Recently, I moved into Metro North territory which completely changing my commuting routine. For those of you not in the know, Metro North is the Long Distance Commuter Rail (LDCR) portion of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) servicing the Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange counties (as well as running shared-services to parts of New Jersey and Connecticut).
While riding MNR through Westchester is an grand experience like no other, especially coming from the less than stellar New Jersey Transit train fiasco I was used to, the MTA is not without its quirks and flaws.
While much of the MTA makes sense something struck me as completely odd about the Monthly Ticket purchasing experience. It goes something like this: Confirm your Departure station. Select your Destination station. Select your Gender. Add or Change Ticket Type. Select Metho…
Yep, that’s right. It requires you to select your gender.
Don’t accidentally select the wrong one either. Or worse, pray you don’t have a machine that accidentally prints you the wrong gender despite your correct selection. Or even worse still, don’t not look like your gender or especially don’t be transgendered.
There’s a select group of conductors who are very specific about verifying the gender. I’ve never personally witnessed a conductor confiscate a ticket but the level of harassment runs from a simple, semi-polite explanation that the ticket is incorrect and you shouldn’t be allowed to use it but they’ll let you slide “just this one time,” to something of full blown confrontation complete with repeated confiscation threats and threats of calling the police to have the customer removed at the next stop.
In line with this adherence to the printed gender stipulation, it’s not always easy to get incorrect monthly tickets changed to the correct gender, assuming it was a mistake in the first place. Many window personnel aren’t trained well and unable or unwilling to do any kind of ticket exchange, especially one that they probably dub as suspicious as this. Plus, the overwhelming default answer to any kind of ticket problem is “use the online form” which in essence means you have to print it out and send it via the USPS thus delaying your ability to fix the ticket, assuming you can get a response in the same month you try that route. And, don’t even try to speak to the window reps about being mistaken for the wrong gender or being transgendered and the ticket being a problem because it’s not a conversation that will get you very far at all.
In the past I’ve inquired as to the reason for gender specific tickets rather than the more standard gender neutral public transportation ticket. Here’s some of the responses I’ve received from conductors, window reps and even a written inquiry:
1. It is to reduce fraud.
2. It is part of collecting demographic information on riders.
3. I don’t actually know, it’s the way it always has been.
Let’s start with point three first. It’s the only good answer because it’s probably the only honest one at this point, so contrast to these employees who doing make up BS in order to sound important.
For point two it would seem to be a pretty inaccurate and highly incomplete way trying to to gain demographic ridership data. I question it’s validity as someone who actively studies user data, but to discredit the stupidity would waste my time.
For point one: Let’s first understand this: Tickets are not transferable. That’s a given in this scenario since it’s printed on every ticket and written in every statement regarding the sale of tickets. Defrauding the system regardless of the ticket type is a violation of the terms of purchase. I am totally ok with the concept of reducing fraud as it should, in theory, reduce costs overall for everyone.
The concept behind using gender then was to prevent the ticket being passed between two people. Gender, mind you, as opposed to race/ethnicity, age, weight, height, a name appearing on your ticket, or other distinguishing factor.
Presumably, this was probably identified at some point way back in the day as being between hetrosexual couples, or families, who could only afford a single monthly ticket perpetrating a level of fraud so high that this was the best way to reduce it. I couldn’t find proof of this reasoning in my research, but it feels like it could be correct.
Two people (of the opposite gender just for this example, though it works the same for the same gender in a unisex ticket situation) though would have to be on completely complimentary schedules in order to commit ticket fraud. This would mean, for example, the man and the woman were working different shifts that allowed them to pass the ticket back and forth to one another, such as 1st shift and 3rd shift, or weekdays and weekends traveling between the exact same origin and destination stations. It is impossible for fraud to work in any other way since the ticket cannot be in two different places at the same time.
