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American Sign Language:  "gender"

Also see: "The gender morpheme" (discussion)

Every once in a while someone asks me "How do you sign, 'gender?'"
Most signers just fingerspell it:

If you are thinking that you personally want to use a specific sign for gender so that you can be the bright and shiny exception to the "most signers" description -- please think twice and simply practice your fingerspelling until you can spell "gender" quickly and smoothly and join on in with the crowd who spell it.



GENDER (version)  = MALE "or" - (bodyshift) - FEMALE

Another approach to indicating the concept of gender is to shift a bit to one side and sign MALE then shift a bit to the other side and sign FEMALE.

Some people might sign MALE OR-(fs) FEMALE -- however that indicates a binary approach whereas the shift from side to side could actually be thought of as a spectrum. 





As far as a specific sign for "gender" -- that is a tricky question because even though I know of "a" sign for "gender" that doesn't mean it is "the" sign for gender or that you should use ANY specific sign for "gender."

Just because I know a sign for "gender" and have seen a number of other people use it doesn't mean I should canonize* that sign in a dictionary.  Listing a sign in a dictionary tends to lend legitimacy to that sign and cause viewers to think that the listed sign is THE sign.

Realistically there is no widely accepted, broadly applicable sign for "gender" in modern usage.  These days [*Editor's note: Still true as of 2024.]many people just spell gender.  If further expansion or substitution is needed for clarification some signers sign MALE and FEMALE (sometimes incorporating a small contrastive torso shift).  

There is an archaic sign for gender.

The label "archaic" indicates that a word or sign "is no longer in everyday use but may still be encountered in older literature, historical texts, or contexts that deliberately invoke an old-fashioned language style. It suggests that the word is outdated or not commonly used, but it is not entirely extinct." (-ChatGPT)

Archaic version of:  "gender" (not recommended for typical signing situations)

Why do I share that sign with you if I don't recommend it?  Because some of you are or may become interpreters and you might see that sign or a variation of it (typically done lower with both contacts on the cheek) and I'd like you to at least recognize it even if you don't personally sign that version. 

For example, you can see a (cheek-based) evolution of the X/X gender sign used at the 3:58 mark of the "Gallaudet University Board of Trustees End-of-Year Message" video published December 4, 2015 from:

An interesting note regarding this sign, is that there is a "folk etymology" suggesting that the "X" handshape of this sign is due to the concept of the "X" chromosome as in "X" and "Y" chromosomes determining the gender of a baby.  The locations on the head are perhaps remnant of the concepts "cap" (as in a hat - traditionally worn by boys) and a bonnet (tied at the chin and traditionally worn by girls).

However, an ASL researcher emailed me to point out that:

"This sign comes from two signs Abbé de l’Épée invented to translate into LSF the French gendered definite articles le and la (the). [...] Further strengthening the link between the sign and written French, de l’Épée chose to use a hook handshape because it symbolized the grammatical function of the articles, which he explained was to “join words” as the articulations of the fingers “join our bones.” Incidentally, during this era the French word "article" (article, item) also referred to the bending movement of the fingers. In contemporary French and English, "articulation" is used in lieu of the older "article". [...] The contemporary ASL sign can be translated as “gender,” but it is widely associated with the English word sex, likely due to the resemblance between the hook handshape and the manual letter X."

Source:  ████████ (Name redacted to respect privacy) who was quoting or paraphrasing from:
Emily Shaw (Author), Yves Delaporte (Author), Carole Marion (Illustrator) (2015) "A Historical and Etymological Dictionary of American Sign Language," published by Gallaudet University Press.

Signed English version of the archaic sign for "gender"
There was a time when it was not uncommon to see some people do a sign for "gender" that consisted of touching the ASL letter "G" to the cheekbone and then arching down a bit and touching the "G" hand lower on the cheek.
That version would generally be considered to be "signed English."  Interpreters may wish to place that sign in their recognition vocabulary toolbox.

Question:  How do you sign "nonbinary?"
Answer:  As of the time of this writing (updated in 2024) it is common for people to just spell NB (in context) to express the concept of nonbinary.

Also see: SEX

Note: "canonize"

For those of you who read the word "canonize" (above) and are still wondering what it means, (if you haven't already looked it up), here is the definition:


tr.v. can•on•ized, can•on•iz•ing, can•on•iz•es

1. To declare (a deceased person) to be a saint and entitled to be fully honored as such.
2. To include in the biblical canon.
3. To include in a literary canon.
4. To approve as being within canon law.
5. To treat as sacred; glorify.

(Definition source:

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