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…