Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?

Transgendered Folks Encountering Document/Database ID Hassles 814

An anonymous reader writes "Most of us hear the equivalent of 'let me bring up your record' several times a week or month when dealing with businesses and government agencies; sometimes there's a problem, but clerks are accustomed to dealing with changes in street address, phone numbers, company affiliation, and even personal names (after marriage). But what about gender? Transgendered folks are encountering embarrassing moments when they have to explain that their gender has changed from 'M' to 'F' or vice versa. While there are many issues involved in discrimination against transgendered individuals, I have to confess that the first thing that came to my mind was the impact on database design and maintenance."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Transgendered Folks Encountering Document/Database ID Hassles

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Nothing has really changed...

    • by marauder ( 30027 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @08:01PM (#44018195)

      An indicator for M/F isn't recording anything much about genetic sex. If that's what you're setting out to do you'll need a much bigger box: []

      Even for people with standard-issue XX or XY sex chromosomes, the journey from that to phenotypical gender is about a six-stage process. Most people arrive at one of two endpoints, but that still leaves another 62 or so different bit-patterns for phenotypical gender, and as the article suggests the low-order bits can be flipped after birth. A write-only boolean field doesn't really do the job.

    • by pesho ( 843750 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @08:02PM (#44018213)
      I am hermaphrodite, you insensitive clod!
    • by Trepidity ( 597 )

      If we were just talking about genes, it wouldn't appear in most database records or on ID cards, since those don't normally include catalogs of chromosomes.

    • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @11:22PM (#44019347) Homepage
      Gender is not determined (solely) by genetics.

      First, despite what you learned in 7th grade Biology class, sex is not a simple matter of X and Y genes. A person's sex genes may be altered, or due to environmental factors, don't express normally. A surprising ratio of babies are born with ambiguous genitalia, which the attending medical staff will respond to by either guessing how the child will develop, or suggesting surgery to select one or the other gender. Parents will sometimes leave the child's physical features as they are, but (for obvious reasons) pick on gender or the other and raise the child accordingly, which may work OK for a while, but by the time of puberty the fact that their child isn't simply "male" or simply "female" becomes more problematic.
  • Gov. Work (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fekmist ( 2857907 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @07:27PM (#44017945)
    I used to work for the government of Canada at an agency which I cannot name. I ran into an awkward situation when I was speaking with a woman who had recently gotten married to another woman and as I was putting the info in, the software I was using told me there was an error that needed to be corrected before proceeding. I was both embarrassed and furious. I could not believe our software was not written with same sex couples in mind and I apologized to her and kept on going with the rest of call. I doubt this issue has been fixed yet, this happened about a year ago.
    • Ten years ago, I wouldn't even think that such a database exception would ever exist. It seemed like same-sex marriages would never be legal anywhere here in the states.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by N_Piper ( 940061 )
      You can't believe something that has only been able to be talked about in public for less than 15 years (legal homosexsual marage) wasn't in your lowest bidder made, god knows how old Government computer system?
      I'll admit I don't know everything about Canada but I thought cynicism to Bureaucratic BS was taught everywhere.
      I understand apologising but if that sort of oversight is actually surprising to you, well I'll just say get used to it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        You can't believe something that has only been able to be talked about in public for less than 15 years (legal homosexsual marage) wasn't in your lowest bidder made, god knows how old Government computer system?

        You got it wrong. The unbelievable part is that the lowest bidder developed software bothered to take time to add and test such a check in the first place.

        My own encounters with development houses included software that by the time it reached us for the first round of testing, still didn't have some of the most basic security checks... like don't use incremental counters as user record IDs in the URL seen by the user over the internet (fundamental design error), and for frak sake don't pull up someone else'

  • Make it optional (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @07:33PM (#44017991)
    Make the field optional. In addition to male and female, add both and neither. Also, review the reason you even keep that information. It may not be necessary at all.
    • Re:Make it optional (Score:5, Informative)

      by geminidomino ( 614729 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @07:40PM (#44018033) Journal

      If you follow Fed guidelines in the US, it already is. "Indeterminate" and "Declined to Respond" are both required to be supported in any EHR software in order to meet "Meaningful Use" requirements.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "Indeterminate" and "Declined to Respond" are both required to be supported in any EHR software in order to meet "Meaningful Use" requirements

        Maybe for medical records, but those of us working on the billing side can tell you that you had better send "Male" or "Female" on the claim (and it has to match what they told the insurance company). At least if you want to get paid.

    • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @12:27AM (#44019647)

      Is we need to define what we mean when we ask for someone's sex or gender on a form. I think part of the problem is different people identify what it means differently. Some in the transgender community say it is 100% about what you personally choose to identify as. So you could be genetically male, have an XY chromosome set, and biologically male, as in have male genitals and body structure, but identify yourself as female and that's what you should mark down. However other people might disagree. If you went in to the woman's dressing room at a rec center the biological women in there might not be at all comfortable with that since they identify you as male, due to your biology.

      So one of the things we need to do is clarify the terms, and perhaps have different terms for identifying someone's genetic structure, biological makeup, and sexual identity.

      Like when you are talking to a doctor, the genetic definition matters. Reason is that health issues do NOT affect both genders equally, and it has nothing to do with appearance or identity, it has to do with genetics. So even if you've had a sex change operation and all that, proper identification as genetically male could be relevant to medical providers.

      For most people it is more about biology, as in what bits do you have between your legs. We visually identify people as male or female, and most are pretty clearly one or the other. That is one of the reasons it gets asked for lots of forms of ID is to help ensure that the ID is for the person holding it. For that, we might want to use your biological appearance. If you undergo a sex change surgery, then you change that identifier.

      In terms of the pronoun you wish people to use to identify your gender, that really is up to you, though you need to understand it can be confusing to people if you appear and sound different than you identify.

      So as you say we need to review why the information is collected, and then define terms to say what sort of thing we are talking about. We can't just say "Well let people identify as whatever they want," since reality doesn't work that way. However if you are just collecting it for no real reason, then don't and let people identify how they wish.

  • Why does the gubbmint need to know what our parts are? Unless it involves public health or medical care, it's irrelevant unless you live in Big Brother land.
  • Living (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 15, 2013 @07:37PM (#44018013)

    Databases are annoying, as no-one really models gender changing over time (most glaring to me in the medical industry, where I work). That said, i'd much rather see something done about the reactions of people, rather than the contents of databases. I now live 600 miles from my hometown, because I got tired of being physically attacked for being myself in public. Show me how changing a database table will turn around a truck full of beer 'buzzed' rednecks, and i'm all game.

    Anonymous, for all the wrong reasons. I'd rather post as myself, but I've learned not to be honest in public, unless I want death threats. Thanks for the 5 minutes of attention, but we've got trouble all day.

  • I can understand the database keeping track of a salutation like Mr/Ms/Miss/Mrs/Dr/Rev/etc. And a salutation can of course change, a Miss can easily become a Dr or Mrs.

    The status of M/F doesn't usually seem necessary for customer service or governments, as using personal pronouns can be ambiguous or unnecessary. But the salutation can be a convenient, comfortable and respectful way to address a person on the phone.

  • Discrimination (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sincewhen ( 640526 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @07:50PM (#44018099)

    This illustrates how discrimination is embedded in our society. We want to know details about someone (gender) so that we can assume other things (entitlement to maternity leave, say). But this supports treating people differently. The entitlement should be that anyone who gives birth or (or perhaps adopts) a baby is entitled to the leave. No need to identify gender.

  • Bigotry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jbohumil ( 517473 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @08:24PM (#44018367)
    I'm surprised at all the bigotry here on Slashdot. I hope you guys get a chance to know a transgendered person at some point, it might change your attitudes. I have, and it totally changed my misunderstandings on the subject. I suppose it is natural to be unbelieving in things which seem foreign to our way of thinking, but even if you cannot accept the idea right now, at least give people the benefit of the doubt rather than spew your ignorance as if it were facts. Why not have a look and see attitude? You might be surprised. I feel lucky to have met the transgendered persons I have known in my life, I hope you get the chance.
    • Re:Bigotry (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 15, 2013 @08:35PM (#44018443)

      As an mtf trans person, thank you for being a big enough person to correct your misunderstandings. Some people choose to cling to their ignorance for dear life, I don't understand why.