Let’s say the man and woman both use White Plains as their origin (where they live) and Grand Central Terminal (where they work in NYC) as their destination. If the man’s schedule is a train in the 6AM hour inbound to GCT he can pass the ticket off to the woman to perpetuate the fraud when he arrives in NYC, however she is travelling back to White Plains. In order for the man to get home at say 5 PM he either needs to buy his own ticket, or the woman must ride the train from White Plains back into GCT to give it to the man. If the man has to buy his own ticket the cost-benefit of sharing is lost and the MTA is now earning a full price fair (more than it would have based on the per-ride cost of the discounted monthy too). If they man takes the ticket from the woman and travels back to White Plains from GCT then the woman must wait in New York City until the man returns to pass the ticket back, or buy a ticket of her own to return from GCT to White Plains, which would defeat the cost-benefit. So for the pass to work Monday 6 AM the man travels WP to GCT, passes the ticket off and the woman sometime after 7 AM travels GCT to WP while the man stays in the city, presumably to work. For the man to get home the woman needs to travel lets say at 7PM from WP to GCT, passes the ticket off and the man who can then ride the train from GCT back to WP while the woman remains in the city, presumably to work until the next morning when the man returns on the 6 AM train Tuesday to give her the ticket to go home. Seriously, how often do you think THIS scenario happens?
When I presented the logic to a conductor once they got very snippy and told me that it’s more for stopping the wife from coming in on the weekends using her husband’s weekly commuter ticket. This seems more realistic anyhow for how a couple might share a ticket than the ridiculous split-shift life they would have to lead to achieve the first scenario.
To which I responded, but it’s a monthly which means it is accepted on the weekend the same as the weekday – there’s no stipulation as to when, or how much it is used by a single rider other than the rider can only use it during the month printed a variable of 28 to 31 days. I then proceeded to inquire about these possible scenarios:
1. What if the man who bought the monthly traveled into the city on the weekdays and weekends?
2. What if a woman bought the monthly and gave it to her daughter, or her sister, or another female family member?
3. What if the man lent it to a male friend so the friend can travel for a weekend event?
4. What if it was a same-sex couple where the weekday commuter passed the ticket to their spouse for weekend use alone?
5. What if I lost my ticket as a male, any other male could just pick it up and ride with it as if it was there’s?
It’s the same number of rides attributed to the monthly ticket no matter who the user is in this case. So your stopping the wife from using the husband’s ticket, but not necessarily reducing the potential number of rides the ticket can still be used for. It might reduce one very specific case of fraud but leaves open three others probably just as likely ones. And, it doesn’t address at all the “free” ticket the found ticket creates (since, the person who lost one probably got a pro-rated replacement ticket for the balance of the month).
I was impolitely told I was missing the point.
Such scenarios of husbands and wives, or more generally speaking family member’s who are the same gender overall, being on completely complimentary schedules represent very little of what actual rider routine would be defined as based on the published results of several ridership surveys (both those conducted by the MTA and those from other cities describing the commuting patterns of the workforce by household type). The gender ticketing does little, if anything to reduce fraud. It seems like they are battling edge cases very aggressively.
Another time, I was told by a conductor they felt like unisex tickets could still be passed between couples on the train itself too easily. They proposed one spouse went to the bathroom while the other was at the seat. The conductor came around, verified the ticket for the first user and puts the trip receipt on the seat back. Then the second user returns from the bathroom, the first user gives it to the second who presents the same ticket to the conductor when the conductor comes back around. The first user doesn’t present again because the conductor already “marked” that seat as collected, thus the single ticket covered both fares.
I have actually seen this scam attempted on a number of different LDCR regionally including NJT, SEPTA with their unisex tickets, but also routinely on LIRR and Metro North with gendered tickets. Usually it is between people riding in groups, although once on NJT I did see an elderly couple try it too, but generally it was high school and college-aged kids trying to game the system passing it between their friends, but I’ve seen holiday shoppers and what could constitute as local tourists do it too with their monthly tickets for their co-riders. Sometimes it works when the train is crowded and the conductor is too busy to notice. Sometimes it does not, for example when the whole row of seats are asked to simultaneously (re-)present their tickets by an overly-thorough, absent-minded or suspicious conductor.
You’re probably thinking, ‘but how often does the conductor recheck tickets that it would really reduce this kind of fraud?’ Well, the MTA would have to make this data known, if they even collect it (which I’m sure they don’t) but what I can tell you is that it is not uncommon for me to have to re-present my Monthly more than once during a peak hour trip. I’d estimate it happens about once a week or so that I’ll have to show it at least twice during the same ride even though I have not switched seats. And, if reducing fraud were really important conductors should be checking tickets multiple times since the thing is, the current M/F would only stop men and women from pulling the scam, anyone else in the above scenarios I presented in the weekday-to-weekend trip could perpetuate the fraud here no problem, and sometimes they do like I mentioned before.
