The Independent View: Non-gender-specific passports – why the EDM matters

This week has seen the submission, by Julian Huppert, of EDM 907, LEGAL RECOGNITION FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH A PARTICULAR GENDER. If it sounds familiar, that’s because a similar EDM was introduced by Simon Hughes last month but had to be withdrawn when he became a minister. The subject, of course, will be unfamiliar to most of those who come across it, and that’s why it’s so important to explain how deeply it impacts those affected.

I work for a charity called Trans Media Watch which aims to improve media understanding, and thereby social understanding, or transgender and intersex people. As it happens, I’m currently processing results from a survey about people who don’t identify as male or female (generally described as non-binary people, though personal definitions vary). The survey relates to perceptions of the media, but two things come through clearly in it that seem relevant to this situation too. The first is that this is a group of people who feel very poorly understood. The second is that they experience a great deal of distress because of that lack of understanding.

Most people today are familiar with the concept of transsexualism. Some people’s exterior appearances are profoundly at odds with their sense of gender in a way that causes them continual distress; this feeling generally declines if they have the opportunity to change from, say, living as a woman to living as a man (or vice versa). Most people, transsexual or not, have a strong sense of gender and would feel very uncomfortable if others treated them as if they belonged in a social category that didn’t match this sense. For non-binary people, that sense of gender doesn’t align with either the male or the female category. Some people may feel that their gender overlaps both whilst others can’t connect with either.

From a biological perspective, this isn’t terribly surprising. Most categories in nature are fuzzy, with outliers. Socially, it has been recognised by many different cultures throughout history. It’s similar to the physiological phenomenon of intersex, whereby some people’s bodies develop in a way that is not what would generally be expected of a make or a female person. Most intersex people actually identify as male or female anyway, but for others, expressing an intersex identity is very important.

Because of the prejudice that surrounds these issues, many intersex and non-binary people are wary of being obliged to mark themselves out with different ID, but what would be widely welcomed is what this motion offers: a choice. The level of discomfort experienced by many intersex and non-binary people when obliged to deny their own existence is no less than that experienced by transsexual people. To people like me, it can feel inherently dishonest to tick a box marked ‘M’ or ‘F’. This motion would help to give us an equal place in society. It would help, not hinder, identification, as many of us would then find our bodies more closely matched our ID, avoiding the familiar confusion and unpleasantness at passport control. It would give us the respect and the freedoms other citizens take for granted. Please give us your support.

* Jennie Kermode is a freelance journalist, chair of Trans Media Watch and content director at Eye For Film.

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  • jenny barnes 10th Jan '14 - 12:03pm

    Someone explain why there are gender markers on passports and driving licences? Being gendered X, rather than M or F I would have thought was worse than being gendered whichever one you identify with better. Why is it necessary?
    By analogy, my local swimming pool has “village” changing area – individual cubicles which any gender can use, with or without their children. Works for everyone.

  • Jennie Kermode 10th Jan '14 - 12:15pm

    Being gendered X _is_ what some people identify with better than M or F. Also, having the option to register this way would make it easier for those to wish to do so to demonstrate that people like us exist. When we have tried to do this using other public means – such as the census – we have been ‘corrected’ into invisibility.

    Despite this, there are many who agree with what you suggest. Ultimately gender doesn’t need to come into many of our public relationships. Doctors may need to know, but beyond that it is generally just on documents because that’s what we’re used to. Some people still argue that it helps with identification but given the identification methods in use these days, that’s increasingly irrelevant. A simple picture is generally more useful and less likely to be misleading.

  • Passports are an international standard; that is, UK passports have to contain certain information because other countries won’t accept our passports without it.

    Sex (that is, legal sex, not biological sex or psychological gender) is one of the things they are required to have. Adding X for non-binary people is the best available compromise until we can persuade other countries to amend the international treaties

  • Casey Deryn Ashton 10th Jan '14 - 4:19pm

    Besides urging one’s MP to sign this motion, here is a petition readers may wish to sign set up by activist Christie Elan-Cane supporting this initiative:

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