Policing women's voices

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Katie Heaney, "What Kind of Person Fakes Their Voice?", The Cut 3/21/2019:

There are many fascinating, upsetting details in the story of Elizabeth Holmes, but my favorite is her voice. Holmes, the ousted Theranos founder who was indicted last year on federal fraud charges for hawking an essentially imaginary product to multi-millionaire investors, pharmacies, and hospitals, speaks in a deep baritone that, as it turns out, is allegedly fake. Former co-workers of Holmes told The Dropout, a new podcast about Theranos's downfall, that Holmes occasionally "fell out of character" and exposed her real, higher voice — particularly after drinking. (Holmes's family recently denied these claims to TMZ, insisting her voice is naturally low, just like her grandmother's.)

Heaney links to this 2015 CNBC interview with Jim Cramer, in which Holmes' first extended turn is this:

Her median f0 in that passage is 165 Hz. If we compare that to the distribution of median f0 values for male and female speakers in the TIMIT dataset, which I discussed in "Biology, sex, culture, and pitch" (8/16/2013), we can see that 165 Hx is on the low side for female voices, but definitely above the boundary between the male and female distributions:

As an ironic counterpoint, compare Lake Bell complaining about what she calls "Sexy baby vocal virus", one aspect of which is supposed to be pitching the voice in a fake high register:

Ms. Bell's median f0 in that passage is 154 Hz. Density plots comparing the two women's f0 distributions:

For some general commentary, see "Fresh Air on 'policing' young women's voices", 7/23/2015.

And consider the widespread discussion of the new Q synthetic voice:

If we add Q's distribution to the plot, we can see that both Bell and Holmes are well above Q's "gender neutral" range:

Of course there are lots of gendered aspects of speech besides F0, but …



45 Comments

  1. Philip Taylor said,

    March 23, 2019 @ 6:17 pm

    "Q" sounds distinctly female to me; it would have been interesting to me if Q's script had been about anything other than sex/gender/whatever and was presented with a simple invitation to identify the sex of the speaker.

  2. Anne Cutler said,

    March 23, 2019 @ 6:54 pm

    And it sounds male to me, albeit quite-likely-to-be-gay male.

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    March 23, 2019 @ 7:26 pm

    I confess I had the same thought but didn't want to appear to be making stereotypical assumptions/assertions …

  4. Antonio L. Banderas said,

    March 23, 2019 @ 7:43 pm

    but …

    But what? I do not know what is to be implied. Any help police?

    [(myl) From a purely biological point of view, voice-associated secondary sexual characteristics induced by testosterone at puberty include not only a larger larynx (which means lower-pitch voices) but also a lowered larynx, which means lower vocal resonance frequency. Here are male and female F1 and F2 values for 12 vowels, from Hillenbrand 1995:

    These biological effects can be increased or diminished by individual or cultural choice — see "Nationality, gender, and pitch" (11/12/2007) for an example. And there are many culturally-conditioned differences at every level of linguistic analysis — see "Male and female word usage" (8/7/2014), or my ling001 lecture notes on "Language and gender" for a small sample.]

  5. Timothy Rowe said,

    March 23, 2019 @ 8:23 pm

    Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher received voice coaching to lower her voice in order to make it sound "firmer" and "more authoritative". https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11251919/From-shrill-housewife-to-Downing-Street-the-changing-voice-of-Margaret-Thatcher.html

  6. Ed M said,

    March 23, 2019 @ 9:16 pm

    Why does the world need automatons with "gender neutral voices"? I know many people whose voices do not conform with their apparent gender. (A question one simply never asks.) Are their voices somehow less authentic?

  7. Chester Draws said,

    March 23, 2019 @ 9:51 pm

    A lot of woman teachers modify their voices for teaching purposes. You play to your audience.

    I don't change my pitch as much (I'm a male teacher) but I change my speed, intonation and word choices. There's no effort involved. You play to your audience.

    In the past it would have been called "register".

    [(myl) Depending on the size of your classroom, you almost certain "raise your voice", using increased vocal effort to "project" to a larger audience in a larger room — and that can raise the pitch by a substantial amount. See e.g. this plot from "Martin Luther King's rhetorical phonetics", 1/15/2007:

    ]

  8. Gwen Katz said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 1:09 am

    Q says their vocal range is between 145 and 175 Hz, but the graph shows it centering between 100 and 140 Hz. Why is that?

