Gender Selection and the Impact on Future Genealogy Research

Genealogy author and educator Thomas MacEntee discusses the impact of gender selection issues on genealogical research and documentation.

It was announced this week that a child born in British Columbia had been issued the first piece of health documentation in Canada without a specified gender listed. With the growing trend of state and federal governments allowing expanded options when it comes to listing gender on official documents, what impact will this have on genealogical research in the future?

Based on various articles, including This Baby Is Believed To Be World’s First To Not Be Assigned A Gender At Birth at CNN, Searyl Atli Doty, born in November 2016 in British Columbia, Canada, has been issued the first piece of health documentation in Canada without a specified gender.

The child’s parent, Kori Doty, who identifies as non-binary transgender, had the child “outside of the medical system” (assumed to be home birth) and therefore doctors did not do a genital inspection to assign a gender. Doty’s insistence on the use of “U” for Undefined on Searyl’s national health system ID card is based on Doty’s own experience with gender identification issues and being forced into a specific gender as a child.

Changing Views of Gender Identification

The situation in Canada is not the first such incident and likely will not be the last as an expanded view of gender identity is embraced by governments and citizens. Views towards gender have greatly changed even since the mid-20th century to include options such as “non-binary” or “intersex” where one is not forced into the usual “male” or “female” selection.

Recent cases include:

  • Starting July 3, 2017, Oregon state residents are now able to select “X” for “not specified” when it comes to gender appearing on Oregon state driver’s licenses, driver permits and identification cards.
  • In December 2016, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a “corrected” birth certificate for Sara Kelly Keenan who had been born in Brooklyn New York in 1961. Keenan was allowed to select the term “intersex” and have the term displayed on the certificate based on documentary evidence from a licensed US-doctor.

What is Intersex as a Gender Issue?

In the New York City case, Kennan had sought to make the change without any documentation from a medical authority, but has stated that they find the term “intersex” preferred over “non-binary” and the end result is “really validating.”

Intersex is when a person’s anatomy does not conform to the usual definitions of male or female. In the past, most intersex infants were slated for genital “correction” surgery within the first few weeks of birth. “Hermaphrodite” was a common term prior to the 21st century for those born with a dual set of genitalia, both male and female. The preferred term now is “intersex” and it is treated more as an identity in that the definition of the term will vary from person to person.

Can gender be forced or assigned via surgery? The prevailing thought in the 1960s, when Keenan was born was just that: there was no psychological component factored in, nor was the subject allowed any input to the gender correction surgery.

My Personal Experience with Gender Identity Issues

I was born in the early 1960s and identify physically and psychologically as male. Through my own genealogical research, I have obtained copies of official government documentation listing my gender as male. In the mid-1980s, I “came out” as a self-identified homosexual and in doing so I started a journey of encounter and understanding when it came to gender issues. Within what is considered the LGBTQ community, I had the opportunity to meet various transgendered persons and discuss issues involving the medical and psychological aspects of gender identity.

In fact, my greatest “woke” moment related to gender issues was when my best friend James, a female-to-male transgendered person, came into my life. I’ve learned so many things to counter the “anti” transgender bias I had embraced due to my upbringing. I’ve since learned not only to avoid pejorative terms such as “tranny,” but that gender is a complicated issue.

Let me just say that James is an amazing person. He is an Army veteran, has experience in a variety of occupations including long haul truck driver, and even competed in the recent International Mister Leather contest in 2016. If you were to meet him, you would likely never suspect that this masculine, tattooed and goateed person had been born with an assigned gender of “female.”

Over the past two years, with James sharing information about gender identity and based on my own interaction with the transgendered community I’ve learned:

  • Gender is not just physical. In past years, gender identification was based on outward appearance, especially involving genitalia, and no allowance was made for the psychological aspects of gender.
  • Many intersex infants have been forced into a gender identity based on parental decisions. This process has often included gender correction surgery.
  • Only 20% of transgendered individuals complete full gender reassignment surgery. Many will embark on a regimen of hormone replacement and partial surgery (i.e. removal of breasts for female-to-male transgendered persons and breast implants for male-to-female).
  • Millennials are much more “gender” fluid and their views are often the driving force for changes in awareness from a societal perspective as well as changes in documentation procedures on a governmental level. In fact, according to a recent survey, over 20 percent of Millennials identify as LGBTQ.

I’ve expanded my consciousness and as more and more people publicly address issues of gender identity, the community of genealogists and family historians will need to incorporate gender selection options into their research.

Gender Identification and Genealogy: The Future Impact

Options in terms of gender selection on documents will have an impact on genealogy. It is a matter of time before forms such as family group sheets are updated to reflect a new consciousness. (In fact, many family group sheets still only offer opposite sex marriage listings and some even only list an occupation for the husband).

Here are questions that the genealogical community will need to address:

  • What if, as a common-place practice, gender were not assigned based outwardly apparent gender indicators (genitalia), but the individual were allowed to select their gender at a later date?
  • When is an appropriate time to select a gender? Is there a set date, such as 18 or 21 years of age? As in the case of my friend James, gender identity realization did not occur until later in life. It appears that there is no specific age at when gender identity is fully developed and selection/self-identification can be made.
  • Will there be an increase in “corrected” birth certificates and birth documentation based on later-life gender selection?
  • What about states such as Texas where there is no uniform method of changing gender on birth certificates (and often involves a court case) or other states that require proof of full gender reassignment surgery when allowing people to change their gender?

Over the next few years, not only will these issues be debated in the genealogy community, but solutions will be developed that will also impact genealogy database software as well as online family-tree programs. The important thing to remember is this: during the process we are dealing with people who have likely had a difficult journey of identity. More options in genealogy documentation are just that: options. They don’t force a set of beliefs on anyone nor do they take away options from you or me. Options for gender identity can only serve to augment and expand our understanding of what it is to be human.

©2017, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

References and Resources

About the Author

Thomas MacEntee
Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee has been researching his family history for more than 40 years and is the creator of Abundant Genealogy, Genealogy Bargains, DNA Bargains, The Genealogy Do-Over and numerous other web-based genealogy and family history properties.

9 Comments on "Gender Selection and the Impact on Future Genealogy Research"

  1. Rene Thompson | 7 July 2017 at 12:56 pm |

    Great article! This is definitely something that needs to be considered by genealogists now and in the future. I’m sure that I’m not the only person who has discovered someone as they researched their family tree who may have had gender assignment issues. At least we have the benefit of learning how to best document these individuals and their struggles in order to give them the respect they deserve.

  2. Pat Ryan | 7 July 2017 at 1:10 pm |

    Lots of details I never considered. Thanks!

  3. Thank you Thomas for the mention! Great article! I am so glad to have you as a friend!!!

  4. Great a rule Thomas!

    Perhaps DNA designation for the biological and snother designation for psychological that may not match physiology. Then there are more considerations.

    We are full spectrum beings in so many eays… left hsnded, right handed, ambdextrous… and the inbetweens. Why not recognize and acknowledge that our totalk being has a wide variety.

    I am female. I have a male pelvis and male elbiws… I come from a lone of “Tom boys.”

    This just seems to add more depth for future genealogical researchers. We just need to ensure the breadcrumbs are tgere to be read.

    Thsnks for the discussion.

  5. Thomas, so thoughtfully explained.thanks

  6. Kay Rudolph | 8 July 2017 at 8:06 am |

    Gender is a lot more complex than we imagined! I’m reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Gene” and had just read his chapter on gender when I stumbled on to your article. Genes, modifiers, integrators, instigators, interpreters… Time is coming when the only eyebrows raised by your essay will be astonishment that people ever thought gender was simply XX or XY.

  7. Great article, Thomas. These are things I’ve considered, but not come to any conclusions as to how I (personally) feel they should be addressed, genealogically. I’m not even totally sure if it matters – but when I swirl this stuff around in my brain, I keep asking myself the same question. “Do future generations (descendants) have a right to know what genitalia their ancestors were born with, and to trace the story of any changes made, or should the record just show how their ancestors ended their lives?” It’s a thought-provoking question, indeed.

    Thanks for the great article!


  8. Meg Staton | 8 July 2017 at 11:51 am |

    Thomas … a very enlightening and thoughtful article. I believe you are one of the speakers on the Legacy cruise in September, and I look forward to meeting you then.

  9. Jared Kantrowitz | 8 July 2017 at 6:14 pm |

    Great post. For the longest time, I’ve experienced this shadow of the genealogy community — largely enabled by the LDS Church — that treats non-straight people as less than and refers to their identity as a “lifestyle” like what Dear Myrtle posted as a response to your article on her blog. My sexual identity isn’t a l”ifestyle.” I was born this way. I’ve had friends — including an excellent genealogist who was gay — commit suicide after going through a conversion therapy program and then be shunned by his LDS parents and church. It’s even unbelievable to me that FamilySearch will not reflect same sex marriage even though it is the law of the land. Don’t they realize how this does rwal harm to people? Are conferences such as RootsTech even credible when they are being staged by a church that has codified — and continues to actively enable — discrimination?

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