About the concept of genders (hijacked and off topic)

While going through the Composer Diversity Database’s list of non-binary composers for our Project Composer Diversity I realized they seem to use non-binary for gender and/or sexuality. E.g. Aaron Garcia seems to be a gay man (no mentions of non-binary gender on the homepage, but use of he/his pronouns, face looks rather male and name is mostly used for men - but of course non of that has to mean anything).

Before I read the sentence “He lives in Brooklyn with his partner and two cats.” I assumed (never a good idea) that Aaron considered himself male, but not a man. That got me thinking. MB doesn’t use man/woman/other, but male/female/other to categorize genders.
So that would mean that for someone who doesn’t consider themselves as a man but uses male pronouns I’d probably still choose “male” as the gender in MB.
Of course there is always also the option to leave the gender option blank. Or we could - as society and politics will one day have to, because nothing else makes any sense* - drop genders altogether.

*Here in Austria we will soon have a third gender option for the passport thanks to a decision by the supreme court. I do think it’s a step in the right direction, but at the same time I think it makes no sense at all. What’s the point of acknowledging that there are an infinite number of genders and therefore introduce a third gender?

On my MB profile I chose the female gender-option. I am a Trans-woman so yes, I do consider myself a woman and yes, I do consider myself female, but I also consider myself as other genderqueer.
There are people who consider themselves male and female (either at the same time - e.g. bi-gender - or depending on the situation/mood/whatever - e.g. gender-fluid).

So basically I think there are three options:

  • drop genders altogether
  • don’t give any options for gender, but make it a free text field
  • give the options male, female and free text field and the ability to choose none, one, two or all of them.

What do you think?


To me this issue seems a bit similar to the concept of ‘age’.
Most people have a known date of birth, hence an age.
Most people won’t mind having that listed or noted.
A few do. They might not ‘feel their age’, or might have other reasons not to have it publically known.
If they would like that information removed or hidden, I would probably respect that.
(At least during their lifetime.)
But that is a personal choice, and it shouldn’t really concern, let alone be decided on by anyone else then the person involved.

‘Gender’ is also an indisputable biological fact, and as far as I know it doesn’t say anything about somebody’s preferences or sexuality.
Some might argue the value of specifying it on MusicBrainz, but I see it as an objective piece of information, and I see no strong or valid reasons to somehow forcefully omit or remove such information.
But if somebody has personal reasons not to have it specified for him/herself, I think that should be respected.

Following that line of thought, I would suggest having:

  • male
  • female
  • unspecified

I believe that would adequately cover the issue in an efficient and objective manner.


You’re right with the second part of your sentence (gender has nothing to do with sexuality), but you’re wrong with the first part (gender has nothing to do with your biological sex either [and even for the biological sex there is an infinite number of variations]).

That’s like giving you the options to say you are a republican, a democrat or not interested in politics. There are millions of political ideologies and to label someone who doesn’t belong to one of the two that you arbitrarily define as the two most important or whatever as someone who just hasn’t found the right ideology for themselves yet is just wrong.
Sure there are some people who don’t specify their gender, but there are still infinite specified genders that are neither male nor female.


If by this you mean that gender is determined by DNA, the presence of a 3rd gender amongst Samoans seems to make this position counter-factual.

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Pretty much every aspect in collecting and specifying data has endless possibilities, and will always be a compromise between correctness and usefulness.
If it is the case that as you say there is an infinite amount of genders, then you can not specify those.
So ‘unspecified’ seems a very solid and objective compromise to me.

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Ok, I stand corrected on this. There are exceptions, and it will also be dependent on if you look at this from a biological, or a ‘social-studies’ background.

But I have serious doubts on how beneficial and more importantly, how relevant it is for MusicBrainz to try and get this ‘correct’.
Have there been complaints by actual stakeholders (composers, performers) on this matter?