    [(myl) Good question. This seems to refer to the range of heights of the local maxima in the f0 contour, not to the range of values overall. Which is not a standard way to characterize pitch range, and not a very good one in my opinion. So maybe the person who wrote the script pulled some numbers out of a more complicated description, without understanding what they were doing? Anyhow, here's an f0 track for the phrase "I'm created for a future where we are no longer defined by gender, but rather how we define ourselves."
    I've checked the plotted values against the periodicity of the waveform, and they seem to be generally correct.


    ]

  9. maidhc said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 2:07 am

    As Timothy Rowe pointed out above, Margaret Thatcher famously lowered her voice via elocution lessons, and rode it all the way to 10 Downing Street. I think many prominent women in the media have done something similar.

    In the US we can think of Terry Gross. I don't know whether she changed her voice. She may have talked like that from the beginning. But when Terry Gross says something, it rings with authority. She is the modern version of what Walter Cronkite used to be.

    For more takes on Elizabeth Holmes, see https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/3/22/18277731/elizabeth-holmes-documentary-hair

    As a guy, I didn't pick up much on EH's makeup. But I did wonder why her hair always looked like she just got out of bed, for a big tech CEO. Not that I was following the story that closely.

    An interesting thing to consider. Is there a generic "con artist" voice and how can it be recognized.

  10. Kristian said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 2:34 am

    Lake Bell's voice sounds natural to me in that clip, but Elizabeth Holmes's has always sounded distinctly odd. I don't know what it is, but it still seems possible to me that this is caused by Holmes's trying to lower her voice (that must change something besides just pitch). It's possible of course that her voice just is that way (but it would be interesting to know why).

  11. Anne Cutler said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 2:46 am

    @ Philip – so you thought the voice sounded female, BUT you had the same thought as me (sounds male, albeit quite-likely-to-be-gay) which you didn't say for fear of stereotypes coming into play…. Does this mean you thought it sounded like a male trying to sound female?
    I could have said "I live near Kings Cross, and I would have just assumed it to be one of my neighbours", and any Sydneyite would have got it. For the wide-ranging readership of Llog I didn't say that. However, living where I do, it never seems to me that my gay male neighbours are trying to sound female. They're trying to sound attractive to one another. It's a chosen register, yes, and maybe its origins are specific in some sense, but right now, 2019, trying to sound female? I don't perceive that.
    –Ben Munson, are you out there?

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 3:13 am

    In my ear the voice alternated between low-register female and gay-sounding-male (with apologies to any readers who are offended by the latter phrase). "Camp male" might be a less offensive term for the latter.

  13. Andreas Johansson said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 3:25 am

    FWIW, Q sounds less genderless than androgynous to me.

  14. David Morris said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 5:26 am

    Q sounded like a (low) female to me.

    Given that 99.something percent of humans are quite happy to identify as male or female, how likely is a future where 'we' are no longer defined by gender?

    [(myl) In a required introductory course at my university, there are surveys given at the start and end of the semester. One of the background questions asks for "gender", with three responses, one of which is "Prefer not to say". As I recall from looking at the results, 95% of the participants chose that third option.

    I don't think this means that 95% of the students identify as non-binary, but it does apparently mean that they regard the question as irrelevant in that context.]

  15. Martin Parkinson said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 5:48 am

    A couple of people have mentioned Margaret Thatcher. It has been claimed that it's something of a myth that she had coaching to lower her voice – it seems to have been a DIY job, (albit with some non-professional assistance from a former actor):

    https://www.workingvoices.com/busting-margaret-thatcher-voice-coaching-myth/

    Professional voice coaches seem to react in horror at what she did to her voice and I rather agree with them – I looked up some youtube of her original voice and the problem wasn't that she sounded "shrill" – her voice sounded quite pleasantly deep, the problem was that she was so godawful strangulated pseudo-posh.

