There’s a petition going in the US at the moment calling for the Obama administration to formally recognise non-binary genders. Several countries already have either the option to show “indeterminate gender” on passports or ID, or formally recognise a “third gender”.
I’m very much in support of countries formally recognising non-binary gender identity. What bothers me, though, is why passports and ID and driver’s licences and, well, any form of ID should show the bearer’s gender identity in the first place – especially these days when pretty much all ID carries the bearer’s photo, and many passports even have some form of biometric data embedded in them.
What I’d like to see is identity documents that include a gender marker and title on them if their owner wants them to, and not as a requirement. I can very much see the value for trans and intersex folk whose gender presentation may be at odds with what officialdom (in the form of border guards, police and so on) are expecting, of having your documents state a gender explicitly – that’s the very reason why I deliberately chose to have my driver’s licence show the title Ms on it, and why I’m glad my passport says F for “sex”. But on the passport, I wanted the F just because you’re required to show your “sex” on there, and here in the UK, the only other option is M.
As far as this Third Gender paradigm goes, it seems to me it’s not going about it the right way to insist that anyone who doesn’t want to identify officially as male or female has to sport an X on their documents instead. I’d much prefer it if nobody was required to show anything on there unless they found it useful.
And following on with the subject of gender labels, I’ve been thinking more about my sense of gender identity. I’ve had the delightful good fortune to spend some time lately with trans folk who are more non-binary in their gender identity, and I feel like I’m “coming out” all over again. I am so much more able to relax into being myself around these people, and I’ve been more outspoken – with them, with friends in general, with myself, and with my therapist at the gender clinic – about my non-binariness. And now something has occurred to me, on the identity-and-labels front, which in retrospect doesn’t surprise me.
I was describing myself to someone on a trans forum the other day, saying that I identify as female (anatomically, hence my transition), but not as a woman because that outfit is the wrong style and way too tight. I could say that I have some traits of a woman, some of an androgyne, and some of a man – but that’s just because I’ve been conditioned to think of what are simply human traits as apportioned among those conventionally-assigned gender “notches”. It’s never felt right to describe myself as gender-neutral, or genderfluid, or agender – but I’ve just realised that what does feel like a really good fit is describing myself as polygender.
I seem to have a strong affinity for the poly- prefix (for some reason, I’m just not comfortable with pan-). Since I already describe myself as polysensual, polygender makes perfect sense. I do experience myself as inhabiting discrete areas of the gender probability field at the same time, some of them apparently non-abutting.
That all sounds rather mechanistic, now that I’ve written it, but in my mind’s eye, it’s something way more poetic – like I have huge wings that spread out through swathes of the gender field.
Language is self-limiting. I feel forced to try to define myself in terms of a system I don’t actually believe in any more. Calling myself polygender implies many-genders, still entangled with the idea that there are discrete genders to inhabit. It’s a convention that’s both frustrating and self-perpetuating. Within a culture that uses discrete-genders as a defining characteristic of pretty much anything alive, it’s convenient to use it, but this is what makes it self-perpetuating.
Meanwhile, in the light of my polysensual/polygender nature, I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable hanging onto the label of dyke that I’ve been using for a while. It felt like a good fit, while I was feeling less sure of myself and in need of a label that said something like “female but not feminine, attracted mainly to people presenting as female”, but like what I said about woman above, this feels like the wrong fit in relation both to gender and orientation. It now feels dishonest for me to identify as a dyke, because it’s becoming more obvious to me that what I’m really attracted to in others is gender-ambiguity – whatever their gender identity.
Fast running out of convenient labels. That ought to feel unsettling, but actually, it’s profoundly intertwined with why I’m a Buddhist. The most significant dream I ever had involved someone pointing out to me how in terms of both space and time, there is no discrete. Much as we try to live in a sample-and-hold universe, taking identity-shots at so many frames per second (or per year), we’re actually just a flow of constantly shifting qualities, in relation to everything going on around us whether we like it or not. So for me, losing my ability to define my identity with handy label-bites actually feels like shedding uncomfortable clothing, and stepping out naked into the world, and proudly so.
Disclaimer: don’t worry, I have an imposing juggernaut of rigid-identity still rolling on, I’m making no spiritual claims here – just saying that being more naked feels good. I am this.
[PS: it amuses me that I get a number of hits on my blog-thing every day now from people searching for images of peacocks – I wonder what they make of all this, if they ever gat past the images? Anyway, the top image is of an iridescent cloud over Colorado, taken by August Allen, and below is a Spoonbill (one of my totem animals).]