Okay, I think we first have to agree upon some basic terms:

  • sex
    • legal sex: usually determined by the doctor at birth based on appearance of primary sexual features (penis/vagina). In most countries there are currently only two options
    • biological sex: based on genetics, epigenetics, hormones, etc. as well as external factors like environmental toxins (I once saw a documentation about frogs that changed their sex because of some industrial waste and then got extinct in that region because there were only males or females) or operations (chosen by the individual or forced on them by well-meaning but uninformed doctors like genital mutilation of intersex individuals). Today’s science recognizes an infinite number of variations between a man (penis, testes, adams apple, androgens>estrogens, voice break, male body type & hair distribution, etc., etc. …) and a woman (vagina, uterus, mammae, female body type & hair distribution, etc., etc., …).
  • gender: an infinite spectrum on which you identify yourself independent of your biology, legal status, societal pressure or whatever. It’s not a choice, it’s just your identity.
  • sexuality: whether you are sexually attracted to gender-binary people of the “opposite” sex (=heterosexual), the “same” sex (=homosexual), both (=bi-sexual) or not (only) to gender-binary people (pansexual, gynesexual, androsexual, scoliosexual, etc., etc., …). Independently of what gender(s) you are attracted to whether you are monogamous or polysexual as well as the asexual-subspectrum and other aspects also fall under sexuality.
  • romantic orientation: like sexuality, but not about who you are sexually attracted to but about romantic interest. You can be sexually attracted to one gender, but romantically to another. You can be asexual, but still be in a romantic relationship or be aromantic, but still be in a sexual relationship.

So if we go into this hypothetical:

If we hypothetically used “gender” as a term based on DNA then the presence of a 3rd gender would not be counter-factual, as there are variations in the DNA too. You can be XY (=male), XX (=female), XXY (=Klinefelter ‘Syndrome’), XYY (XYY ‘Syndrome’) or be born with any other genetic variation (Syndrome, deformity and condition are words that should not be used. Being different doesn’t make you sick. It only makes you different.).

Yes, but why pick and choose two that you specify and degrade the others as unspecified? Either don’t specify any or specify all.


Yes, that is why we choose differtent ways to categorize different variables.
An artist can be a person, a group or a fictional caracter. That is pretty clear, that is why there is a dropdown menu with these options to choose from + sub-options. There are some special cases like solo projects with supporting artists, but MB can handle that very well I think.
For instruments it’s more difficult, but they can be scientifically classified. That’s why we have a tree-like structure with some special cases that still need to be discussed (e.g. drum/drumset).
Genres are way more complicated as there are infinite variations that can’t easily be put into boxes. That’s why we don’t even try to structure them but use tags instead.
If it were about biological sex we could create a complicated structure like for instruments, but when it comes to gender the genre model seems to fit better.

Why do we currently have a project to provide representation to the underrepresented? Not necessarily because it directly and imediately benifits MB, but because it benifits them. The first step to stop discrimination based on gender identity is to acknowledge that different genders exist and that they are ‘normal’ and not something that should be classified as ‘other’ or ‘unspecified’. Just like the first step to having the same rights for women as for men is to acknowledge that they can accomplish as much as men and not hindering them increases the range and variety of what the human race can accomplish together.

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You are making this personal and subjective.
It is not ‘me’ that decided there exists a basic classification of male and female in the world.
Also I don’t degrade anybody that doesn’t feel comfortable with being called one of these two.

I am stepping out of this thread.
I don’t see much benefit for MusicBrainz to dive into the rabit-hole of sex and gender, (let’s get ‘genres’ and ‘instruments’ right first), and I am getting the idea that the motivation behind this is mainly to get ‘male’ and ‘female’ removed. (or forbidden even?)
I think that is very silly, and I am getting the impression that it is driven by some social-political motives.

It is not clear to me that this would be any solution to an actual existing problem that either Musicbrainz, or the people we are trying to classify themselves (composers, performers) are having.


Of course it’s not you who created this strange construct.
It’s also not me who invented wars but I would still be complicit if I participated in wars instead of trying to fight them.
I’m not trying to blame the lack of progress on you. I’m only asking you not to stop progress in the future.

