Wikipedia:Gender identity

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MOS:IDENTITY states:

[F]or terms relating to gender[, ...] we favor self-designation, even when source usage would indicate otherwise. Any person whose gender might be questioned should be referred to by the pronouns, possessive adjectives, and gendered nouns (for example "man/woman", "waiter/waitress", "chairman/chairwoman") that reflect that person's latest expressed gender self-identification. This applies in references to any phase of that person's life, unless the subject has indicated a preference otherwise. Direct quotations may need to be handled as exceptions (in some cases adjusting the portion used may reduce apparent contradictions, and " [sic]" may be used where necessary).

While many varied viewpoints were voiced in formulating that guideline, this essay outlines some of the commonly recurring views that helped shape it, and answers common questions that are raised in regards to it. For more on transgender issues, you may want to check out the American Psychological Association's "Answers to Your Questions About Transgender People, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression".

Self-identification[edit]

Why does Wikipedia refer to people according to their gender self-identification?
Wikipedia's policy on biographies of living people says "the possibility of harm to living subjects must always be considered when exercising editorial judgment", and on 9 April 2009 the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees passed a resolution urging that special attention be paid to neutrality, verifiability and human dignity. As Wikipedia's article on the subject explains, "gender identity is a person's private sense, and subjective experience, of their own gender." We accept the person's latest identification of their gender, as documented in reliable sources, at face value. To do otherwise — to refer to transgender or genderqueer people by names or pronouns which disregard their gender identities, i.e. to misgender them — is deeply offensive and causes harm.[1][2][3]

Really a man[edit]

But isn't [such-and-such trans woman or genderqueer person] "really" a man? Isn't [such-and-such trans man or genderqueer person] "really" a woman, scientifically speaking?
Gender and sex are, as modern science understands them, complex, and they have a complex relationship to one another. It is no more "correct", scientifically, to base pronoun usage (and gendered noun usage, etc) on birth-assigned sex than on gender identity.

Legal name[edit]

Shouldn't Wikipedia wait until a person has legally changed names and/or gender before changing how we address them?
No. Wikipedia's policy on article titles (see also the essay on "official names") gives no weight to legal names. Furthermore, jurisdictions vary widely in how they regulate changes of name or gender: some jurisdictions do not recognize gender changes at all; in other jurisdictions, a person may change names simply by beginning to use a new name, without any formal legal process.

Sex reassignment surgery[edit]

Shouldn't Wikipedia wait until a person has undergone sex reassignment surgery before changing how we address them?
  • When it is undertaken at all, sex reassignment surgery is a later step in transitioning. Often, a prerequisite for such surgery is that the individual have already socially transitioned and lived in accordance with their gender identity for some time.
  • Medical records are generally covered by privacy legislation and not disclosed to the public. A person's current surgical status is thus unlikely to be documented in reliable sources. For that matter, a person's natal sex is also unlikely to be documented in reliable sources, and speculation about it is likely to constitute original research.

Her testicles[edit]

Won't some readers be confused by phrases such as "her testicles"?
  • Articles are unlikely to discuss a trans person's genitals without having first discussed that the person is trans. (Indeed, articles are unlikely to discuss a person's genitals at all; in September 2014, fewer than 170 of Wikipedia's 4.6 million articles used the phrase "his testicles" and only 3 used the phrase "her testicles". Notably, all of the latter were about fictional people and would thus remain even if the MOS were changed.) Thus, while the phrase "her testicles" may seem unusual, it will not cause confusion in context. Furthermore, it will usually be possible and clearer to use a surname or article rather than a pronoun: Jones suffered lacerations of the (not his or her) testicles, the album cover featured Smith's penis.
  • Some readers would be confused and/or offended to see someone being misgendered (referred to using pronouns that do not correspond to the person's gender identity). See the second question in the #Retroactivity section.

Retroactivity[edit]

Why is the name/pronoun that matches a person's current gender identity used "in references to any phase of that person's life"? In other words, why are names/pronouns applied retroactively?
  • A person coming out as trans is usually not making a change in their gender (though they make a change in their presentation), they are revealing their gender (gender identity). Coming out as e.g. a trans man is best understood as saying "I am male and have always been male."
  • If a man who publicly presented as heterosexual later came out as gay, we would not write an article in a way that suggested he had been sexually attracted to women until he came out and became gay — because the modern scientific understanding of sexual orientation is that it is often determined at an early age. The modern scientific understanding of gender identity is similar.
  • Compare how if a person changes their name for another reason, e.g. because they married, their current name may be used even in references to events from before they were married.
Won't some readers be confused if a trans man is referred to as "he" in paragraphs that deal with his life pre-transition (and vice versa for trans women)?
  • For people who are unfamiliar with them, gender and transgender issues can be confusing, but with clear drafting (as suggested by MOS:IDENTITY), articles can clear up such confusion. Where necessary, an article can clarify how the person presented at whatever stage of life the article is discussing.
  • Some readers would be confused to see the same person referred to by two different pronouns (they might not even realize the same person was being referred to at first), and other readers would be confused and/or offended to see a transgender person being misgendered.