    [(myl) This YouTube juxtaposition, presumably chosen to give the best possible evidence for the standard conclusion, quotes Max Atkinson (Our Masters' Voices, 1984) to claim that

    When there are played through an electronic pitch analyser, it emerges that she achieved a reduction in pitch of 46 Hz, a figure which is almost half the average difference in pitch between male and female voices.

    In fact f0 tracks for those particular clips yield estimates of

      Mean Median Mode
    BEFORE 186.9 186.0 182.6
    AFTER 188.8 176.1 165.1

    Here's the whole comparison of distributions:

    We could try amplitude-weighted f0, and various other things, but I don't see any way to get a 46 Hz difference out of that comparison. Maybe the "electronic pitch analyser" counted silence as zero, and averaged in a larger proportion of silence in the "after" recording? Or maybe it was a comparison of different recordings?
    ]

  16. Philip Taylor said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 6:12 am

    MYL — Changing attitudes with time, perhaps. For myself (WASA), I like to answer "Prefer not to say" when asked on a form about my ethnicity, but I would never do the same for sex/gender. Somehow my sex/gender is crucial to my sense of self-identity but my skin colour and religious (non-)beliefs are not.

  17. Martin Parkinson said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 7:27 am

    Thanks for that reply MYL.

    It was somewhat annoying that Max Atkinson didn't give a reference in our master's voices for his assertion about the 46 Hz difference – he was an academic sociolinguist who became a public speaking coach (and a good one, going on his 'how-to' books) on the strength of his research into what makes people applaud a politcal speech.

  18. TIC said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 10:02 am

    Very interesting… And, because I happened to watch HBO's doc on EH last evening, very timely…

    To me, Q sounds to be right "on the line"… Or, perhaps, perfectly straddling "the line"… At some times/points, I perceive it as more male… At others, as more female… I need to ponder a bit more the meaning of a commenter's suggestion that Q might sound more "androgynous" than "genderless"…

    To me, EH's voice sounds significantly lower than LB's, although the F0 numbers seem to suggest otherwise… But that might well be because EH's voice just doesn't sound natural to me… And that perception might in turn be because little if anything about her seems natural/authentic to me…

    Finally, I've got to say that I love everything about Terry Gross's interviewing style… Including her voice… I've been listening to her seemingly forever… And I can't say that I've noticed any change in her voice over time that I wouldn't attribute to mere aging… But I will say, funnily enough, that I think she might have (consciously or unconsciously) improved the enunciation of her own name… Early on, and way more than once, I thought, "Did she just say 'Jerry Gross'?"… Or, perhaps (and probably more likely) my ear just attuned itself to the way she says her name — which might in fact have never been at all unusual…

  19. David Marjanović said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 1:35 pm

    FWIW, Q sounds less genderless than androgynous to me.

    To me too, in the sense identified by TIC that I keep jumping back and forth between identifying the voice as male or female. I don't think this can be avoided for recognizably adult voices.

  20. Barry Cusack said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 2:11 pm

    Slightly off-pitch, but on-Q: what about the accent? It seems non-rhotic, but apart from that, can any of you state-siders identify it? I (a Brit) cannot.

  21. Philip Taylor said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 3:02 pm

    The only point where I felt certain that I was not listening to a synthesised British voice was the final vowel of "Amazon" — not a schwa, as I would expect from a <Br.E> speaker but a clear LOT vowel.

  22. David Morris said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 3:37 pm

    @ Mark: Thanks for that information. There's a big difference between 'preferring not to say' and 'identifying'.

    @ Philip: I waver whenever confronted with gender, aboriginality and disability questions. I've got nothing to hide on any, but a) I don't think they should be asking in the first place and b) as a white, 'abled', male, I think they're going to use it against me, even though the fine print says they're not.

    If Q sounds female, her name is really Laurel. If Q sounds male, his name is really Yanny.

  23. Bloix said,

    March 24, 2019 @ 4:21 pm

    Q may be gender-neutral but it's sure not class-neutral. With the non-rhotic r's and the unvoiced t's, it's English not American, and upper-class English at that. (I'm not good enough with accents to say, but maybe the best description is an American doing an upper-crust English accent.)