      A lot of the comments on this article are a perfect example of why this sort of thing needs more discussion. For a website that is supposedly for intelligent people, a lot of them certainly aren't acting like it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by QuietLagoon ( 813062 )
      Why are you surprised at the bigotry here on /. ? Just look at the E3 [] thread posted a few hours ago.

      Male-dominant sexism, and the rejection of anything 'different,' seems to be actively encouraged in the gaming industry, the customers of which I suspect make up a large part of the /. audience.

    • I think the community is more open than that. Like with many other touchy issues, it's a minority that's making all the noise and making it seem like Slashdot is more bigoted than it is.

      I haven't had to face such issues, so I haven't thought about it much. For instance, could I date a woman knowing that she was born male? Could you? For men who want to have children and not by adoption, that won't do. Some day technology may allow sex changes that are so complete a person can have offspring after a s

  • by PNutts ( 199112 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @08:34PM (#44018439)

    I know exactly how they feel. The puzzled stares... The uncomfortable questions... It's gnarly.

  • by Livius ( 318358 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @10:15PM (#44019013)

    There will be certain cases - a lot of medical data, for example - where gender truly is important.

    But in a lot of cases, you could reasonably have a person simply refuse to provide the information in the first place, or even just need a temporary value if gender is unknown at the time of record creation. A serious database has to anticipate those cases; this is not a big step.

    And a database which needs gender for some legitimate medical purpose already needs to deal with special cases.

    (And that's all without worrying about the question of whether those cases are lifestyle choices, genuine metabolic disorders, or something else entirely - the technology does not care about attitudes.)

    • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @10:35PM (#44019115)

      There will be certain cases - a lot of medical data, for example - where gender truly is important.

      For medical records, they should be gathering not just a simple "gender", but:

      • Genetic Gender: Male / Female / Other / Unknown -- Regardless of physical appearance -- are your chromosomes X, XY, or something strange? This would likely be a 2 or 3-dimensional scale, rather than a simple M/F.
      • Endocrine Gender: Male / Female / Other / Unknown -- Does your body hormonally act like a Male or Female? E.g. Does your body chemically have a female monthly cycle or something else? Again, this would be a 2-dimensional scale.
      • Physical Gender: Male / Female / miXed / None -- (E.g. Some genetic females, might for whatever reason, have some male physical bits; some males might for whatever reason, have some female physical bits)
      • Self-Identity Gender: Male / Female / Both / None -- What gender the person views themselves as, this may be influenced by their culture.
      • Sexual Gender: Male / Female / Other / None -- What gender the person determines them to be sexually. E.g. There may be people who are physically Female, and identify themselves as female, but sexually speaking -- they may be Male, as in, they will prefer to have a Woman as their sexual partner, even though they are physically a Woman.

      There are potentially a few more things, that should be there.

      The point is a simple "What gender?" question was a wrong question to begin with; based on a cultural sterotype that there are two kinds of people -- Boys and Girls.

      Reality is much more complex; with all those medical "conditions"; which aren't really diseases per se, where you have androgynous people.

  • This isn't a joke. It's about a tiny but very real group of people being able to live their lives safely and in dignity.

    Leaving aside questions of what data is needed in the medical profession to handle biology correctly - which is a completely different issue - the attitude that people deserve to have their secrets outed so that other people can entertain themselves by laughing at them is just... not the geek world I grew up in having programmed computers since the age of 8. My mum got me into it, in a family where everyone writes code.

    As a lesbian geek girl, I'm disgusted by a lot of the comments here, and really don't know if I even belong on this forum any more. I don't write much but have been reading on a daily basis since the late 1990s.

    The transgender community seems to be under attack these days since they're small enough not to be able to fight back in the way that the gay and lesbian community and various ethnic minorities have. Finally all the bigots and religious fundamentalists have found a group of people who it is "safe" to bully.

    But please, not on slashdot!!

    Surely, as so called "nerds" you would know something about the history of your industry. Have you heard of Alan Turing (, who developed the model for the general purpose computer, only to be arrested for being homosexual, clinically castrated, and driven to suicide? You probably have, and I assume he's one of the reasons why a lot of IT companies are very good at accepting gay men and lesbian.

