back to article Should your system offer Mr, Ms ... and Mx?

Last week the Australian government announced new rules for declaring a gender on passports. This week UK authorities revealed they are conducting their own review of gender on passports. What are the implications for systems design and management? The Australian move follows increasing pressure from transgender and intersex …

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  1. Tom 7 Silver badge

    There are people who insist on

    being addressed 'properly'. If Mrs X wants to be called Mrs X then that is his (or possibly her) choice.

    The implications of system design are (or should be ) negligible. This is the 21C as far as computers are concerned - your software may be shit though.

  2. Christoph Silver badge
    Boffin

    That could be a problem

    "it is a criminal offence to disclose such information except for very specific purposes – and the offence is “strict liability”, so ignorance is no excuse."

    Just how far does that go? If you went to a single sex school, would you then be unable to ever mention anyone you were at school with just in case they had subsequently changed their gender without you knowing?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Well...

    ...if everyone wore Burkas...there would be no need for ANY gender identifier on passports.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Christoph

      Surely single sex schools would themselves be incompatible with the legislation, in a truly progressive world.

      But, more realistically, sex is not the same thing as gender.

    2. Jane Fae

      Common sense required

      Nah. There are many things in the UK system that are "strictly" unlawful, but which the law would never bother taking up. I think that if you, as individual, mentioned the name of someone who had changed their details in this way with no awreness of that fact and no link to their present name, etc. there is very little case to bring against you.

      That is way different from you either, as journalist, carelessly reporting that Ms X, formerly Mr Y, did such-and-such: your words have import and you are meant to have done some fact-checking. And it is also different from an organisation with loads of HR resources to hand, plus its own legal department, exposing some individual to public embarrassment because it didn't tidy up its own procedures.

      Also in play would be issues like whether the individual had a grc (these are few and far between) and whether they did, in fact, object to being outed.

      So, sure, it is possible for you to break the law in this instance by accident, but very very unlikely for there to be any consequences...whereas if you are assumed to have some duty to think thru what you are doing, then the consequences may be more serious.

      jane

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      From reading the linked legislation, it appears that offence only applies to people disclosing information regarding a persons birth gender that they came across in an 'official capacity'. e.g. as a civil servant dealing with them, or a police officer, or (oddly) an employer or provider of 'professional services'. So if you just happen to know them from before the change and let it slip, that doesn't criminalise you...

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge
        FAIL

        Nobody has a birth gender, they only have a birth sex. Gender is a person't internal identity and how a person interacts with other people and with society. A baby doesn't interact with other people, babies don't have gender, babies have sex. Their gender develops as they grow up and interact with the social environment around them.

        1. Mark 65

          @J.G.Harston

          I can assure you that babies don't have sex.

    4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: being addressed properly

      ...or Doctor or Professor or any other gender neutral title you care to imagine.

      This was true even in the 20th Century, so presumably there are no systems out there that try to infer male/female distinctions from a title.

      But, yes, sadly there's always someone who insists on over-validating things that ought to be free-form text.

      1. Jane Fae

        Systems inference

        Having had the (mis)fortune to be closely allied to the direct marketing industry for some part of my career, i can reveal that there are many, many systems "out there" that infer gender in one way or another, sometimes quite erroneously.

        One route is to infer gender from first name in order to set title. Another is to use title to infer gender in order to differentiate in offers made. All sorts of uses happen: some of the uses were barely lawful then, almost certainly unlawful now.

        jane

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Trust me...

      I'm a Dr and so I like to be formally addressed as such IF I MUST choose a title. Of course its a small reward for an extra 4 years of study but its also an asexual title.

      I have seen a few websites where you can register as a Prince, Duke, Archbishop, Reverand, Queen, King, Lord, Lady, Right-Honorable etc .. its a nice touch even if the pull-down list is rather long but sometimes you might just want to be a Queen.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        oh?

        Queue quote by Inigo Montoya...

      2. My Alter Ego
        Terminator

        I did that one one of our company websites

        I found a fairly comprehensive list of titles, though I did make sure all the common ones were at the top, separated by a divider. We even had somebody commenting on the fact that you could be a Jedi Knight. Nothing wrong with a bit of light hearted fun as long as it doesn't interfere with the usability.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not recording gender at all would suit me - in most cases it's not relevant. For identity purposes though, I can see you need it in addition to a photo.

    Given the choice I don't use any title. If you know me, then use my first name. If you don't then I probably don't want to talk to you anyway.

    As I'm ranting off topic anyway - stop asking for date of birth when you only need to know when I was born! Just the year will do. The full date of birth is sensitive info (thanks to Verified by Visa for example). Actually, if it's a web site asking, then just don't bother, we all know I'll lie anyway.

