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December 5, 2009

I signed up for college a few weeks ago and was instructed to confirm my registration online around this time of year. A while ago I tried to do it: I typed in my ID number, found my legal name, and proceeded to answer several statistical questions: Which secondary school did I attend? Do I have a car? Does my home have a computer? Am I male or female?

At first I answered “male”; went back and marked “female”; decided it was just for statistical reasons and clicked “male”. But when my registration was almost complete, I was asked to confirm my personal data: I was going to need it to pick up my student ID. I found out that my sex wasn’t just a statistical fact: it was one of the three or four pieces of information that the college considers important. What would happen if I marked “male”? My whole application might be considered invalid, although my full legal name and ID number should be enough to prove my (legal) identity. This university has a quarter million students; if I mess up, fixing my mistake would be a bureaucratic nightmare.

So, why not pick “female”? After all, my legal name is already there; it’s not like choosing “male” would fix the identity mismatch. If the system had classified me as female from the beginning, I wouldn’t have minded so much; I wouldn’t have to mis-identify myself. But having the choice right in front of me –and nobody physically present to ask “Are you sure you’re male, Rosa?” (not my real name)– is sooo tempting. It’s hard, not being able to choose what feels right; having to define myself in a way that’s grossly incorrect.

I’m going to think this over, but I know I’ll probably mark “female”; I don’t want to risk missing a semester because my info wasn’t processed correctly. In any case, I have to argue with the registration people to let me include my preferred name somewhere, so I can fight this battle when I do that. At least my student ID picture will look like me.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2009 8:41 pm

    Very much sympathizing with this issue – it happens all the time. Recently, I went to see my doctor and instead of announcing myself at reception, they had an automated check-in. The machine asked for my gender FIRST, before anything else, then my date of birth in order to fish me out of their database and confirm my appointment. But since I’m still ‘legally’ female, what to pick? And if I pick male, presumably the computer can’t find me.
    On a lot of forms I simply refuse to fill in this box, but that’s not always possible where it’s something like education or health where getting the service really matters. And if it’s a form on the internet, often you can’t get the system to accept the form unless you’ve answer this (apparently) essential question.

  2. December 6, 2009 1:51 am

    Yeah, I guess this experience in pretty common unfortunately. We still have to deal with bureaucracy that expcets us all to fit into one of two boxes and that this box will match the one in their system. Good luck navigating through all of this! I know it’s a pain to have to tell everyone your life story just to get through paperwork!

    Congrats on college though! Hope you have a blast!

  3. December 6, 2009 12:23 pm

    Do you think you’d be able to go back and change it later? I think it’s hard trying to be included in a system where we weren’t even included in the first place (e.g. trying to get your preferred name included). Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself! I always tried to remind myself in similar situations that if I didn’t advocate for myself, my rights and my needs, who would? Best of luck to you!

  4. December 24, 2009 1:28 am

    I was the stubborn one who insisted on marking ‘male’ when asked that question. Ended in a giant fiasco where I got several angry letters from the government and took nearly a year to fix (a year where I got NO financial aid because of the ‘mistake’). I don’t know if Argentina is as bad as the US, but I probably wouldn’t risk that again. Too much of a pain in the ass.

    (Random aside: I was nearly named Rosa, but my mom went with a name she liked better since my dad was away on business when I was born.)

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