  24. R. Fenwick said,

    March 25, 2019 @ 5:37 am

    From what I've heard of Lake Bell (mostly her role in the early seasons of Boston Legal), I do recall her having a speaking voice pitched somewhat below the norm, but yes, the comparison with Elizabeth Holmes's allegedly "fake" pitch virtually invites itself here!

    @Ed T: I know many people whose voices do not conform with their apparent gender… Are their voices somehow less authentic?

    As just such a person myself, I hope not… Many trans folk seek voice coaching for just this reason, though as with much to do with gender transition, it's a double-edged sword. For my part I find myself trying to raise pitch in voice-only contexts (on the phone, drive-throughs, etc.), though elsewhere I don't worry about it quite so much, as the social cues are usually sufficient. (On fieldwork in Turkey is a different story again, though not in a bad way, I hasten to add – just a different set of expectations and social structures.)

    @David Morris: as a white, 'abled', male, I think they're going to use it against me, even though the fine print says they're not.

    As a disabled trans lesbian, I can't help but feel a great deal of ambivalence about this statement.

  25. Philip Taylor said,

    March 25, 2019 @ 8:33 am

    R Fenwick, may I ask what exactly a "trans lesbian" is ? Is it someone who was born male, later decided that internally he felt a woman, adopted a woman's persona and is physically attracted to women, or is it someone who was born female, later decided that internally she felt a man, adopted a man's persona and is physically attracted to women ? I genuinely do not understand which of those scenarios is the more likely, although I am drawn by instinct to the first. But I know that in trans matters my instinct is very unreliable since I am never clear in my own mind whether a trans woman is someone who was born female and later became male or was born male and later became female.

  26. rosie said,

    March 25, 2019 @ 10:32 am

    Q's voice doesn't sound upper-class to me. I didn't hear any RP feature which suggests an upper-class speaker rather than being class-neutral. Q's ['niðə] would be unusual in Britain but commoner in the US, and possibly also their ['risɜtʃəz]. When Q said "hundred and", I couldn't hear any coda [d]s, so Q's accent in those words seemed Asian.

  27. rosie said,

    March 25, 2019 @ 2:10 pm

    The terms "trans man" and "trans woman" refer to the person's current gender. Thus a trans woman is a woman who was not assigned the female gender at birth, but transitioned to female.

  28. The Other Mark P said,

    March 25, 2019 @ 3:10 pm

    Depending on the size of your classroom, you almost certain "raise your voice"

    Quite possibly, especially for the larger classes. Certainly my wife sometimes tells me to turn my "teacher voice" off.

  29. Gwen Katz said,

    March 25, 2019 @ 6:02 pm

    FWIW, Q sounds less genderless than androgynous to me.

    I think you're right, and I think this is an important distinction. I think a lot of nonbinary people would strongly object to being called "genderless," for example.

    It's interesting how a project with the goal of transcending gender inherently has to buy into some social ideas about gender, namely that low-register voices are male and high-register voices are female.

  30. R. Fenwick said,

    March 26, 2019 @ 12:50 am

    R Fenwick, may I ask what exactly a "trans lesbian" is ?

    Me. :P

    As rosie states, it's simply about one's present identification. If it helps your understanding, the two terms aren't really related in their essence. "Trans" simply refers to someone whose present gender identification doesn't match the one assigned when they were born. As such, a trans man is a man, but one who was not assigned male at his birth. In the same way, a trans lesbian is a lesbian (i.e. a woman who is attracted to women), but one who was not assigned female at birth. Does that make sense?

  31. TIC said,

    March 26, 2019 @ 5:57 am

    I truly hope, R Fenwick, not to distract from your dialog with Philip Taylor… But I have a follow-up question or two… I try to stay current on these issues… And on the wide and ever-evolving ranges of pertinent viewpoints and terminology… I understand, of course, that no one person represents or speaks for all cohorts or represents all viewpoints… And that I could search the internet to get answers — and, unfortunately, to get seemingly every (variant, conflicting, and fringe) answer! — to questions like these… But, because you've helped to stimulate this particular conversation and (along with rosie) you've graciously furthered it publicly in order to help educate those of us who are following and learning from it, I'd like to ask for your views on a couple of things…

