The Proclamation on the Family states: “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” What is meant by gender? One’s biological sex? One’s gender identity? The sexual stereotypes and cultural norms associated with one’s biological sex?
The word gender is constantly in flux in the English language. Here are some examples of the different meanings associated with the word “gender,” and how they might fit with the Proclamation on the Family:
- Gender is popularly used to denote biology (e.g. male or female sex). This could be what is meant, that we were male & female blobs of intelligence who became male & female spirit children who became male & female citizens of planet Earth. That we always were and will be male & female.
- Gender can refer to sexual identity: “an individual’s self-conception as being male or female, as distinguished from actual biological sex.” This could be what is meant by the PoF, especially noteworthy since it specifically mentions the role of gender in identity.
- Following this interpretation, there are related issues for the multi- (hermaphrodite) or trans-gendered because the church’s stance is generally against gender reassignment (transgendered individuals can be baptized, but not receive the priesthood, and individuals should not be baptized if their transgender operation is planned. This stance does not specifically address hermaphroditic gender determination).
- Additionally, some cultures embrace a third gender identity: individuals who run counter to gender stereotypes (e.g. the Two-Spirit people of Native American tribes), a non-sexual gender (e.g. eunuchs or hijiras), or individuals who are “beyond gay and straight” (e.g. the Muxe of Oaxaca, MX).
- “Gender…is a grammatical term only. To talk of persons…of the masculine or feminine g[ender], meaning of the male or female sex, is either a jocularity (permissible or not according to context) or a blunder” — Henry Watson Fowler. Hey, I had to throw it out there, but that’s one of the earliest meanings of the word, and it does still mean that. It’s just irrelevant to the PoF. Or is it? Grammatical gender assignment in languages is often different from language to language and doesn’t follow social gender constructs in all cases. It is frequently arbitrary. Kind of like social norms.
- “Among the reasons that working scientists have given me for choosing gender rather than sex in biological contexts are desires to signal sympathy with feminist goals, to use a more academic term, or to avoid the connotation of copulation.” — David Haig in 2004, The Inexorable Rise of Gender and the Decline of Sex. Was the word “gender” used merely because the word “sex” might be misconstrued to refer to copulation? Maybe so. Imagine the mischief of anti-Mormons talking about “eternal copulation.” Oh, wait, they already do.
- Gender refers to sexual stereotypes that are socially constructed. This is the interpretation of the PoF that seems most commonly held, although it’s problematic in light of the cultural origin of most gender roles. Some sexual stereotypes seem conflated with biology (women’s bodies literally “nurture” babies in utero and potentially through nursing), while others vary greatly from culture to culture (e.g. men in kilts, Rosie the Riveter, female warrior societies, SAHDs). If the characteristics are cultural constructions how can they reflect eternal purpose? Coincidentally?
- The term gender role was coined in 1955 by sexologist John Money, (prompting the question “What the heck is a sexologist?”). He said: “The term gender role is used to signify all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman, respectively. It includes, but is not restricted to, sexuality in the sense of eroticism.”
- Elements of such a role include clothing (except as I recall I was born nekkid), speech patterns (swearing like a sailor?), movement (walking swishily?), occupations (what about SAHDs and female soldiers?), and other factors not limited to biological sex. Clearly, nothing on this list is eternal.
- Possible gender characteristics referred to in the PoF include: By divine design, fathers are to preside (in some wards, this means “fall asleep on the stand between talks“) over their families in love and righteousness (so, not like Pinochet) and are responsible to provide the necessities of life (like clean diapers and formula?) and protection for their families (clearly, this means killing spiders). Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children (nutritious take-out and microwave meals, for example). In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation (lots of caveats here, including the wide open “other circumstances”).
- From dictionary.com, we find a “Usage Note”: Traditionally, gender has been used primarily to refer to the grammatical categories of “masculine,” “feminine,” and “neuter,” but in recent years the word has become well established in its use to refer to sex-based categories, as in phrases such as gender gap and the politics of gender. This usage is supported by the practice of many anthropologists, who reserve sex for reference to biological categories, while using gender to refer to social or cultural categories. According to this rule, one would say The effectiveness of the medication appears to depend on the sex (not gender) of the patient, but In peasant societies, gender (not sex) roles are likely to be more clearly defined. This distinction is useful in principle, but it is by no means widely observed, and considerable variation in usage occurs at all levels. So, I suppose the answer is: “Your guess is as good as mine.” Speaking of which . . .
So, what do you think is meant by the Proclamation on the Family?