Common name[edit]

If a person changes names for reasons unrelated to gender, doesn't Wikipedia continue to use their old name for as long as it remains the one most commonly used in reliable sources? Does / should Wikipedia handle transgender name changes differently?
  • When a subject changes names for any reason (even one unrelated to gender), Wikipedia rarely hesitates to make the change promptly if it is clear the new name will be the common name of the person going forward in time; for example, the change to the article title of Pope Francis was made the same day his election was announced.
  • When a subject changes names as part of coming out as transgender, it is often impossible to continue to use that person's former name without misgendering them and thus causing harm as discussed in #Self-identification and #Transphobia.
  • However, the old name should be kept as a re-direct if it is still a well-known name likely to be searched for by people unaware of the name change.
Shouldn't Wikipedia wait until the new name is more common than the old name before updating an article to use the new name? Shouldn't Wikipedia wait until a majority of sources change how they gender someone before updating how it genders them?
  • Wikipedia follows reliable sources with regard to facts, but sets its own editorial policies. Where there is no doubt about an individual's expressed gender identity, there is no question of fact, only one of style. Wikipedia's Manual of Style exists precisely to ensure that certain aspects of style are consistent across articles, to avoid having basic style differ haphazardly from article to article based on how reliable sources most often styled each subject. (Imagine if "5 November" were located at that title because that was how that date was most often referred to, while "November 6" were located there.)
  • Wikipedia does consult other style guides when revising its MOS; when it does, it assessed how reliable those other guides are on the specific issues they are being consulted about. The most reliable medical resources which discuss transgender issues, which have been consulted in revisions of MOS:IDENTITY, strongly favor respecting trans people's expressed gender identities. (Wikipedia does, of course, wait until a name/gender is documented in at least one reliable source before updating an article, per WP:VNT.)
Why does Wikipedia update the name used in a trans person's article even if most sources still refer to the person by their pre-transition name/pronouns?
In 2006, after the IAU determined that Pluto was not a 'planet' but a 'dwarf planet', most sources still referred to it as a planet — but Wikipedia updated its articles to describe it as a dwarf planet. Wikipedia is not static, it keeps its information up-to-date. (Refer also to the two questions above, and to #Self-identification.)

I'm the King of Spain[edit]

If Wikipedia updates its articles on transgender people when they come out, why doesn't it update its article on me to reflect that I am (so I claim) the President of France?
Coming out as trans should not be seen as an arbitrary or irrational decision. It is a deeply personal decision — a statement of one's identity. A claim to hold a political office like the French Presidency is qualitatively very different from a statement of one's personal identity. Note that Wikipedia considers self-identification (and not others' identification) to be definitive with regard to several other matters, such as religion and sexuality, not just gender. Refer also to #Self-identification.

Direct quotations[edit]

Why is it that "direct quotations may need to be handled as exceptions" to the guideline on name/pronoun usage?
According to Wikipedia's guideline on quotations, "trivial spelling and typographic errors should simply be corrected without comment" but other changes to quotations should be avoided. If a quotation's use of a name or pronoun has the potential to cause confusion, several things can be done to avoid that confusion:
  • One can adjust the portion of the text one is quoting, changing e.g. after that, according to her father, "he walked out" to after that, according to her father, she "walked out".
  • One can enclose a clarifying change to the wording in square brackets, e.g. after that, according to her father, "[Smith] walked out" (especially when it would otherwise be unclear who was being referred to).

Transphobia[edit]

What does transphobia have to do with any of this?
  • As Wikipedia's article on the subject explains, transphobia is a range of antagonistic attitudes and feelings towards transsexuality and transsexual or transgender people, based on the expression of their internal gender identity. The related concept of cissexism (which is sometimes used synonymously with transphobia) refers to the assumption that a person's gender is determined solely by a biological sex of male or female (based on the mistaken assumption that all people must have either an XX or XY sex-chromosome pair), rather than e.g. mental and social traits. Transphobia and cissexism have severe consequences for the targets of the negative attitudes, trans people.
  • Many people consider questioning or disregarding a person's gender identity — including by intentionally using a former name of theirs or by using pronouns which do not correspond to their current gender identity — to be transphobic and dehumanizing.

Sexuality[edit]

What does a person being trans imply about their sexuality?
  • Nothing. A person's gender identity is not the same as, and is not connected to, sexual orientation. Some trans people are heterosexual, some are homosexual, some are bisexual, etc.
  • If a person's sexuality is not documented in reliable sources, it should not be included in an article.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Trans Health Project: A position paper and resolution adopted by the Ontario Public Health Association
  2. ^ D. B. Hill, Genderism, transphobia, and gender bashing: A framework for interpreting anti-transgender violence, in A multicultural approach for understanding and dealing with violence: A handbook for psychologists and educators (B. Wallace and R. Carter (editors), 2001)
  3. ^ V. K. Namaste, Invisible lives: The erasure of transsexual and transgendered people (2000)