So, what we see here is that the M/F may reduce some sharing fraud but it’s an entirely inefficient way to reduce the range of possible sharing fraud while creating two inherent biases … one against heterosexual couples (who would be breaking the law anyhow but are singled out unfairly as law breakers) and the other against anyone who doesn’t fit normal gender stereotypes, specifically transgendered.
The hetro couple bias only is a problem in terms of defending the fraud argument since the ticketing system doesn’t address the full range of ticket sharing fraud and thus singles out by gender. Fraud is still fraud but it’s the principle that you’re targeting a very specific class of users while ignoring all other similar users.
For the hetro-couple bias it’s based on a flawed assumption that male-female fraud-sharing makes up a greater number of rider-fraud combination than all other rider combinations that could occur. The numbers I looked by using city-data.com simply don’t bear out this possibility strongly and I’m pretty sure the MTA’s own surveys would undermine the assumption too if they did dig deep enough into the data about dual commuting households.
Furthermore, using gender as a way to reduce fraud seems like it should be in violation of equal-treatment laws, or at least the spirit behind the law itself.
Imagine if this were based on race? Would it be ok to have tickets printed with Black, White and Asian on this? Only a black can use a black pass. Only a white can use a white one. It’s tinged with segregationist sentiment to be sure.
Assuming you could make physical assumptions about ethnicity, or religion, or another stereotyped class of people wouldn’t this reduce fraud as well by limiting how the tickets could be transferred? It probably would reduce quite a bit of different ticket-sharing fraud but open up a whole new set of problems in terms of profiling and stereotyping and would be even more complicated to put together both the ticket selection and the collection process which is probably part of the reason they are not used as an anti-fraud mechanism. They wouldn’t work.
Perhaps more accurate then would be some other physical trait, like height & weight? Can you image the response if the MTA had the audacity of asking for this instead? I would never be acceptable as a question even though it probably is every bit as accurate as the inaccurate M/F ticketing. It would just never work.
The problem is, realistically, neither does gender and by only offering the two-gender solution it presents an even greater, more deeply philosophical problem for a number of people, but as you’ll see later, specifically transgendered who, at least in New York State are part of a citizenship offered a level of anti-bias protection regardless of gender identification. It’s wholy insensitive on the side of the MTA to use gender specific tickets to a whole range of people.
However, before we get into the subtleties of understand the anti-trans situation it creates, let’s just look at the social bias at play in general first.
For the record, I am a cisgender male. Cisgender basically means that the gender I was “assigned” at birth is also the gender I “identify” with psychologically. We’ll get more into that later, but the short answer is I’m a guy in the most traditional, dumbedown stereotype of being one ‘I have a penis, thus I believe I am a guy.’
However, when I used to have long hair and was clean shaven I would be mistaken for a woman, most particularly when I would hang out with women. I wasn’t uncommon to be on a date and have waitstaff greet the table assuming it was two ladies or to be with a group of people, again, particularly if it was majority women, and be referred to as miss or ma’am at a restaurant or by a store clerk. Even now with “shorter” hair but not necessarily the typical business suit haircut I must just look not quite man enough from behind for some waitstaff and train conductors which creates awkward moments.
Typically, I wouldn’t self-identify as metrosexual or describe my clothing or general look as asexual or gender neutral. or be told I’m adrogenous in appearance, nor do I think I’m feminine physically, per se, but based on the long hair is for women stereotype (and my youthful face) I routinely get questioned. Usually, in a restaurant or shop the mis-identification was quickly cleared up after a cursory conversation, however, one time with a Long Island Railroad (also a part of the MTA) I did have to show a valid photo ID with my gender on it to shut the ignorant conductor up (which was not the only time I’ve had a run in with poor LIRR customer service).