Did you even read my suggestions? Where are you getting that idea from?

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Elementary, dear paulakreuzer :wink:

You said that there are “infinite specified genders”.

And you said:
“Yes, but why pick and choose two that you specify and degrade the others as unspecified? Either don’t specify any or specify all.”

So the first quote excludes your second option "specify all’, and thus would leave the first option “don’t specify any”.
So that would mean also not specify male and female anymore.

And, in your start post you presented ‘drop genders altogether’ as a valid option.

So I don’t think it is strange that I came to that idea?

I haven’t read the discussion as it doesn’t seem very related to the question at hand. You raise a good question, though.

I think any of your three options would be a major change for a minor problem. I propose:

  • Add guidelines for artists defining themselves as male or female in addition to any other gender. The guidelines might be “always male/female”, “always other” or “primary gender if any known (if not, defer to former rules)”. Not sure about the specifics.

This would ensure consistent data without any schema changes.

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Read your own post again. An infinite number of specified genders doesn’t exclude the option to specify an infinite numer of genders. :wink:

But apparently I didn’t make myself clear enough: My suggestion is not to pre-specify a finite number of genders that you can pick from but to give you the option to choose any gender that you define yourself as only limited by the finite number of characters that exist in languages that a computer can handle.

Also the “drop the concept of genders altogether” option was not ment to forbid labeling an entity with a gender, but only to not have a specific field for “gender”. It could be replaced by something new (like preferred pronouns) or by someting that already exists in our database (tags).
I prefer the option to freely define your gender yourself though.

Let me end this post with a quote I saw on a banner at a demonstration once: " Same right’s for others don’t mean less rights for you. It’s not pie." (If I made you feel like I tried to take your right to define yourself as male or female then you misunderstood me).


Ok, since we seem back on track with some objectivity and more light-hearted perspective I’ll stick around for a bit.

Looking at this from the perspective of an editor with an album in his hands (or the music in his ears):

Gender is probably not specified in the liner notes.
In most cases it will be sourced by websites, wikipedia, artist photos, interviews, listening to the vocals, etc.
The editor will get it ‘correct’ in most cases, but of course, not in all.
(only listening to Andreas Scholll could give you the wrong idea and make the wrong choice here)
But in the vast majority of cases, going with this you will be able to make an educated guess to choose ‘male’ or ‘female’, and in the vast majority of cases everybody, the artist included will agree it to be ‘sufficiently correct’.
In the very, very rare instances that an artist disagrees with such a designation, or it is factually wrong, it can easily be voiced and corrected.

But indeed Musicbrainz would need to accomodate for the exceptions where:

  1. The editor can’t decide on one of these two for whatever reason.
  2. The artist in question himself specifically states something else than male or female.

We can probably agree that the vast majority of artists present themselves quite clearly as male or female, but for the cases where that is not so clear for the ‘editor on watch’, there needs to be a choice other than male or female.
That would lead to having some drop-down menu with ‘male’, ‘female’ and ‘unspecified’ (or ‘unknown’, or ‘other’? or ‘n/a’?).

But, exception no. 2 also needs to be covered.

The only person that can state his personal preference how to be addressed is the artist himself.

But, how can an editor know the correct or preferred designation to enter for gender in these cases?
The source would have to be reliably coming from the artist’s own website, credible interviews, or possibly wikipedia?
I am assuming nobody else, and certainly not an editor should, or should be forced to decide on that.

If I understand correctly that the amount variations of designations could be immense, it doesn’t seem realistic to try and create a dropdown list for those.

So in my mind that would result in having four options:

  • male
  • female
  • unspecified/unknown/other (the choice of words here is probably best for the stakeholders to agree and decide on)
  • free entry field


I want to add that I personally still don’t really see the added value for MusicBrainz to have such a ‘free entry’ field, and I only added it as some sort of compromise.
It really feels like delving into somebodies private life, without having that additional personal information contributing much to the essence of MusicBrainz. (music)

So, rethinking this (again) I revise my suggestion, and believe these four options would suffice:

  • male
  • female
  • other (non-binary)
  • unknown

(the last one for the cases where the liner notes only credits a persons name that is not clear to the editor to be male or female, and no other information is available.)

