Problematizing Sex/gender with Transgender Marriage Law

By Farr, Daniel | Radical Teacher, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Problematizing Sex/gender with Transgender Marriage Law


Farr, Daniel, Radical Teacher


Legally, can one be both a man and a woman? Legally, can one have no "opposite sex"? Are the definitions of gender, sex, and marriage confusing in the United States? The answer to all is a resounding "Yes." While undoubtedly the recent debates and legal changes surrounding the issue of "same-sex" marriage offer significant opportunity for classroom debate about lesbian and gay rights, an investigation of transgender marriage and divorce cases offers even more opportunity for critical discussion about sex and gender in the United States.

Teaching at primarily small, private liberal arts colleges, I have found that one can readily initiate a discussion on the conflation of sex and gender by asking what defines "sex" and "gender." Most often students will respond with a dichotomous system--male/female or man/ woman--and include associated secondary sex characteristics, chromosomes, and gender stereotypes in their definitions. (This activity can be particularly valuable if students work in small groups to create definitions and then discuss them as a class.) I problematize their definitions with the introduction of intersex, transgender, and transsexual identities, but students often manipulate these to fit their dichotomous understanding of sex and gender. However, the introduction of legal cases relating to transgender marriage encourages recognition of the obstacles and limitations that dichotomous definitions bring, and of the difficulties faced by those who are regarded as blending or changing sex and/or gender; it also provides an opportunity to note the complexities of a legal system poorly equipped to deal with "non-traditional" persons.

Since state marriage laws vary in their use of terms such as "man" and.... woman, "male" and "female," and "opposite sex," I encourage students to consider how courts make such determinations. Students generally return to their prior definitions, but begin to include material they consider legally defining, such as a birth certificate, driver's license, and passport. Most students do not realize that in many states a person, post-transition, may contest and modify their birth certificate to reflect a changed sex. I ask students if the birth certificate then reflects their "real" sex, and what it might mean to be legally defined as male or female and still possess the sex organs affiliated with the "opposite" sex.

While there are a number of court cases one may use, I will briefly mention two cases found in Robson (2007). The legal precariousness trans-persons may face concerning their sex/gender is particularly highlighted by In re Estate of Gardiner. In this case the courts recognized that J'Noel Gardiner's sex/gender had changed from her male birth-sex, but she was determined to not be female either. The courts asserted that her sex was "transsexual." As such, given that marriage in Kansas was limited to two parties of "opposite sex," Gardiner could not be legally married to a man, or to anyone else, as there was no "opposite" to a transsexual. In the eyes of Kansas she may have been a woman, but she was neither male nor female.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Problematizing Sex/gender with Transgender Marriage Law
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?