    I understand the distinction between gender identity/identification and sexual identity/identification… And I understand that most if not all trans individuals self-identify using their present* gender identification, not their earlier birth-assigned gender identity… So I pretty much assumed that, by self-identifying as a "trans lesbian", you were in effect saying three things with those two words… 1) Your present gender identification doesn't match the gender identity you were assigned at birth… 2) Your present gender identification is female… 3) You are romantically and/or sexually attracted to women… But I must admit that, when I read "trans lesbian", I scrolled back up to one of your earlier comments, where you'd mentioned sometimes attempting to *raise* the pitch of your voice, to somewhat confirm my understanding that, at least in your view/terminology, "lesbian" conveys not only attraction-to-females but also identify-as-female… So, in the end, I guess I've got two questions for you are:

    1) Is there anything I've said above that you see as warranting correction or clarification?…

    2) When you say that "trans" 'simply refers to someone whose present gender identification doesn't match the gender assigned when they were born', does "trans", in your view/terminology, in no way imply that the individual has (or has not) made any outward effort (sartorially, vocally, behaviorally, surgically, etc.) to externally manifest the inherent change?…

    *I've tried to very careful in my wording throughout this comment… And I've repeatedly reviewed and modified my wording, in some cases making changes to learn from and mirror your wording (e.g., "identification" vs. "identity" and "present" vs. "current")… But I almost, I think, innocently stepped into a minefield when — in contrast with "earlier birth-assigned gender identity" later in the same sentence, I initially typed "present self-chosen gender identification"… Even in that context, the word "chosen" would've been potentially controversial/inflammatory, right?…

  32. Melissa Boiko said,

    March 26, 2019 @ 6:18 am

    @Philip Taylor: If it helps, just follow the syntactic structure. A trans woman is a kind of woman, just like a Black woman, a tall woman, an immigrant woman or a disabled woman are kinds of woman (and a red apple a kind of apple, etc.). A German woman is one who was born in Germany. A trans woman is one who was assigned male at birth (that is, one who society decided "it's a boy" at birth).

    A trans lesbian is simply the intersection of the 'trans' and 'lesbian' modifiers: a woman who was assigned male at birth, and who's attracted to other women. A straight trans woman is attracted to men, and a bi trans woman (=me) to both. That is, the "straight/lesbian/bi" modifiers are perfectly orthogonal to the "trans" modifier; "trans lesbian" works exactly the same way as "Black lesbian", "tall lesbian" etc.

    > I genuinely do not understand which of those scenarios [trans lesbians vs. straight trans men] is the more likely

    I don't know of any formal surveys on this. The latest informal poll I've seen on reddit, among trans women only, hit an almost even ~30% for each of straight, gay and bi, with some 10% asexual. This would suggest a more even distribution of sexual orientation than the general population. From my limited experience with trans men, I'd expect a similar trend.

    But likelihood is a red herring anyway. Even if there was only one trans lesbian in the whole world (or only one asexual trans guy or whichever other combination), her identity and orientation would still be every bit as valid as anybody else's.

  33. Ben Orsatti said,

    March 26, 2019 @ 11:26 am

    If linguistic prescriptivism is something to be avoided, then can't I go on calling XX people "women", and XY people "men", regardless of what any of those people choose to call themselves?

  34. Philip Taylor said,

    March 26, 2019 @ 11:48 am

    R. Fenwick — Yes, perfect sense thank you, and I am most grateful for a straight answer to a straight question.

    Melissa — Your suggestion to follow the syntactic structure does not seem to help me, since all of your example women ("a black woman, a tall woman, an immigrant woman, a disabled woman") were presumably born a woman, so to me the a priori interpretation of "a trans woman" is someone who was born a woman but came to regard herself as, and adopt the persona of, a man. Do you see my problem ?

    Ben — you can, of course. But how, without access to their genetic profile, can you be sure who is XX and who is XY ?

  35. Ben Orsatti said,

    March 26, 2019 @ 12:08 pm

    P.T.: I seem to have worked it out passably enough for the first 40 years of my life based on physical observation alone; don't expect the next 40 to be much different.

