie is a wonderful one, but it just isn’t true.
The stories we’re told are shaped by the people who tell them. All too often those people have an agenda.