Similarly, I have witnessed a few cisgender female friends experience the same gender mis-identification by wait-staff and store clerks, although apart from the short hair it could be argued they were dressed more “gender neutral” in style, or even “masculine” which might have aided in the confusion. Regardless though, these aren’t isolated incidents mind you, gender stereotyping is more common that most of us are willing to acknowledge in our daily lives.
It’s a multi part problem based in archaic binary for gender classification pervasive in normal society. Some of it is still probably a generation, or two, from even being widely acknowledged forget about being changed, but some are making steady improvements socially, legally, medically and otherwise.
The issue at hand here though is an unnecessary, yet strict adherence to a flawed gender definition being used by the MTA. The basic root of the problem stems from the use of gender-specific monthly tickets rather than the typical genderless ticket. That’s complicated by insensitivity by MTA staff in part due to piss-poor training by the MTA and an underlying general lack of social awareness by people, which there are obviously a few ignorant one’s in the MTA just as there would be anywhere else.
If actual cisgender people are being misidentified gender-wise causing inconvenience and possibly emotional hurt, imagine the range of complexity it causes transgendered people when they run into these kinds of problems. Again, before we get into that, let’s take go back to the whole cis explanation. Let me ask you this, then, what makes a man a male or a woman a female?
Obviously, from the above examples outward presentation such as hair, clothes, etc. can be easily misconstrued. Social norms and cultures change over time, counter cultures rise and fall, and outward appearance is in a constant state of flux so there’s no real uniform accuracy for defining gender based on these things which is why the whole M/F ticket thing again is too heavily biased on easily confused criteria thus undermining it’s effectiveness.
My experience is cisgender people answer the question as the genitalia anyhow and not one’s clothes or hair the way the MTA’s conductors seem to define which gender the ticket belongs to. The overly simplistic idea revolves around the visible portion of the genitals for males that consists of the scrotum and penis; for females, it consists of the labia, clitoris, and vagina. The question becomes what if any of the components does not form at all or forms incompletely producing an asexual physical appearance from birth, or alternatively, both were to form to some degree such as what is sometimes refereed to as hermaphroditic? What about those people who’s genitals were mutilated and thus unidentifiable, diseased and had to be medically removed or through gender re-assignment surgery intentionally changed. With so much potential non-conformity to the binary M/F what do you call all the ones that don’t fall in the range and how do you then define a male as a male, or a female as a female?
Moving past exposed genitalia, there’s the confusion about Gonads? Sure, typically testes are for men and ovaries are for woman, but how about individuals that present with one of each, ovotestes (a combination of both), none at all, or other types of gonadal dysgenesis either by birth or through some other life changing experience.
Which also can lead to commentary about secondary sexual characteristics such as the presence of mammary glands and development of breasts, for example. While it is rare to find “men” with functioning mammaries it is less uncommon to find “women” lacking them. Breast development in some “women” can be very subtle, barely revealing breast bumps, while the appearance of breasts in “men” is well documented medically.
All three of the above, albeit seemingly rare to a normal person, are not only possible but represent more of the population that you probably think. Combined some data points to upwards of 3-5% taking different variables into account – it might be even higher depending on how liberal you are in defining the ‘breasts’ issue. It is due to the rate of “non conforming” occurrences that single physical presentations alone are rarely used in defining men or women when it counts including by the medical and legal professions as well as by some sporting organizations where sports are gender separated.
So, if not the physical attributes what then?
Working backwards the explanations I have heard would normally flow to hormonal production to determine if someone’s male or female. This usually stems from sports references where testing has “proven” wrong-gendered participates were skewing results in some way (mostly, “men” participating in “women’s” competition). The argument usually goes androgens: including testosterone are markers for men while estrogens, including estradiol, estriol, estrone are markers for women. It’s way more technical than this, but from my understanding this creates confusion because the hormones alone aren’t able to accurately depict differences between men and women because hormone production itself exists on a spectrum for all humans. There are men that naturally produce very low testosterone but still present and identify as a man, just as there are women who’s estrogen output is low but still present and identify as a woman. To the other side, it’s quite possible to either have a hormonal imbalance that either goes against the presenting genitalia, gonads and secondary physical traits putting them out of sync, or that reinforces some existing gender dysmorphia (men with high levels of estrogen and the appearance of breasts is a very common example). Clearly hormones alone don’t define the genders.
