Lying About My Gender: The Trouble With M & F
As a non-binary person, I dread the moments in which I am required to present my ID as “proof of identification.” See, I was assigned female at birth when the doctor took a look at my infant body, and so the government decided that I would be required to have an ‘F’ printed on nearly every form of identification I receive. Here in Saskatchewan that means my birth certificate, driver’s licence and health card all incorrectly declare me “female.”
I am generally forced to show one of these IDs to a complete stranger as proof of identification when I’m picking up a parcel, entering licensed facilities, purchasing goods, traveling, and applying or registering for memberships, accounts, jobs, and more. For most people this likely isn’t even something that registers as a problem, but for many others, such as myself, the experience of presenting an ID can cause immediate discomfort, anxiety, and even fear.
Personally, I dress and present as what our society deems “masculine.” Because of transitional methods I have taken to feel more comfortable in my body, such as hormones and surgeries, when most people see me they assume that I am “male.” But every time I have to pull out an ID card, I wonder, Will they look? Will they notice? And if they do, will they bring it up? Will they ask questions? Will they decide I’m a liar or a thief for having this ID? Will they even allow me to complete this transaction?
Such a small act can invoke such a strong reaction in me, a fear of judgement that might result in discrimination and harassment. Sure, people will always be judging others for the way they look, whether it’s related to gender, sex, age, race, body type, or many other things. However, transgender people being legally required to present incorrect ID gives others a government-issued reason to discriminate.
What’s worse is that using a single letter sex-designation to help determine somebody’s identity isn’t even accurate or efficient. Every man and every woman is different. No one looks exactly the same, or even close to it. No two people have the same idea of what a man or woman “should” look like. Therefore, judging what someone “should” look like according to a letter on their ID simply does not make sense.
Transgender and gender diverse people are not the only ones who experience discrimination because of their gender-/sex-designations. Any cisgender person who does not appear the way someone checking their ID thinks they “should” faces the same problems.
As the Gender Free ID coalition states, “Relying on birth genitalia as a way to identify adults makes no sense. To verify identity you need a stable data element – e.g. your date of birth. There are many more reliable identity verifiers: photographs, fingerprints and facial recognition software, for example.”
Even when gender-/sex-designations are “only” used as proof of identity, requiring these markers on ID creates additional issues. Based on the designation on an applicant’s ID, institutions such as banks, universities, and doctor’s offices will assign people titles and pronouns. The incorrect use of these can cause immense distress for many people. Imagine being constantly referred to as He/Mr./Sir or She/Mrs./Ma’am, when it does not apply to you. This can seem like a small and trifling matter until it happens every day for years.
Even when applications are not forced to show their ID to another person, this issue can come into play: paperwork often includes a gender box (rarely is it ever referred to as sex), which is mandatory and only provides the options ‘F’ or ‘M.’ When a transgender or gender-diverse person asks how to proceed, the response is almost always, “Select what is on your birth certificate/driver’s licence/health card.” What happens when that ID is incorrect?
A new option in many places is to include ‘X’ or ‘O’ as a third option on paperwork and IDs. While this option is not even permitted in Saskatchewan, I often find myself conflicted at the thought of having an ‘X’ or ‘O’ in place of the ‘F’. While the option to have my non-binary gender legally and procedurally acknowledged is very enticing, I also know that it would likely paint an even larger target for discrimination on my back.
Again I imagine being questioned, or even detained or refused service due to assumptions that my ID is fake or cannot be entered into a system. For transgender and gender-diverse people, the choice to publicly admit their true gender often depends on whether it is safe to do so. An ‘X’ or ‘O’ placed permanently on someone’s ID removes the possibility of making that choice. No one should ever be required to out themselves.
So I ask: why is a sex-designation on an ID card, whether it is ‘M’ or ‘F’ or ‘X’ or ‘O,’ even necessary?
Why is it important to record on your photo ID what a doctor thought your genitals looked like when you were born? What are the reasons that we must have gender-/sex-designations on ID? Perhaps in the past, when women were not allowed to vote, own property or serve in the military, and when people of the same sex could not get married, there was reason for gender/sex markers: to prevent such situations from happening illegally. (As we see, a legal reason is not always a good reason.) However, none of these discriminatory acts are still legal issues.
So what reasons are left? Any statistical information the government may need can be collected from a census. Any medical information relating to hormone levels, organs, and surgeries can be asked about and entered into a patient’s medical history. This would certainly be more accurate than relying on a single letter to supposedly tell a doctor everything they need to know about a person’s body!
The battle to remove inaccurate and discriminatory markers from IDs is one that we, as a society, have already fought and won… yet we seem to have forgotten about it. As Marcella Daye, a Senior Policy Advisor for the Canadian Human Rights Commission, says, “We used to use race and religion to identify people and we don’t anymore. It’s our hope that gender will come under the same scrutiny.”
In 1962, the American Statistician Society described their objections to race markers in the following way: “1) [We hold] the position that the collection of such information violates a person’s privacy if not his constitutional and legal rights and constitutes an affront to his dignity; 2) [we have] the fear that such information may be used to deal with a person or group in a categoric way, and thus evoke discriminatory practices.” These objections hold equally true for sex and gender. The Canadian Human Rights Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-6) includes sex and gender identity or expression in the prohibited grounds of discrimination. So why are we treating them differently from other protected grounds?
In his book Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?, Heath Fogg Davis summarizes the issue:
“Removing sex markers from government-issued identity documents is a small but powerful way for government agencies to realign their administrative goals and policies. Everyone in the relevant “universe” benefits, and no one is disadvantaged. Sex-classification-amendment paperwork and the associated cost, which is significant, would dissolve. […] Although our government has some legitimate reasons for collecting sex-classification information about us in aggregate, it has no business collecting and keeping information about our personal sex-identity decisions. Eradicating sex markers from our birth certificates, passports, drivers licences, and identity cards will not completely uproot sex-identity discrimination and oppression. However, it is an important step that would have profound ripple effects across a wide range of administrative policy venues where these documents are requested and demanded.”
In the end, making this change would deprive no one, benefit everyone, and change the world for many. I hope that one day soon, I and others like me will no longer experience the dread and danger that comes with having to present the world with identification that tells lies about us.
For information about Gender Diversity Awareness Week in Moose Jaw, please visit: www.moosejawpride.ca/events