Why I avoid checking the box

This is the last part of a 3-part series exploring some issues that are on the minds of a lot of non-binary people, including myself.  Part one was about pronounsPart two was about bathrooms.  This post is about legal designations / filling out forms.

Great timing on this one!  A few months ago, I signed an online petition requesting that the executive branch legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records.  Just yesterday, I got a response from The White House, in my inbox!  Er, I mean, you know, it’s a mass email, a form reply for all petition signers, but really, how cool is that when I was preparing to write about this topic anyway?!!

Here is an excerpt:

We know how important this issue is, and we understand the profound impact, both symbolic and otherwise, of having official documents that accurately reflect an individual’s identity. These documents play an essential, functional role, but also demonstrate the measure of dignity and respect afforded to our nation’s citizens. We cannot overstate the care and seriousness that should be brought to bear on the issue.

We recognize the importance of gender identification in particular and the Obama Administration is working to modernize federal policies in this area. For example, in 2010, the U.S. Department of State made it easier for individuals to update the gender marker in their passports. And last year, the Social Security Administration followed suit by simplifying the process for individuals to change the gender marker on their social security cards to reflect their identity accurately.

As you can imagine, there is considerable variance across agencies and levels of government. And so while the Obama Administration wants to make sure that official documents reflect the identities of the Americans who hold them, we believe proposals to change when and how gender is listed on official documents should be considered on a case-by-case basis by the affected federal and state agencies. However, that consideration must be informed by best practices and a commitment to honoring individuality and ensuring fairness.

So, it sounds like a polite, “No.”  If you want to read the entirety, it is here:  We the People Petition on Non-Binary Genders.  In this world of constant feedback loops, you can also let the government know what you think of their response, share on Facebook and Twitter, etc.

Personally, this is the thing I want the most.  In my two previous posts, I explained that although I identify strongly with being non-binary, I actually am not strongly bothered by gendered pronouns (I prefer male pronouns) or gendered bathrooms (I use the women’s bathroom).  In general, I attempt to mix and match gendered options to optimize my comfort level, and that has usually worked for me.  But when it comes to declaring, “I am male”  or “I am female,” I simply cannot do it.  Legally, I am female, simply because it is the default in this case.  I would not seriously consider legally changing my gender unless I can change it to a gender-neutral option (and if I could, I would do it ASAP).  Legal stuff feels like a more black and white, either/or arena than bathrooms, pronouns, and anything else in the real world which is comparatively flexible and fluid.  What I mean by this is, for example, I like when people say,”sir,” “man,” and use male pronouns because they’re seeing me, we’re interacting, and that interaction has the potential of being nuanced, fluid, changing.  I could walk in the women’s bathroom today, and tomorrow decide to go in the men’s, without too much consequence (hopefully) if I wanted or needed to.

The legality of being one gender or another seems so much more finite, set-in-stone, weighty.  And I want another option!!!!!  People in Australia, as of a few months ago, are able to pursue a “non-specific” designation.  I want to be able to as well!  (Although, I didn’t realize this until looking into it just now, but Australian citizens pursuing this must present medical proof of gender confirmation surgery.  It would be important, ultimately, for medical transition status to not play any part in this designation – just my very very strong opinion.)

Until I have this option, I will continue to evade declaring my gender as often as I can.  I will continue to leave it blank on forms whenever possible, and to explain the nuance if the opportunity arises.  As of now, if my gender is not listed on a form, my (very feminine) legal name will immediately give me away anyway.  So although I have no plans to legally become male, I do plan to legally change my name to something ambiguous.  And as soon as I start hearing about smaller instances where a “non-specific,” “non-binary,” “X,” or whatever the term may be, is a possible option, I will start pursuing it.  Even if that means I’m listed as “F,” on some things and “X” or whatever on others.  It’s going to start on a small scale (like doctor office forms, maybe things like library card applications, etc.)  It’s already started!  And just build and build from there.  All the way up to driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate.  One day, I hope…

13 Comments on “Why I avoid checking the box”

  1. And there are tons of times when gender just isn’t needed on ID! I think for me this of the three issues you’re talking about feels the most abstract/irrelevant to me right now. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t been filling out a lot of forms lately, and I’m just focusing on coming out. But it is super important!


    • janitorqueer says:

      Yeah, I’d agree it’s the most abstract. It’s the one we don’t encounter on a daily basis (unless, maybe we work in a bureaucratic environment?) I could go a long time without thinking about how my gender identity is or is not reflected on paperwork and in legal terms.

      At the same time, it would feel the most validating to me if I could get this one thing changed.


  2. I could not agree more that there should be more options when it comes to gender on legal documents. In most cases, gender seems sort of irrelevant anyway. Having a third option of “other,” “x,” or “nonbinary” would not negatively affect anyone, and I don’t think it’s asking much of the government to provide that option (especially for things like driver’s licenses, passports, etc.) The only instance I can think of off the top of my head in which a specific gender (birth sex, really) would be relevant to anyone would be in medical situations considering sex-specific risk factors for illnesses and whatnot. The response to the petition is just a really patronizing “eh,” and I think nonbinary Americans deserve better.


  3. Great post! I would definitely change any documents to a gender neutral option if they were available. On my ID, where it says sex, it is followed by F/M, while it would be supposed to say just F. I don’t know how that got there but I love that little mistake 😉 .
    I got the response from The White House yesterday too!


  4. Unquiet says:

    I would be more in favour of removing gender as a category from as many things as possible. I would be paranoid about the purposes that a list of gender deviants could be put to…at least once you’ve changed your gender marker to a standard gender, then fingers crossed you will also be successfully passing and safe. An X will mark you out for harassment in a big way.


    • janitorqueer says:

      Interesting perspective! I never thought about it quite like that. Many people do want to “pass” and play it safe, however, that is not me. I am not confrontational in daily life whatsoever, and yet I gotta honestly say that I would prefer to stand out in this way, if I could. In terms of harassment, so far harassment I’ve received has been minimal, and I think I could continue to handle it… (although, there is a chance I’d really have no idea what I’d be getting myself into.)

      I’d agree I’d like to see gender removed as a category as much as possible. Would love to continue this conversation…


  5. Pixie says:

    As soon as I have my hysterectomy, I will be going through the legal process of switching my F to an M on everything. I’m not exactly excited at the idea, but for sure much much more comfortable with it saying M rather than F.

    I’m a lot more unhappy with the gendering that happens in social interactions. For me at least, the legal designation is about my body, that part I have no doubts about. The social stuff is much more about me as a person, and that is where I get confused and uncertain and unhappy with all the available choices.

    A gender-neutral or other category wouldn’t do it for me though, even if it is less accurate than M. Not so much a fear for safety, more that it gets into what I consider FAR too private to have on public records. I find it intensely intrusive. I can accept that for now I must have some gender marker, but it leaves me feeling violated to have strangers privy to such information about my body. So there’s no way I could be comfortable with an X or other gender marker, I’d stick with M. If it were possible to remove gender designations entirely, I would be so thrilled, would much prefer that over anything else.


    • Pixie says:

      “A gender-neutral or other category wouldn’t do it for me though, even if it is less accurate than M.”

      Oops! I meant more accurate, not less.


  6. […] Janitorqueer just finished a three-part series on his own ways of navigating the world as a genderqueer person, including why he prefers male pronouns, feels comfortable in women’s washrooms, and avoids selecting a gender on official forms. […]


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