This leaves us with chromosomes. We’re taught at a young age in science class females have two of the same kind of sex chromosome (XX), and are called the homogametic sex. Males have two distinct sex chromosomes (XY), and are called the heterogametic sex. While generally this might be true, it is also not 100% accurate because of mosiac patterns in chromosome formation that do not fall in the XX/XY duality, such as 46,XX; 46,XY; 47,XXY (“Klinefelter’s syndrome”); 45,X0 (“Turner syndrome”); 47,XYY; 47,XXX (“Triple X syndrome”); XXXX syndrome; XXXXX syndrome, 48,XXYY syndrome, 46,XX/XY, etc. (Thank you Wikipedia for help on this one). There’s too many genetic variations to soley rely on a binary definition of gender even here.
This further begs the question: Are there are seriously only two gender possibilities we should be actively referring to or if gender exists biologically on a spectrum where the dual-gender approach cannot ever be singularly defined by a set of unvaried characteristics?
Although traditionalists would love to focus on the idea there can only be two defined genders (that’s what God made in the Bible, after all) the reality is probably there are many more than two based on the information above… and beyond the biological and psychological variations described so far there’s mounting evidence that psychologically and sociologically gender identification exists as a spectrum and not as a simple binary approach.
This is where the real transgendered conversation begins because for any number of reasons there’s a segment of the population who legitimately believe their outward “birth assigned” appearance does not match their internalized view of the gender identify with.
Sometimes there are chemical, neurological or biological reasons for this that can be traced and maybe related to any of the above mentioned gender variations, but sometimes too there isn’t a single marker or trait explaining the disconnect between physical appearance and psychological perception. These people simply just ‘feel’ out of body.
The concept behind this disconnect isn’t quite this simple to explain but I’ll paraphrase something a former friend of mine who is transgendered explained to me as a parallel. It’s not the same, but it’s possibly enough of a proxy to bridge the gap if the idea of trans seems too complex. A common psychological dilemma that occurs is based on a person’s ‘body type’ or, rather more simply weight. While their actual weight and body shape are one way no matter how much the physical evidence seems to say their own mental image of themselves is the antithesis of the outward appearance. It works many ways where fat people perceive themselves as skinny or skinny people perceive themselves as fat. There may be a number of factors contributing, some easily attributed some still being discovered, to the disconnect between outward and inward but it absolutely exists that the two are unrelated for these people.
Being transgendered, as my friend used to try and explain drawing from their own weight self-identity challenges, is a similar kind of what others see and what I feel always don’t match up experience only with the reality being “reversed.” For a lot of people with the skinny reality, fat perception, they may have started overweight and gone through a physical change for whatever reason but their brain is incapable at the time to rectify the difference between it’s perception and the reality on the scale. While a physically skinny person who perceives themselves as fat despite what the scale says has already psychically achieves their outward goal but needs to rectify their insides to having achieved it. For a trans person, many have a clear mental picture of who they should be but need that psychical change in order to have everything match. While gaining or losing weight, or having other cosmetic surgery might be acceptable for people to match their mental to physical states it’s less socially understood when it comes to hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery. “It boggles some people’s minds that your brain and between your legs doesn’t match, but not when your brain and your boob size doesn’t?” was one of their favorite lines when people would question them about it.
The actual number of transgendered people in the US population is a relative unknown. For many trans individuals there are an array of reasons their gender identity is not an outward manifestation of who they are which can vary among any number of demographic and geographic skews. Being in the closet is still a very real possibility for many transgendered people. I ran across numbers ranging from a half a percent to just over 1% of the population being trans with anywhere between 10-25% of the trans population identify being “out” whatever “out” means to them.
It’s also important to note at this point the difference between being transgendered and being a “transvestite” or cross-dresser. Transgendered in primarily regarded as the psycho-emotional disconnect to the outward dominant gender presentation, while transvestism a physical manifestation which may not have a psychological component (boys liking girls clothes while still self-identifying as a boy or girls liking boys clothes while still self-identifying as a girl). The two although in the past were used interchangeably in certain parts of society are distinctly different and should be treated as such.
