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 pronouns. Part 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…
I am someone who is inhabiting a world in between genders. There is a growing set of words, a subculture of sorts, and there are political agendas surrounding this experience. And in theory, I am on board with all I’ve seen (and let me clarify that what I’ve seen is almost entirely online at this time, and not reflected in the world I actually live in). But in actuality, not every part of it appeals to me personally. Which is OK – I can still support it while simultaneously getting the word out that not all non-binary people have the same needs, preferences, and agendas.
I’m going to go with a break-down of three categories: Pronouns, Bathrooms, and Legal Designations / Forms. And talk a little about the discussions I’ve seen, but also how I personally feel.
Pronouns: I prefer to be referred to with male pronouns: He/Him/His. The reason for this is: because it is my preference. It really is as simple as that – no explanation needed. It feels the most right (although no pronouns actually feel “right” for me). That’s all it comes down to – a feeling.
Many non-binary people go by They/Them/Their, along with a myriad of more obscure pronouns. Some people have assumed that I go by They/Them/Their, because I identify as non-binary. That is fine. It’s not my preference, but I’m not offended by this assumption, nor do I mind being referred to in this way. I have felt some pressure (from within myself only) to adopt the They/Them/Their/ set in order to align myself more with an idea of a non-binary identity, and to take a stand / stand-out more for what some people truly feel they need (which is to be referred to with gender neutral pronouns – it is definitely a need for some people). But, bottom line, it does not feel right for me. Male pronouns feel (more) right.
(And I imagine if I really break it down, this correlates to how I see my gender: I do not feel as if I am without gender, genderless, agender, or gender neutral. Instead, I feel as if I am an amalgam of genders, a kaleidoscope. And so it feels right that I view my identity’s make-up as pieces from all genders, rather than a rejection of anything that is gendered.)
I have seen many preferred sets of pronouns online (such as Ze/Hir/Hirs, Ey/Em/Eir/Eirs, Xe/Xem/Xyr/Xyrs and also ones based off of nouns). But in actual real life, I have come into contact with only one person, so far, with a preference for a set like this – and I immediately proceeded to mess it up when talking out loud. I have met a couple of people who prefer They/Them/Their, and that feels immediately do-able in real life, because these are words we’re all familiar with pronouncing. And… that’s kinda the difference – much of the online world is written, it’s visual. And it’s easy to backspace and try again. The real world involves much more talking out loud, at a conversational pace, and I personally am a long way from incorporating these newish words naturally into a conversation. That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to. It doesn’t mean I don’t support it. It means, in practice, I have a lot of work to do. And that work is difficult to do if I do not have people in my life who want to be referred to in this way – it’s hard to practice if I’m not actively practicing, essentially. And, since I am someone who identifies as non-binary, I might be, in theory, someone on the most sensitive, most open, end of the spectrum, in terms of the general populous. I have a lot of trouble with it, from a practical perspective, at this time.
To summarize: Incorporating these newer pronouns is do-able. I support it. For some people, it is not a preference, but a need, in order to feel comfortable. I personally do not need or prefer to be referred to by gender neutral pronouns. I have a long way to go in terms of enacting this language. Which, I believe, means the general population has a much longer way to go. It’s hard to make progress if I’m not actively using the words in regular conversation. At this time, I am not actively using the words in regular conversation. This is where I’m at with pronouns. It’s hard to gauge where the world at large is at, but I imagine progress will be very very slow. I’m just thinking pragmatically here. Ideally, I wish it were easy.
This got a lot longer than I thought it would. It’s complicated! So again I’m going to break the topics up; look forward to yet another series! Up next: part 2 – Bathrooms and part 3 – Legal Designations / Forms.