  5. Swedish Chef

    Aww...

    ...When I saw the title I thought the Mx stands for Moderatrix and is an attempt to get Ms Bee back. In which case I'd totally support it.

    Come back, Sarah!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    select box

    The number of times I see title as a select box rather than a text field. Any gender or title related field should just be an open text field. There are more titles in the world than your system can ever reasonably list and its much cheaper to just give them a text box, possibly with a quick select drop down if people are too lazy to type .

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, drop down list of the common options for convenience with a free text option at the bottom for flexibility.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Why anything at all? I've seen address fields completely overstructured so that some shitty software can slap a house number before the street name (so *clever*!), even though that's inappropriate in numerous countries ("But isn't everywhere like Britain?!"), forms which insist on a "state", which is also inappropriate or superfluous in many countries, but sometimes just typing a space into these fields stops the stupid whiny red text from appearing.

        How about one field for the name and perhaps just one address line before the town and the postcode? Write whatever you like as long as it matches the card details or will get your parcel delivered without the postman scratching his (or her) head about who "Lord Mastodon of Montrose" is or where "The Dark Lord's Summer Residence" might be in Swindon.

        1. MJI Silver badge

          State & Zip

          Easy

          Sober / Tipsy / Drunk for State

          YKK for Zip

          Yes I do put these in!

    2. petur
      IT Angle

      @Swedish Chef

      Tech fail... I was asking myself what this had to do with mail exchange records

  7. Paul Smith

    Pipe dreams

    Can anybody tell me an acceptable word to use for the third person singular that is gender neutral (rules out 'he' and 'she') and not offensive (rules out 'it')?

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge
      FAIL

      Third person singular

      I take it that English is not your native language. "They".

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Why not try 'they'.

      English grammar is too confusing for me, and I only ever learnt any in latin lessons anyway - along with how to complete the Telegraph crossword, and not a great deal of latin... So take what I say with a pinch of salt.

      However, you can use 'they' in the singular. I think it's properly for use when you're being non-specific about number (rather than gender), but we don't have a singular and plural second person pronoun, and surely the reason that half the formal structure of english has collapsed, is that people keep on playing fast and loose with it.

      Example: I was talking to a mate down the pub, and they said that...

    3. Zog The Undeniable

      Gender-agnostic pronoun

      "They", although it grates a bit.

    4. Jane Fae

      Loads of alternatives

      There are loads of alternatives - and plenty of discussion of same on the internet. A less offensive term than "it" is "they"...though that can lead to difficulty at times linguistically.

      Otherwise - and i did once use this term in a story about an individual who thought they HAD persuaded the Aussie government to ungender them - there are various groups of ungendered 3rd person pronouns, including zie/ze and hir/hirs.

      Try this as a basic primer:

      http://aetherlumina.com/gnp/faq.html

      jane

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How about...

      ... "they"

      He drove his car like a maniac

      becomes

      They drove their car like a maniac

      I use it all the time instead of He & Her - I know it's not a singular term, but the context usually makes that clear...

      HTH

    6. Emma Summers

      I believe the correct term is "Ze"

    7. jonathanb Silver badge

      The gender neutral version of he and she is "it". The only problem is that using that word suggests the person is an inanimate object, and is generally used as a form of abuse. BTW "they" is the plural version.

      1. Bit Brain

        @jonathanb

        "BTW "they" is the plural version."

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But surely having any gender differential

    is [potentially] discriminatory, or alternatively completely fine depending on your initial point of view?

    Unless we all go to a gender neutral honorific, like Citizen or Comrade then there will always be some potential for both gender based discrimination and for the less hardy souls to cry "sex discrimination" at every turn.

    1. Jane Fae

      Existing law

      IN fact a large part of this issue is simply about recognising pre-existing best practice. The Information Commissioner has frequently condemned organisations that collect data "on the off chance of it being useful": there needs to be a proper purpose to collecting it at the time it is collected, otherwise it runs the risk of being "excessive" within the meaning of the DPA.

      The Equality Act simply precludes provision of services differentially on the basis of protected characteristics (which include gender) unless for a specified purpose. Insurance, f'rinstance: following EU rulings, at some point next year it will no longer be permissible to discriminate on basis of gender for insurance purposes...at which point, capturing gender becomes, possibly, pointless...possibly a DPA breach...and just another chance for things to go wrong.

      jane

  9. Phil Standen
    FAIL

    Gender Bias

    How can we work out if organisations have gender bias if we can't record it?