    For example, when I met my wife, I just went ahead and assumed that she was a black female between 5'4" and 5'9". When I discovered that the two of us were able to produce children together, that her immediate family and all of her ancestors had been living in East Africa for the last thousand years or so, and that she was shorter than me, yet taller than my mother, I concluded that my initial assumptions had been correct.

    Alternatively, I could have simply pointed at her and said, "gavagai".

  36. Philip Taylor said,

    March 26, 2019 @ 2:04 pm

    But you would agree, I think, that "be sure" and "have worked it out passably enough" are not the same thing … Had you ventured to some of the more risqué parts of Thailand (Pattaya, for example) during the evening/night, you might have been rather surprised to discover that your instincts were not all you had believed them be when it comes to deciding who is XX and who is XY …

  37. Gregory Kusnick said,

    March 26, 2019 @ 10:24 pm

    You don't have to go to Thailand. Consider the case of saxophonist Billy Tipton, a prominent musician and public figure for decades, and yet almost everyone, including the women he slept with, failed to perceive his XX chromosomal status.

  38. R. Fenwick said,

    March 27, 2019 @ 2:00 am

    @TIC: I truly hope, R Fenwick, not to distract from your dialog with Philip Taylor… But I have a follow-up question or two…

    Of course – happy to be of assistance.

    [clarifying explanations redacted for brevity]
    So, in the end, I guess I've got two questions for you are: 1) Is there anything I've said above that you see as warranting correction or clarification?…

    Nope. Everything you've said above seems pretty much on point. You're correct in that the term "lesbian" (and "gay", for that matter) does double duty in identifying one's own gender identity as well as that of the section of humanity towards whom one feels romantically inclined. (To veer into the personal for a moment, there was a linguistic issue at play during my own coming-out, in which I struggled for some time to come to terms with the absence in English of good simple terms for "attracted to women" (and by extension "attracted to [men/non-binary folk]") that isn't also semantically loaded with the necessity to identify one's own gender. "Gynephilic" is awfully clinical, and it has also an uncomfortable association with "autogynephilia", a term associated with a heavily-criticised minority perspective on transgender women.)

    2) When you say that "trans" 'simply refers to someone whose present gender identification doesn't match the gender assigned when they were born', does "trans", in your view/terminology, in no way imply that the individual has (or has not) made any outward effort (sartorially, vocally, behaviorally, surgically, etc.) to externally manifest the inherent change?…

    Yes, this exactly. The main reason for this is that any decent definition has to include those people who genuinely identify as a gender other than that they were assigned but who have to remain closeted for one reason or another, and there are a lot of such people. (That's also one reason why a reasonably accurate estimate of how many trans people there actually are is impossible. Especially while powerful people with large platforms continue to weigh in publicly against trans folk.)

    *I've tried to very careful in my wording throughout this comment…

    Which I appreciate. I promise you, when people are clearly well-intentioned, most trans people will be happy to forgive a slip-up. Above all else, we're people too. :)

    But I almost, I think, innocently stepped into a minefield when — in contrast with "earlier birth-assigned gender identity" later in the same sentence, I initially typed "present self-chosen gender identification"… Even in that context, the word "chosen" would've been potentially controversial/inflammatory, right?…

    Potentially (after all, as one of my friends has put it, if one could choose not to be trans, it'd be so much easier to do so) but again, we're people too, and we do recognise that many people are still coming to terms (…so to speak) with how to talk about gender identity; in good-faith discussions you'll usually get gently corrected if anything were said at all. "Gender self-identification" would be fine here.

  39. R. Fenwick said,

    March 27, 2019 @ 2:06 am

    @Ben Orsatti: If linguistic prescriptivism is something to be avoided, then can't I go on calling XX people "women", and XY people "men", regardless of what any of those people choose to call themselves?

    Apart from the fact that XX, XY, XO, XXY, mosaic conditions, 5-alpha-reductase deficiency, androgen insensitivity, and a whole range of other options exist, of course you can call people whatever you like, so long as you're comfortable with the consequences (i.e. if people label you a bigot or a transphobe in return, you don't then get to be prescriptive about how they define that word either).

