Neither Male nor Female, Just Like It Says on My Driver’s License

In June of 2016, an Oregon judge ruled that Jamie Shupe, a 52-year-old Army veteran, could legally change their gender to “nonbinary” in the eyes of that state. This seems to have been the first time in the U.S. that a person gained legal status as neither male nor female, which is a little astonishing, considering we’ve always been here–though I admit, for a long time nobody considered our gender identities might be legitimate (least of all, oftentimes, nonbinary people ourselves).

Since then, the motor vehicle departments of Oregon, the District of Columbia, and California have all added a nonbinary option, X, on driver’s licenses, and Ontario, Washington state, and Vermont are now considering doing the same.

oregon driver's license with x gender

One thing that surprises me in all this is that for the most part, this welcome change isn’t based on new laws. California passed a bill to recognize a third gender option, but everywhere else I mentioned, it’s the department of motor vehicles getting things done. Apparently, there being no law that driver’s licenses have to say “male” or “female,” adding a third option isn’t a legal issue: it’s just administrative.

Even as a person who’s only partly out, I would love to see this option available in my state. The idea of having a license that doesn’t require me to say I’m something I’m not (or at least something I’m not a large proportion of the time) is hugely appealing, and I imagine preparing for my new photo by making my face look as androgynous as possible, hopefully leaving anyone who ends up needing to check my ID with no need to be confused or figure anything out.

androgynous face

But then, the bigger issue for me is the name. Even if I can get ID that is more or less accurate in terms of gender and that never presents a jarring contrast between my presentation in life and my presentation in my photo, I still need to be able to refer to myself somehow. Yet it’s already possible to get a legal name change, so all the tools are there.

What about you? Does anyone else out there have or want a non-binary designation on your license or passport?

An Opportunity for Non-Binary People to Get Together and Talk

This past weekend, I had the very unusual opportunity to connect with other non-binary people as part of a larger event, in a closed discussion that didn’t include any mono-gendered people (well, except for one woman who wandered in, not knowing what the discussion was about. Once we realized she wasn’t non-binary, we had to send her on her way, which felt rude, but which was absolutely necessary).

There were about a dozen of us, sitting in a circle and just asking and answering questions. Most there were younger–college age or early twenties–but there were also three or four forty-and-up people, myself included, and age seemed to be no barrier in the discussion. There wasn’t anyone else there who definitely identified as bi-gender, but that didn’t really matter, either. The uniting experience was of being neither strictly male nor strictly female.

It seemed to me that it was a relief and an empowering experience for everyone there to be able to talk to other people who shared something of their experience. The other opportunity I had to participate in a group like this, the experience was very similar: mostly younger people, no one else who identified as bi-gender, and everyone delighted to be there.

To follow up on this, I’m going to look into organizing a one-day non-binary conference, perhaps in Massachusetts this summer. I don’t yet know exactly what we’ll do apart from having open discussion, but that will develop over time. If you’re interested in this conference, please drop me a line. If you’re interested but wouldn’t be able to make it in person, please still get in touch: I want to look into ways that it might be possible to include people remotely through some kind of private videoconferencing.

If anyone has suggestions for the conference or (better yet) is interested in helping plan or organize or staff it, I’m enthusiastically interested in hearing from you. I don’t know that anything like this event has happened before (though I’d love to hear about it if it has), and regardless, this has the opportunity to be a singular event for those of us who feel a little marginal sometimes.

By the way, this site is now also accessible through the address bi-gender.com. I may do more with that domain in future, or create a more broadly focused non-binary site.

Non-Binary Student Commits Suicide by Cop

Scout Schultz was a 21-year student at Georgia Tech and the leader of the Georgia Tech LGBT Alliance.

scout

Why?

I don’t know anything about Scout’s state of mind, but I have to say that this incident isn’t puzzling to me like some such incidents are, because Scout was non-binary, and non-binary people don’t fit anywhere. Not only don’t we fit into the usual categories in the world; we’re even out of place among LGBTQ groups. Even transgender people, who themselves are often on the margins of the already-marginalized LGBTQ community, are usually one gender or the other.

As a non-binary person, it’s hard not to feel like you’re misplaced, a permanent outsider. It’s also hard to believe sometimes that you will ever find a romantic partner, because you can’t be understood at a glance, and it’s usually impossible to know who might even have the capacity to be romantically interested in you just by looking. Straight and gay people generally have a huge pool of potential soulmates (or one-night stands, depending on what they’re looking for). Trans people and non-binary people, on the other hand, are often left wondering if there’s anyone at all for them.

None of these things forces a person to suicide, but they certainly don’t help.

Sorry, but a thing about words

According to a BBC article, Scout “identified as intersex,” but intersex means having been born with ambiguous sexual anatomy; it’s not a gender identity in the usual sense. Apparently Scout had described themself in a profile as “bisexual, nonbinary and intersex,” but I’m disappointed that the BBC didn’t check their terminology and stick with the adjective that appears to be most accurate, “nonbinary.” In reality, it seems as though Scout was not intersex–for instance, according to the Washington Post,

Both parents remembered well the time that Scout came out to them.

“It wasn’t a shock because we’re welcoming and loving parents,” Bill Schultz [Scout’s father] said. “It shouldn’t have been hard for Scout to come out but I think there were some issues involved there which is why they did a session in therapy.”

I don’t imagine Bill Schultz would have been that surprised at Scout coming out if Scout actually were intersex, so I can only conclude that Scout misunderstood what the word meant and that media outlets aren’t checking their terms to make sure they correct the mistake. That’s disappointing, because the words really do matter. Intersex people can be male, female, non-binary, or other, just like anyone else. It doesn’t help for media outlets to be sloppy about their word usage and suggest otherwise. That’s a good way to spread confusion.