    What about Lynn Conway [], Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan, who literally wrote the book on VLSI design (Introduction to VLSI systems). She's alive, fortunately, but we all lost a lot of her work when she was forced to start again "at the bottom of the ladder" as a contract programmer in mid-career to hide her gender past from your bigotry and intolerance.

    What about Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski [] who co-produced the Matrix Trilogy? She came close to not surviving the hate growing up, and if she hadn't survived, we would never have gotten to see The Matrix.

    And - he might not have been a geek, but - what about Mike Penner, who committed suicide after an unsuccessful attempt at gender transition?

    Seriously, wannabe geeks, as tiny a minority as the transgender community is, the IT industry is packed full of transsexuals and transgender people. And many of us here have romantic partners, or parents, or brothers and sisters and friends who are. At least here in Melbourne, Australia, you can't write code and hang out in the industry without getting close to many of them.

    It seems that all the gay men and lesbians are too successful and too powerful for you to attack now. So like all bullies, you run off in search of an easier victim.

    Getting back to the topic, why exactly do you need databases to say things about people's gender that don't match how they present themselves? To out them and embarrass them because they "deserve" it? How little compassion and caring do you have for other people? Would you want to be treated this way yourselves if you had some type of secret you had to keep from people who would hate you because of it?

    If you were in Europe circa World War 2, would you insist that records there included whether or not a person was Jewish, based on genetic testing? With no ability for a person to change their record to say they were, say, Russian, if it could give them a better chance of finding employment or even survival?

    In case you think the analogy isn't fair (and yes, I am Jewish, and migrated from Russia with my parents as a three year old), have a look at what the Salvation Army (who the government in Australia got involved in finding jobs for the unemployed a few years ago) are saying and doing:

    • The problem seems to have its root in daycare centres. The personnel push the children into groups based on the gender the parents report and refuse to accept children without this information. They condition the children to accept gender roles and act normal in a sick society.

      There is an immense amount of disrespect for children in daycare centres, simply because they can in no way fight back and it's convenient for the personnel.

    • by Tyr07 ( 2300912 ) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @02:01AM (#44020087) Homepage

      Glad you think the world revolves around your surgical options.
      If you want to believe, that's fine, but don't get mad because other people don't feel the same way.

      I fully believe that in general, regardless of any choices that do not harm or even affect others, people should be treated with a reasonable
      amount of respect. Most importantly, if you don't like their choices, it's okay not to like people, their way of doing things, that's actually OKAY.
      You're totally not allowed to like something.

      What's not okay is treating them poorly because of it, insulting them, discriminating against them in life matters. I'm so tired of discrimination being
      yelled at every little thing when someone simply 'doesn't like it' in a conversation or discussion.

      If you choose not to hire someone because they're transgender, even though they would be excellent at the job, that discrimination and wrong.
      But we haven't reached the day and age where you're not allowed to pick your friends. If you don't like it, leave them alone.

      Should the government be required to collect your beliefs, that you're a women or man now, based on your surgery? Honestly, way above my pay grade.
      For me personally, a persons genetic gender and characteristics from birth are what *I* choose to use to define what gender they are to me, and how I will interact with them.

      It doesn't mean that I will hate them or couldn't be friends with them, but for me personally I wouldn't be interested in being sexually involved with them.
      I don't like that there are some transgender people who feel I shouldn't know, and just base it on what I "think" they are , or what they believe they are.

      To go to the extreme, if I surgically alter myself to make me look like your lover, should you just accept that I am, or should you know that I'm not really?
      Can I argue that I believe I am and you should accept it?

      If you look at it strictly from a logical point of view, both are surgeries that alter physical characteristics to another to provoke the same response one with those characteristics would receive. So?

      P.S, if you're a lesbian, and I transgender to a female, (Yes I'm a guy, go ahead with it's a guy go figure his comments bashing, because we've never been stereotyped or dismissed based on gender) would you be interested?

    • by Golthar ( 162696 ) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @06:33AM (#44020885)

      As shameful as some of the comments are (I'm embarrassed as well by some of the bigotry on here), let's not feed into the animosity more by painting us all with the same brush.

  • by dalias ( 1978986 ) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @12:58AM (#44019825)
    Neither gender or sex belongs in most databases any more than race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or any other sort of information that has no bearing on the business or government agency's interaction with the person. Storing more information than you should in your database only leads to headaches and possible legal liabilities.

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan