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The impossibility of being legally non-binary

Forcing people to slot into ‘male’ or ‘female’ categories can be damaging to their sense of self

At a time when trans rights are more under threat than ever, the spring 2019 issue of Dazed takes a stand for for the global creativity of the LGBTQIA+ communities and infinite forms of identity. This article is a digital companion to the issue. Pre-order the issue here, and see the whole Infinite Identities campaign here.

Do you remember the last time you had to fill out a form, marking an X in the box for your gender? If you’re cis, that’s probably something you’ve done countless times without much thought, but as a non-binary person – neither male nor female – it’s a massive source of stress in my life.

Whether it’s online banking, signing up for a new gym membership, or even something as simple as applying for a store points card, I’m constantly forced to split my identity into an easily categorised box. There are the rare occasions I’ve been gifted with a third option, although it’s generally been “other” – with no free space to explain my personhood. I once received a piece of mail addressed to “Other Jaimie Wylie,” which made me feel not only like a comical afterthought, but an indefinable, shadowy non-person. For the most part, my life is a nominal compromise.

This compromise isn’t just inconvenient, it’s the law. In the UK, passport designations are restricted to male or female – one cannot legally be non-binary. While I am used to both being misgendered in public and the discomfort of trying to navigate gendered spaces (cue bathroom and changing room anxiety), having to formally represent myself as “female” on a UK government-issued ID crosses the line from inconvenience to a misrepresentation of my identity. The government does not acknowledge my self-representation as a legitimate option. In doing so, it denies my existence.

As of last month, the state of New York began allowing people to change their gender on birth certificates to an X autonomously, without a doctor (although a medical signature is still required to amend state-issued IDs). Similarly, Oregon, California, Washington D.C. and Washington state currently allow for X markers on either birth certificates, IDs, or both. Currently, there are ten other countries besides the US that recognise non-binary or third gender classifications: Canada, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Malta, New Zealand, and Pakistan have an ‘X’ category, while India, Ireland, and Nepal provide third options. With such diverse national and state governments making access to identification documents with proper representation easier for non-binary communities, why does the UK continue to fall behind?

“The government does not acknowledge my self-representation as a legitimate option. In doing so, it denies my existence”

Despite the morality of a third option on official documentation, the Home Office has continuously denied such accommodations because, as reported in the Guardian, “there would be significant administrative and financial costs to HM Passport Office in allowing an X marker in passports… and the number of people likely to be benefited is relatively modest.” Realistically, the cost of issuing a third category of passport is believed to be as little as £2m, which is nothing compared to the estimated £500m cost of getting those Brexit blue passports.

Plus, let’s not forget the fact that British border controls already recognise non-gender passports issued by other countries without any problem. X passports are also approved by the ICAO, the UN agency that regulates international air travel. Excuses simply don’t hold up – the government’s refusal to legitimise non-binary identities because of the community’s small size (although a 2012 survey put it at 600,000, or 1% of the population) isn’t justified. Minority status doesn’t explain the discriminatory policies that hide our existence.

Diversity and inclusivity should not be an afterthought or inconvenience. Bureaucratic infrastructure needs to be gender-neutral in order to become gender inclusive. Similarly, we need to recognise that the quest for gender equality often overlooks the entirety of the gender spectrum.

Dividing the world by ‘M’ and ‘F’ just doesn’t cut it. By introducing the ‘X’ gender designation in government-issued documents, we’d be taking an important step towards advancing equality for citizens regardless of gender identity or expression. It’s not just about what a little booklet or driving license says – it would signal the recognition of self definition, acknowledging something that should be considered a basic right.

“I want 2019 to be the year my identity is accepted in that being non-gendered is who I am, rather than me being made to feel that my existence is merely tolerated as an aberration/abnormality within a gendered societal structure,” says Elan-Cane. If the government needs to monitor its citizens, then I want to feel like they count the real me, and not the yes or no version of my identity that feels disjointed and inauthentic.