Furthermore on the range of gender identification it’s as simple as these four combinations:
Male presenting who self-identify as male
Male presenting who self-identify as female
Female presenting who self-identify as female
Female presenting who self-identify as male
because there are examples of Androgyne identities include pangender, ambigender, non-gendered, agender, gender fluid or intergender as well as bi-gendered identities.
And, as stupid as it sounds to have to point this out, gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation despite in the alphabet soup of LGBTQ being paired together. Sexual orientation has to do with your attraction to another human being while gender identity is how you perceive yourself. It’s quite possible to a human being that presents as a man and self-identifies as a man who is attracted to a woman who presents as a woman and self identifies as one. That would be your typical cis-hetero situation. But using a spectrum rather than pure binaries it’s also possible to find a human being whose gender presentation is sometimes perceived as male, sometimes female, but whose gender identity is female, gender expression is butch, and sexual orientation is lesbian which is a complex mixing of gender stereotypes, conjoining both gender and sexuality.
So, what does this massive explanation have to do with my cisgender ticket problem?
Well, this strict adherence to the gender binary is unfair to everyone cis and transgendered alike. It’s insensitive for conductors and ticket agents to treat those who don’t uniformly conform to gender stereotypes at a minimum, although, I’d argue with the amount it probably happens to some people it’s probably bordering on harassment.
It’s wildly inconsistent as well. The MTA doesn’t use gender for Metrocards which are used for bus and subway rides within the boroughs. It also doesn’t ask on multiuse tickets which could be used for a similar kind of ‘sharing’ or even single ride tickets on either of it’s LDCR.
New Jersey Transit doesn’t use it for any train, bus or light rail tickets, including those on co-run lines for the Metro-North West of the Hudson stops. The NJPA doesn’t ask for gender when purchasing PATH tickets. SEPTA does not use it for bus, train or light rail in South Jersey and the greater Philadelphia region. Regional bus operators including the Westchester’s B-lines, DeCamp and others all use genderal neutral tickets too. One would think if gender fraud were really such a problem there would be other regional examples where the binary gender classification was in use and there was a proven reduction in fraud to support it. To my research, so far, there isn’t.
And, it flies in the face of the advancements made in the region where Metro North operates in the greater New York City region. The counties of Suffolk, Tompkins, and Westchester, along with the cities of New York (covering all five boroughs), Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, Syracuse, and Rochester have non-discrimination ordinances protecting gender identity. New York State has been working on GENDA since 2007 and as more municipalities create their own protections it’s only a matter of time before the patchwork is unified by the legislature. Governor David Paterson issued an executive order banning discrimination based on gender identity in state employment in 2009 and it’s been subsequently renewed by the current Cuomo administration. State level courts also ruled that transgendered individuals can pursue anti-discrimination claims under the category of sex. New York issues new birth certificates to persons born in the state who have undergone sex reassignment surgery, though the practice is not covered by state statute, and it now (as of earlier this year) is possible state wide, with the exception of those processed through New York City, to receive an updated birth certificate even without the surgery via petition. With the movement toward gender identity equality why would an organization like the MTA insist on forcing an unnecessary rift?
Normally, I would end with a suggestion on how to fix this – both reduce fraud and eliminate the stupidity of the M/F tickets on Metro North … but I don’t have a resolution to do both, necessarily.
Perhaps the answer is to enforce the “signature” line on the ticket, where, the ticket like your credit card is not valid until signed and in-as-such the signature needs to match one on some form of ID you have if requested for verification. Perhaps that’s too restrictive in another way I’m missing, such as those customers who might not have easy access to a signed identification document. Perhaps it’s to include the customer’s name printed on the ticket which might cost more to implement and still be subject to the cross-referencing ID problem. Of course both examples would also require more effort and training for conductors in verifying the tickets which would decrease employee satisfaction and probably inconvenience riders more reducing their satisfaction plus create all kinds of potential rider profiling that would be based on race or ethnicity shifting problems rather than necessarily resolving the underlying fraud issues.
But, not eliminating fraught is not a good enough reason by itself to continue the M/F tickets in the name of fraud prevention, we’ve already shown they don’t work as intended so why continue gender conformity bias unnecessarily when it’s hurting more people than it probably helps?