The tra-1 gene is the terminal control gene for somatic sex determination in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Here we identify two tra-1 mRNAs: one is a 1.5 kb transcript that peaks in abundance in the second larval stage, and the other is a 5 kb transcript that is present at relatively constant abundance throughout development. Both RNAs occur at similar levels in both sexes, suggesting that regulation of tra-1 is posttranscriptional. Neither RNA is germline restricted. The two RNAs are colinear at their 5' ends: the shorter RNA encodes a protein with two zinc finger motifs, and the longer RNA encodes a protein with five zinc fingers. The identification of eight nonsense mutations confirms that these are authentic tra-1 RNAs and demonstrates that the longer one is essential for tra-1 activity. The transcription pattern reveals that alternative mRNA processing governs the number of zinc fingers in the resulting tra-1 protein. The tra-1 fingers are strikingly similar to those of three other proteins, the products of the human GLI and GLI3 and Drosophila cubitus interruptus Dominant (ciD) genes.