What’s the point of gender identity?

Fifteen years ago I needed a pistol on the farm — we had rabid raccoons, out in the daylight. A neighbor got bitten. So I went to Terni’s Store in Millerton, and Phil told me I needed a pistol permit. 

I went off to Poughkeepsie and filled in the forms at the police station. The officer there took my fingerprints and reviewed my responses, “What are you, a smart aleck? Under race you put ‘human’; you’re Caucasian.”

I responded, “Actually, no one in my family is from the Caucuses, so I doubt that. If you are trying to have physical identification, I can’t say white either because I have Italian skin, slightly olive if anything.”

“Yep, you’re a smart aleck.”

I insisted I wasn’t. I understood the police need for identification. If I sit out in the sun all summer, my skin goes a light chocolate. Then how’s that helping with ID? 

In the end he saw my point. If their form had asked for identifying skin or facial features, then that’s fine. But race? What for? 

It doesn’t really work anyway. Now, if they want a DNA test to see what my race is, OK, fine. But a wild guess that has no identifying meaning?

This whole discussion of gender identity for everyday life is much the same. Seeing Mary Martin as Peter Pan — does it matter if she’s male or female? 

Come to think on it, since all schools and parents teach their kids to evaluate people based on who they are, not how much money they have, not on how attractive they are, or how cool – does it really fit into that teaching experience to start with: “Make sure if you’re talking to a female or male?”


Now, whoever you’re attracted to, that does make a difference. But everyone else? Does their gender really influence how you think of that person? And if it does, what does that say about your bias? 

If I asked you if you think of a female or male employee or coworker differently because of their gender, isn’t your thinking anachronistic and outdated? 

People are people. Unless you are thinking about dating them, or courting them, or marrying them — really, don’t you think you need to deal with your bias instead of evaluating their gender as a means to form your opinion?

And there’s another issue here which will, I predict in years to come, be called upon: Hormone levels measurement. Just how much male are you, and how much female? 

A hormone test could show you’re female but have elevated male hormones, making you 75% female. Does that mean you’re not fully female? Yeah, right, try getting that accepted as a means to classification on a police form or for military service. 

The Israeli army has this right for women. You’re a soldier, period. Nowhere on your service record does your gender mean a damn thing.

Okay, I’ll admit, I’m old, and this has taken a long time to evolve in me. As sexual animals, humans do tend to evaluate those we meet either as potential mates or adversaries. That’s in the DNA. 

What I am asking here, and it’s really a simple issue: What’s the purpose of gender identity beyond sexual attraction (or police identification)? 

And as for the bathroom issue, I have an equally simple solution: Build better bathrooms with cubicle doors and stop needing two water systems, two types of toilet facilities. The outcome for men? Probably less mess (the shame might make them careful).


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.