From USA Today: America has slowly begun to acknowledge that for many people, gender is much more complicated than simply being a man or a woman. And a growing number of Americans are seeking recognition of a third gender, neither exclusively male or female, under the label non-binary.
People typically think of transgender as meaning gender reversal, where someone identifies as the opposite sex from their birth sex. But transgender is an umbrella term used to cover a wide spectrum of people whose gender identity is different from the one they were assigned at birth.
More than one-third of transgender people describe themselves as non-binary, which the National Center for Transgender defines as “people whose gender is not exclusively male or female, including those who identify with a gender other than male or female, as more than one gender, or as no gender, identifying as a combination of genders or not identifying with either gender at all.”
Non-binary people have always been part of the population. But for the first time, state governments in the U.S. are beginning to recognize their identity. Oregon approved a third gender option on driver’s licenses last week; California’s Senate passed a law with the same aim, and similar legislation was introduced in both New York and the District of Columbia this week.
Non-binary people are now represented in popular culture as well. Actor Asia Kate Dillon, who is credited with being the “first non-binary actor ever to be portrayed on TV,” plays a gender non-binary character on the Showtime series Billions.
“Hello, I’m Taylor. My pronouns are they, theirs and them,” Dillon’s Billions character declares when introduced to one of the show’s two protagonists. The scene likely also introduced the concept of non-binary people and non-gender specific pronouns to many viewers.
Why the gender on IDs matters
The issue of gender on official documentation is not merely a semantic one. Nearly one-third of transgender people said they were harassed, assaulted or denied service because their ID did not match their “gender presentation,” according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality.
“Presenting an identification document that does not accurately reflect one’s sex and is inconsistent with one’s gender identity can trigger invasions of privacy, prejudice, stigma, violence and discrimination and harassment in a wide variety of settings, including in employment, education, public accommodations, health care, housing and interactions with the government, including with law enforcement,” the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal wrote to the Oregon Department of Transportation arguing for the rule change to allow a third gender option.
Oregon became the first state to give residents the option to identify as neither male or female on their driver’s licenses and state identification cards Thursday after a ruling by the Oregon Transportation Commission. Beginning July 1, those IDs will offer an “X” as a third option in addition to the traditional “F” and “M.”
A bill passed the California Senate to allow the state’s residents to change their gender identity on their birth certificates and state IDs, including driver’s licenses, to “female, male, or non-binary.” The bill is currently awaiting a vote in the state Assembly. Similar legislation has been introduced in New York and the District of Columbia.
Randy Thomasson, the president of SaveCalifornia.com and the Campaign for Children and Families, has derided what he sees as the spread of “sexual anarchy.”
Thomasson argued against the legislation in California on the grounds that allowing people to change gender invites identity fraud.
“If one’s sex can be officially ‘changed’ by simply — even repeatedly — filing an $11 form with the state government, it’s going to be a lot harder to accurately identify ‘non-binary’ accused criminals in open court,” Thomasson said in a statement. “The gender identity fraud that this radical bill would usher in is the antithesis of law and order.”
According to Lambda Legal, there are at least eight countries that recognize more than two genders on passports or national ID cards: Australia, Bangladesh, Germany, India, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand and Pakistan. Thailand recognizes a third gender in its constitution but hasn’t yet made that an option on government documents.
Read about the rest of the “complications” here.