    Wherever one falls on linguistic prescriptivism, this is an issue that goes beyond that and into social prescriptivism. All linguistic usage is context-dependent, and when the context is talking to or about a marginalised group, choosing to ignore the right of the person in question to self-identify is about on the level of expecting them to be okay with calling them by someone else's name.

    I seem to have worked it out passably enough for the first 40 years of my life based on physical observation alone;

    Unless you've seen your wife's cellular karyotype with your own eyes, you can't even be 100% certain with her. In 2008 this report was published in the recent medical literature noting a woman of predominantly 46,XY karyotype who had two normal unassisted pregnancies, and who only found out about her Y chromosome after her daughter (who is also 46,XY) reported to doctors with amenorrhoea in her late teens.

    Look, the whole point is simply this: defining gender – a predominantly social construct even if it's assigned based upon anatomical characters – based purely upon chromosomal complement is socially reductive and even biologically tends to be correct only on the population basis and only to within a certain statistical margin of error, but individuals you meet are not statistics, they are people.

  40. Gwen Katz said,

    March 27, 2019 @ 11:45 am

    I really hope all the straight dudes with XY chromosomes who are following this thread appreciate that they can have a simple conversation about vocal pitch without someone wanting them to explain their gender and then someone else arguing about it.

  41. TIC said,

    March 27, 2019 @ 3:21 pm

    @Gwen Katz: I really hope all the straight dudes with XY chromosomes who are following this thread appreciate that they can have a simple conversation about vocal pitch without someone wanting them to explain their gender and then someone else arguing about it.

    I match the criteria you mentioned, except, of course, that I'm more than merely "following" this thread… And I haven't noticed what you seem to have in this thread… It started, with the OP, not as "a simple conversation about pitch" but instead as a rather complex dialogue about the intersection(s) of pitch and gender and perception and more… And I haven't noticed any "wanting [someone] to explain their gender"… Instead, I've seen a commenter who graciously volunteered (in the interests of providing insight and education and furthering the dialogue) to state and discuss their gender/sexuality and then other commenters who have (in the interests of assuring their understanding/education and furthering the dialogue) sought clarifications of some of the terms and concepts that arose… And lastly, I certainly have seen no "arguing" here…

    Quite to the contrary, even before your latest comment I'd decided that when I commented again to thank R Fenwick for her responses to my questions (Many thanks, RF!) I'd also express my sincere appreciation for so much about this thread and, by extension, for LL… For a variety of reasons, I typically avoid not only typical 'social media' but also online forums(fora?) like this… So my actual experience is admittedly limited… But I simply cannot imagine many places where a dialogue that has evolved in the directions this one has could last even five minutes without becoming, to me, unreadable… This dialogue has, surely, included some direct questions (and some direct answers)… But the absence of snark and trolling and name-calling and incivility (and far worse) is, to me, both astonishing and extremely commendable… So, my thanks go out to *all* who have contributed to that remarkable state — the powers-that-be at LL (including the OP), those who have commented and contributed in the ways that they have, those who have opted *not* to comment in less productive ways (including many, no doubt, who dislike much about the way this dialogue has involved and about the topics and views being discussed)… For those reasons and many more, it seems to me, LL is an amazing place and we should all be thankful for it every day!…

  42. Ben Orsatti said,

    March 27, 2019 @ 8:25 pm

    @TIC
    I guess it works because there's an unwritten "social contract" that still applies in this corner of the internet. The web is full of "places" where one can "go" to "yell at" people. But at LL, we can put all that aside, and just talk about language without having a dog in any particular fight.

    Certainly, there arise topics of controversy, about which reasonable minds may differ, and those topics aren't to be avoided, but neither are they to be sought out, except insofar as they are useful to elucidate some particular point or other about _language_.

    Regarding this particular post, the linguistic part was over once R. Fenwick declared:

    "Wherever one falls on linguistic prescriptivism, this is an issue that goes beyond that and into social prescriptivism."

    Being precisely the point I had been getting at all along, I had nothing left to add to the statement.

    Now, would R. Fenwick and I disagree as to the substance of the "social prescriptivism" question? Very likely. But that disagreement would turn on points of moral and social and legal theory, and really wouldn't implicate any question of "language", other than the profoundly uninteresting and unhelpful conversations that take the form: "I/you/everybody/nobody should/shouldn't/may/must refer to [x] as 'a'."