  10. Pete 2

    ISO5218

    Every SQL programmer knows there are 4 gender codes:

    - don't know

    - male

    - female

    - not applicable

    which seem to cover most of the cases where knowledge of gender is needed to facilitate a decision.

    Given that we're all supposed to be equal these days, the number of cases where such information is crucial is probably smaller than most people think and questions about possession of X and/or Y chromosomes (and maybe some others, too) might be more pertinent.

  11. ratfox Silver badge

    "Yes – No – It's complicated"

    Names also have a tendency to follow no rules...

    All these problems will only disappear when we are all identified by a 20-digit number.

  12. Thomas 18
    Terminator

    Sound advice

    Remove gender, name, religion, skin colour and any other distinguishing marks from all official records in any databases. Naturally we will need to replace these racist and discriminatory records with something more appropriate such as ocular implant ID chips and DNA databases.

    1. jonathanb Silver badge

      If you are the NHS, you probably don't want to send stuff about breast cancer scans to men, or testicular cancer scans to women. There are genuine differences between the healthcare requirements of men and women.

      1. Chris Beach

        The NHS is the *only* organisation that needs to know your biological sex and gender.

        No one else does, they need a general and optional text field for your 'title'.

      2. Jacqui
        Joke

        pre-op trans

        "don't want to send stuff about breast cancer scans to men, or testicular cancer scans to women."

        Pre-op trans will probably need to get both :-)

  13. Curly4
    Devil

    Neither male nor female.

    Until the people of this world become genderless the gender of the person getting a passport should be indicated. To take it farther the gender indicator should be use on any time that a name is used in a legal document.

  14. Steve Foster
    Devil

    Ha - DVLA probably screwed

    Traditionally, the DVLA created a portion of your driving licence number from your date of birth and sex - basic template was YMMDDY, adding 5 to the first M for women.

    Sounds like this scheme would fall foul of these changes in a number of ways - most seriously of which, breaching the GRC "original sex never existed" stuff.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, because they'd never do anything clever like change the Driver number of transsexuals.

      Oh, wait... <checks driver's license>...they do do that.

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let's drop "Gender" altogether!

    Really, in an equalized society, why should the question be asked?

    Take it out of the forms as being totally irrelevant.

    1. Mark 65

      It might be useful in marketing though - you may or may not want your favourite online clothing store sending you sales notices about bras and panties.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Tired of make-up ads, so I lie and say I'm male.

        "It might be useful in marketing though"

        This is exactly why I lie and tell certain websites I'm male, because I got tired of make-up ads and weight-loss ads. Apparently whoever's running those particular websites assumes that all females are hefty and in need of face-paint.

        Whereas, when those sites think I'm male, they assume I want to know about fast cars and credit reports and dubious internet "higher education" opportunities, which are still pretty lame but not quite as insulting, IMO.

        Yeah, I know, I should use AdBlock but Firefox complains about security-something-or-other-blah-blah whenever I try to install AdBlock. I suppose that puts me in the stereotypical ditzy female category (suggestions welcome), but maybe I can partially redeem myself from that with my near-religious use of NoScript and RequestPolicy, and Firefox's built-in "Exceptions" to which sites are allowed to load images. :) That doesn't stop the text ads though.

        If my lying about my gender screws up certain websites' ad analytics, that's just tough titty. The whole targeted-ads concept is a fucking joke anyway.

  17. Khaptain Silver badge
    Gimp

    When these Mx people arrive at the airport wiull they have to be searched by another Mx. Which bathroom will they use ? Mens, Ladies or MXs.

    What does Mx mean : Mixture ?

    How do you begin a letter: Dear Sir, Dear Madam or Dear Mixture.

    C'mon this is just damned pathetic, these people must represent about 0.000001% of the population.

    Whats next in the line up for titles : BeerDrinker, Gitface, Blueberry , SexMadRavingLunatic, AmanFromMarsWhoEatsGreenCheese.

    1. Little Mx
      WTF?

      Mx actually stands for 'MIXTER'.

      This is not 'damned pathetic'. How would you feel if you were told that who you were was not bloody valid? Not nice. It's not 'pathetic' people ask for the simple right for two letters after all, is it? And it's way more than '0.000001%', or whichever figure you pulled out of your ass. Not everyone actually fits the gender binary, actually, and even for those who do not being identified as their birth sex (for whatever reason; maybe they don't want to face discrimination; maybe they're trans* and partway through transition) is not always ideal.

      Those bull**** titles you you again plucked out of thin air have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Khaptain

      I agree in part. Non-discrimination is one thing and should rightly be enshrined in law. However the UK has a wonderful habit in going over the top with some of these things which is why any house having new sockets fitted or old ones replace now has to have them floating half way up the wall (450-1200mm) whether it is owned and inhabited by able bodied or otherwise.

