Gendered identification on documents like drivers’ licenses have long been a plague on the transgender community.
Many trans individuals are not able to jump through the litany of bureaucratic hoops required to change the “sex” category on their I.D. cards. Others can’t afford it. Still more are unable to produce the required doctor’s note. (That’s right– some government agencies don’t trust trans people to be experts on their own gender– they need a doctor’s confirmation, much like a child who needs to stay home from school).
What’s more, for binary trans people seeking to change the sex markers on their I.D., it is a common requirement to first have had gender-affirming surgery. According to the UCLA school of law, “transgender people are four times as likely to have a household income under $10,000 and twice as likely to be unemployed as the typical person in the U.S. Ninety percent of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination on the job. Almost one in five reported being homeless at some point in their lives”. There are a number of immense, dangerous obstacles that poor trans people experience, but the most obvious in this case is the massive monetary barrier standing between them and gender-affirming surgery. The total cost of sex-reassignment surgery (the most common formal name for gender-affirming surgery) can be up to 50,000 dollars. This does not include the cost of (often required) gender therapy, or the cost of receiving hormone-replacement or a “gender dysphoria” diagnosis.
Beyond the issue of binary gender-changes on identification, an increasingly-common question is: Why do we have sex markers on I.D. documents in the first place? Why do some systems want to simply include a third, “X” option for I.D. cards, (like Canada, for example) instead of scrapping a useless identification system altogether?
It’s not as though any gender category is uniform or infallible. Even if we look at a group of binary men or women, there is as much diversity within that category as in any other randomly selected group. It’s not as though, if looking for a missing person, the defining attribute to look out for would be that person’s genitals– you’d be much more likely to notice their height, eye color, or whether they wear corrective lenses, all of which occupy an understandable place on I.D. materials.
Plus, the use of an “X” as opposed to an M or F on these documents would only further “other” non-binary people. It would more easily enable employer discrimination, which is already regularly directed at people who can be recognized as trans, and there are many states that still do not protect trans employees by law. The use of the “X” would inevitably become further complicated, like the changing of binary identifiers, through increasing numbers of medical and legal hoops. Non-binary people would be subject to endless scrutiny as to whether we are “trans enough” to “deserve” the third-gender classification, in the same way that binary trans people are today.
So, why does the rigid sex classification system remain, and who do some moderates wish only to replace it with an “X”? Well, the obvious reason is pretty simple: we live in a transphobic society, a transphobic legal system, and a transphobic medical system.
But there is a more insidious factor at play: those who wish simply to expand I.D. classifications of gender, instead of abolishing them for good, wish to perpetuate the violent, unjust system of gender under the guise of progress and tolerance. Much like the legalization of same-sex marriage (though an unequivocal success for LGBTQ justice) can be used to obfuscate continued violence against queer/trans people, I fear that the use of an “X” marker on I.D. cards will promote the continuation of a rigid gender system under the guise of improvement.
On a fundamental level, the assimilation of trans people into a cis-dominated world is not progress. As much as part of me would love the satisfaction of seeing an “X” where the “F” is on my driver’s license, I know full well that I do not want my (lack of) gender to be co-opted and defined by a violently transphobic system (or cis-tem, as it were). I don’t want to continue to live in a world in which gender can be changed on one’s I.D. only when a cis person says it’s okay, only if you jump through so many hoops, pay too much money, are satisfactorily pathologized, and are othered to increasing points of self-alienation.
I don’t want to widen hegemonic restrictions on gender identity and expression. And I sincerely do not want government agencies to be privy to the intricacies of my gender. Stop this advocation for a more “accepting” oppressive system, and instead start advocating for the overhaul of the system entirely– starting with the removal of sexed/gendered markers from official documents.
That being said: If you are trans and looking to update documents to reflect your gender, here is a good place to start, and I wish you the best of luck.