Government Should Stop Recording Gender Altogether

A solution to the “gender war” both conservatives and liberals can live with.

de Young Museum San Francisco California
Visitors of de Young museum in San Francisco, California, October 16, 2005 (Thomas Hawk)

Robin Dembroff has an elegant solution to the “gender war”: stop government recording gender altogether.

“Conservatives insist that the state should record what genitals I have,” Dembroff writes. “Liberals insist the state should instead record my self-identity.” Both assume that the state should be concerned with gender at all.

In so doing, each side — whether tacitly or intentionally — endorses the use of legal gender to reinforce its own preferred gender ideology.


Dembroff, who teaches philosophy at Yale, praises California for adding “nonbinary” as an option on official documents for residents who feel neither male nor female.

It is an achievement to resist a near-universal legal practice of marking (and policing) bodies according to a binary classification of reproductive features.

But adding only a third option reduces alternative gender identities to “not a woman or a man.”

Far from escaping the gender binary, this and any similar law will continue to define every gender identity with reference to the binary. It perpetuates the common prejudice that binary identities are somehow more legitimate than the multitudes of other identities.


Conservatives may find this debate tedious, but they should bear in mind that gender classification has historically been used not only to police heterosexual marriage and restrict voting rights; it has also been used to implement affirmative-action programs that they argue infringe on the rights of businesses and individuals or disadvantage men.

The best solution for everyone would be to simply eliminate gender markers on state-issued identification.