      This is just pandering bullshit and I await my downvotes with a smile on my face because it's true no matter what the PC brigade spout.

    3. Jane Fae

      Indeed

      I think you missed the bit of the article where i quote figures for intersex. Good estimates seem to lie in the range of 2% to 4% of the population.

      Issues lie around definition and recording of such: for a very long time, medics have tended to erase any mention of intersex by shoe-horning those individuals with intersex characteristics into existing gender categories. In some instances, they have intervened by advising surgery on children as young as 1 or 2.

      That has changed drastically over the last few years. First, while the US still opts for early intervention, the UK position tends to be no surgical intervention unless medically (not socially) necessary until the individual is old enough to decide for themselves.

      As for what gets defined as intersex...figures from ISNA have instantly recognisable gender variation at birth at somewhere between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 2,000 (which is low, but still a lot higher than your figure).

      However, they also add that there are other conditions that need to be taken into account (such as late developing adrenal hyperplasia) which very quickly shift the medical definition of intersex up to somewhere in the region of 2% to 3%. Add in karotype variation and you are closer to 4% (a figure quoted often by OII)...and if you also add social definitions, then 4% to 6% is not unrealistic.

      In terms of medical/biological definitions of intersex, the vast majority of those who could fall within the definition will quite possibly never know unless affected by an illness that is co-morbid with an intersex variation - or are tested at the chromosomal level.

      That means...think carefully about this...that a fair number of those posting may well be intersex without realising that they are....

      jane

  18. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Up

    On an application form...

    ... a friend filled in recently, the options were Male/ Female/ Other which whilst not perfect is at least a reasonable attempt.

  19. Brent Longborough
    Pirate

    Is that really a "<" for the third gender?

    If it is, given the general level of world IT incompetence, there will be plenty of opportunities for HTML clag-ups and injection shenanigans. Apart from the fact that a lot of airlines still use a 6-bit character set that doesn't include "<"...

    1. -tim

      Its from the OCR part of the passport where the gender is recorded. They used < as a field separator and apparently a empty field.

  20. Will 20

    Really, in an equalized society, why should the question be asked?

    Take it out of the forms as being totally irrelevant.

    ---------

    Is gender really irrelevant? Whilst we are still able to distinguish people by gender it remains useful information for sorting individuals. And what of all the research that shows gender is not irrelevant in fields such as neurology and physiology?. Calling a tail a leg does not make it so.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't believe that for a second

    You're telling me that Experian doesn't track name changes?

    1. kain preacher Silver badge

      Yes

      Cause I've seen people with good credit scores drop after name change. I've also seen some with bad scores increase some. What happens is the systems is like I've never seen this name with this SS# before , it gets even more confused when you change the name and the DL#

    2. Chimp

      Sex is complicated

      Gender most certainly is not irrelevant. Interaction between the genders is the basis of a vast number of laws, both natural and social. Equalise that all you like...

      Drop the whole Mr. / Mrs. thing. Provide choices for the (numerous) chromosome configurations on forms. Restrooms should specify acceptable chromosome sets in tasteful signs on the door. The list might be long. Given that it's possible that some gentlemen are chromosomally female, and vice versa, we're going to need at least four sets of bathrooms.

    3. Jane Fae

      Not where there's a grc...

      ...as far as i am aware, from speaking with their spokesperson on this earlier this week/late last.

      IN general, name changes are tracked: however, in the specific instance where a grc is in existence, that more or less rewrites the birth certificate details.

      Its complex: have recently seen probs over at the crb over just this issue.

      jane

  22. Lord Lien
    Coat

    I'm so sorry.....

    ... but any Reg article that has "explain that sex is mandatory" & "intersex" in the text, brings out the childish 14 year old in me.

    I'm off to draw knobs in people hands in the school books & sneek out for a sly ciggy behind the bike sheds.

  23. Armando 123

    So ...

    ... do the medical and insurance databases I've worked on not count? Because women and men can react differently to different drugs, and a guy getting a hysterectomy is a flag that someone's trying to rip off the insurance company.

    1. jonathanb Silver badge

      Well there are some people, called hermaphrodites, who have both male and female body parts.

  24. Jacqui

    I am shocked

    Shocked I tell you!

    That not ONE of you lot has proposed the obvious selection for bikers the world over.

    ...

    Yes Please!

    ...

    Also a very good friend from my prior life in the north east of england decided he was

    the "Dr. Rev" - the unlitmate biker title.