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I agree that in the vast majority an educated guess with the options male and female will be correct.
But please mind your language.

Gender is not a decision. And especially not one with two options. Gender is an identity. I wouldn’t ask you to declare yourself as Italian or English and categorize you as indecisive, other or unspecified if neither fits for you. That would be disrespectful.

Sorry, my bad I misread you. You were talking about someone else not being able to decide what the first persons gender is. That is of course a legit concern.

If it’s clear that the artist doesn’t consider themselves as female or male, but they don’t mention their preferences on their sites than gender should be left blank or a 3rd option with a sensible name (non-binary or gender-queer - not other or unspecified) should be used. Otherwise exactly what the artist prefers should be used.

That’s what I suggested, except instead of your unsensible 3rd option I’d suggest to leave it blank and there should be the possibility to choose more than one option.

What value does it add to have genders specified at all? It helps you find artist of a certain gender. Why not allow this for the most underrepresented genders too? Additionally it would add the value of showing people the basic respect of not mislabeling them. Representation instead of ignorance leads to acceptance instead of exclusion and that leads to respect instead of discrimination.


I think MusicBrainz is about maintaining a database with useful and relevant information.
We don’t need to know the shoe size of artists. We don’t need to know if an artist had a single parent. We don’t need to know his/her sexual preference. We don’t need to know about criminal records. We don’t need to know about physical or mental handicaps.
While a lot of such information surely can be interesting and sometimes valuable, I don’t think for each of such elements MusicBrainz should have some standardized mechanism put in place.
They can all be added as side notes or additional information if interesting and somehow relevant.
But I wouldn’t argue that any of them is of enough importance and relevance to put effort in trying to categorize them.

Male or female is obviously useful.
Just look at a current project going on at MB to promote and improve information on female composers.
That would be impossible without a simple male/female switch.

I am still not sure I understand how your ideas about this matter would turn out to work in practical reality here.
But to wildly paraphrase something you said earlier, I am willing to learn about ‘new and additional rights for others’ that don’t take away existing ‘rights’ that the vast majority of people are content with and have agreed on.

Could you give some specific designations for non-binary genders that you propose to use on MusicBrainz, or else the most common ones that we could expect to encounter?
And could you give some explanation for each of them what the added value would be for having those categorized and available?

I would humbly reply to suggest the choices of • male, • female • as defined by artist. If, “as defined by artist” is checked, a box would open to insert an annotation where documentation from the artist could be inserted. This would eliminate ANY speculation from the editor while showing full respect for the artist who wished/wishes to proclaim their orientations.

If an editor truly has no clue to any of the three choices, they can simply be left unchecked thereby allowing future editors the ability to research, include or update the information…


True. Do you disagree with my definitions above? I’m not an expert so I’m sure my definitions can be improved.

Btw, what do you mean with identification? What it says on your ID card or passport?

I like that idea. Only: “as defined by artist” should be a given, not just for genders that are not male or female. Someones gender identity is almost* always what the person in question is defining it as. *There are still many people who publicly identify themselves as male or female to please society or simply because they don’t even know that they don’t have to.

Oh and back to the definitions:

Orientation is about sexuality, not gender.

That’s what I get for coming late to the party. I missed that it had already been mentioned.


I would love to see MB do something about this.
Perhaps it would be worth look for another website that already does it in a good way, or even to consult a organisation that might keen to help? Because I can’t think of an elegant solution, and I’m sure there is one.

An annotation would be great, but ‘documentation’ should not be required for this field, unless it is required for male/female as well. I think MB’s systems of edit notes and voting/comments are already equipped to deal with disagreements among editors :slight_smile: