Always on the lookout for
unfamiliar words or phrases, I’ve just come across one. It popped up in an unlikely place: a website
put out by, and designed for, former employees of Reuters (renamed Thomson
Reuters since my time with the company).
The website is thebaron.info. The word is ‘genderqueer’.
I’ve put the word in quotation
marks, not just as a matter of good grammatical form, but also because it is
not listed in my printed edition of the Oxford
Dictionary of English (published in 2003).
It does, however, appear in the OED’s on-line version, with the
following definition: “adj: denoting or
relating to a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions
but identifies with neither, both or a combination of male and female gender”. Readers
interested in such matters might also care to note that the word can also be used
as a noun.
‘Genderqueer’ appears in the
headline of thebaron.info’s news
column, above an article about the Thomson Reuters annual employee survey, an
exercise designed to maintain a comprehensive profile of the company’s
workforce. The survey’s authors explain its
addition as a gender category as a desire to reflect “a person’s innate, deeply
felt psychological identification as male or female, which may or may not
correspond to the person’s body or designated sex at birth”.
I can only assume that once, in an
admittedly less sensitive age, the TR
survey contained just two gender categories: male and female. But we live now in more complex times, and those
two basic classifications have since been supplemented by five others:
male-to-female, female-to-male, transgender, intersex and transsexual. It should be noted that the survey also accommodates,
presumably for the benefit of those respondents unable or unwilling to declare
themselves to be anything but descendants of Adam and Eve, or of Darwin’s simian
equivalents, the additional category of ‘prefer-not-to-say’.
The story came to light when a TR employee called thebaron.info to describe the gender categories in the
questionnaire she’d been asked to complete as “stupid”.
I’m not sure what to make of this
acknowledgement of the emerging mysteries of gender classification, but stupid
may well be the word I’m reaching for. And though I can’t think of any outraged objection
to the ‘new’ gender on rational or religious grounds, I also can’t help
wondering what useful purpose is served by it.
Since I venture to guess that the vast majority of TR’s employees are happy to describe themselves as ‘male’ or
‘female’, and as neither of those descriptions make no assumptions about gender
preferences, why not merely add a third category called ‘other’?
The answer, I suspect, lies in the
widespread, often desperate, corporate yearning to achieve the Holy Grail of
unimpeachable inclusiveness. A TR spokeswoman,
Jocelyn Betts, explains: “It enables us
to get a good sense of the demographic of our employee population.”
Now I wonder if Jocelyn would object
to my assumption that she’s a woman. For
all I know she fits some other category, and ought to be described as, say, a spokessgenderqueer,
or spokestranssexual. (Personally, I’d choose ‘intersex’, on the grounds that
I’ve always been into sex, but that would not be entering into the spirit of
As I read the story I started to smell
a rat, the rate in this case being a corporate genuflection to a special
interest group. Lo and behold, in the
last sentences of the website story, I learned that the TR survey results in previous years had helped the company achieve
a 100 per cent rating in the apparently ‘influential’ Corporate Equality Index,
published by a Washington DC-based organisation called the Human Rights
Campaign, and widely used as a hiring tool by America’s largest gay lobby to
advance the cause of gay rights.
At this rate, the TR survey may have to include a growing
number of categories. What about people
who are convinced that that they are alien beings, or reincarnations of
I’m just asking….