    Yup that was his nickname so when he filled in his driving licence he filled in the title box

    and ended up with this on his "green" licence. No idea if he still has it!

    p.s. Hi Ian :-)

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Notes

    Surely if we're talking about identifying someone properly, which may mean different uses for the m/f field for the police (born with - in case of grisly accidents) and marketers (tough - it's up to them to sort out their data quality).

    If you really want to be PC you can add a "notes" free-form field where you can put:

    I like to have sex with: men/women/animals/people dressed as animals/myself

    I like to dress as: male/female/furry

    I've altered my appearance to look like: male / female / cat / dog / Spock / Frodo / Dark Elf

    Better quality information is better. Don't rely on just what people call themselves.

    My name is one which could be used for men or women, and it did cause but I'm pretty sure I've never been psychologically damaged because someone said "oh, I wasn't expecting a man."

    Get over it. If you want to dress differently or have elective surgery, to drastically change your appearance, you have to expect that not everyone can keep up.

    As for passports, just allow for extra pages with name/photo identifiers, as they already do (or used to do) when you renew a child's passport.

  26. JaitcH
    Happy

    Canadian federal goverment employees are sexless, other languages need identifiers

    The Canadian Government has, for some years, omitted sex identifiers which is fine until you have to reply. The best solution is to simply include the whole name: Dear M Jackson, for example. Personally I am quite happy to have no appendage, too. My name is quite sufficient.

    The Vietnamese language uses the word 'Thi', as in Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, to help users where names are interchangeable between male and female.

    What DOES confuse people is where Nguyen becomes Miss Khai after the first use of her complete name!

    /

    1. Armando 123
      Coat

      Not surprising

      I've long believed that civil servants were this way whatever they claimed.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    an interesting article

    This whole thing about how to store genders in databases has been around for a while. I recommend reading the following (quite old) article on "Gay marriage: the database engineering perspective", as it covers gender issues nicely in steps 9 and 10 (read the whole thing from the start, it's a nice exercise in logic).

    http://qntm.org/gay

  28. Adrian Parker
    Unhappy

    eGov requirements

    When submitting data to the government gateway such as P14 / P45 etc, you are required to send a person's gender and it can only be one of two values "make" or "female". Even the new RTI stuff that's coming has the same restriction.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Meh

    Here we go...

    As one of those people who have gone through a transition, I'd like to add further mud to the water.

    There is a difference between Sex and Gender. The correct term for a transsexual is just that, "Trans" has transitioned "sex" the sex. If you extrapolate my current position, my birth certificate recorded my physical sex as male. The fact that my gender wasn't recorded, and indeed couldn't be checked by taking a look between my ears, is almost fair enough.

    Society is in flux. In some cases it now values and responds to a person according to their apparent gender, but still segregates on the basis of physical sex. I'm probably going to get flamed to hell right now, but I can't see that segregation ever going away as long as the human race is, physically, what the human race is.

    Enter on the scene, the gender fucker troup and those of the ilk that take things further, we should relate to a person as a person and not burden people with such a catagorisation. On the face of it, I can see where they are coming from; much of our social interaction is based on such segregation; ie. how we congratulate each other, whether with an air kiss or a hearty slap on the back.

    If such social guidence is removed, then many peoples social interactino rule sheet gets a flame to its bottom corner ... and you can have fun watching peoples faces light up in horror as they suddenly lose their grip as to how they are supposed to interact with other people.

    So, in my humble opinion, if you're going to do the job properly, you remove the M/F entirely; you don't add a new catagory, or you'll be adding catagories for every group of people that identify themselves outside the standard classifications.

    Sex is straightforward. Meat and two veg, or a camel toe? Yes, there are exceptions, good old Mother nature does enjoy making life interesting. Gender ... now there you're really entering a world of catagorisational pain.

  30. MJI Silver badge

    Different needs for different things

    If it needs, there needs to be more than one

    Genetic ie XY XX or the rarer ones, what about mixed embryos?

    Birth sex Male Female Hermaphrodite or Indeterminate

    Brain gender & how they are presented

    I am sure there are more

    Important one for everyday is the last

    Important one for medical is all of them

    As to honourifics, do we need them, if we do free text field, copes with everything, not everyone is British.

  31. Piers
    Big Brother

    And the Sheep cried 'Two sexes GOOD, Three sexes BETTER'...

  32. John D Salt

    Several people have pointed it out already, and I suspect that no amount of thrashing with the clue stick will get it into some people's heads, but "gender" is a grammatical concept, not applicable to people and not a synonym for sexual identity.

    I observe, however, that the abbreviation "Mx" was historically used to designate the Middlesex Regiment. Of course, that was before they were amalgamated into the Queen's.

    All the best,

    John.

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