  43. RfP said,

    March 27, 2019 @ 10:37 pm

    For some reason, an incident comes to mind from many years ago, when I was riding on public transit.

    As I boarded and sat down, I saw a man standing over someone who was sitting in one of the sideways-facing seats. The man was speaking in hushed tones, but emphatically and through clenched teeth. He told the other person—whom he had apparently just referred to as a "faggot"—that there was no point in telling anyone about what this person "thought" that they had heard, because no one would believe them. He said that he had done nothing wrong, so the other person should just shut up. Although in this case, there may perhaps have been an even more emphatic expletive interlaced between "shut" and "up." I couldn't quite catch everything that was said.

    But it was, nonetheless, ever so articulate. Genteel even.

  44. Chandra said,

    April 2, 2019 @ 5:08 pm

    @Philip Taylor, re. your response to Melissa above – The very point of the term "trans" as an identity marker is that these are people whose gender is not what it was assumed to be at birth. If someone was born with red hair, but later in their life it becomes blond or brown or grey, you don't continue to refer to them as a redhead. The same principle applies here.

  45. bgermain said,

    April 5, 2019 @ 1:14 am

    One simple way of thinking is that a trans man is a man who may have to argue that point. The argument will be with others, who feel they know better and their assessments are more valid than his are. And so for trans women: the noun is clear; the adjective implies context and the possibility of conflict. Not that hard to remember.

    This discussion started with a news item about a con artist, and the (hearsay) accusation of the additional fake-out act of putting on an assumed voice. (Again by hearsay, this is denied by family – but what can you say? News stories, they aren't always reliable.) The example introduces observations about perception of the sex of a speaker from vocal qualities, and a stab at making correlations to, and validating or being enlightened by, objective graphs of frequency.

    So in this string, topics include: authenticity vs fraudulence; perception of sex based on voice, engineered androgynous robots, and common voice patterns of gay men; attempts to quantify objective data unrelated to perception and then correlate perception to data; wider discussion of what traits establish sex when you are assigning sex to another human; and whether trans people are frauds vs authentic, significant informants vs frivolous effetes, should be attended to or should be disregarded when they say what they are, while others assert that they very well know how to determine the sex of others by customary means, and should not be obliged to change their language use.

    This last idea reintroduces perception vs objectivity, but also raises subject vs object, (as does perception inherently.)

    In this little LL nook, if you say 'gavagai' you signal erudition, with your reference to a work called Word and Object. Speakers with voices are not only objects, and if you lack intersubjectivity you don't learn language well and may not be too motivated to work on it, either.

    And if you fail to verify with trial and error, (don't forget error, because error renders useful information) then you'll never verify whether gavagai meant rabbit, some stupid rabbit, my pregnant doe rabbit, a sacred taboo rabbit, or knock it off bub I'm fed up to here with field researchers.

    By all of this I'm trying to argue that not only skeletal build, genitalia and internal anatomy; not only hormones; not only karyotypes; not only reproductive capacity – not only objective traits – determine sex. It occurs at times that none of them do. In neonatology these days, informed by disasters of the past, it's common to ask parents of babies of ambiguous sex to live with the indeterminacy, and raise the children patiently *till they develop enough language to report on their subjectivity.* The kids get a say. This goes beyond but might subsume individuals who are trans.

    English is great. You get you, me, they, we, each, every, any and all, both, neither, either, parent, child; plus articles, adjectives, plurals, nouns, and verbs galore that you don't have to decline or conjugate for gender. It's only those 3rd-person singular pronouns that give difficulty. And "it" is for objects, which have lower status than people, so it's hostile to say "it" about a person of a sex unclear to you. Doesn't hurt to ask, politely. Or to accept correction\information\polite requests.

    In a lot of cultures calling a man female will get you punched, and calling a woman male is an insult too, while probably safe. Hence it follows that one intentionally uses language to insult, when knowingly saying the reverse of what the subject wants about his or her sex. At minimum the insult is the message, "I am the expert on you, and you're not." Intent, though it is not objective, matters. And so does effect.

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