Why more people should embrace gender-neutral ID
The US State Department will begin issuing passports with an X in place of gender upon request. This raises the important question of why gender is needed on passports at all? In some countries, gender is very important to citizenship. Many don’t allow people the government labels as “women” to pass on their citizenship to their children, so having an F on a citizenship document carries important consequences. But many countries like the US issue identity documents with a gender designation that is irrelevant to the functioning and use of that document. Having a gender on my passport serves no useful function. It is no longer particularly useful even for descriptive purposes, given how many people are no longer fitting themselves into cultural expectations of gendered appearance.
Human rights advocates usually focus on gender equality. This is also true for the world of citizenship rights. The push for gender equality in citizenship, however, no longer feels sufficient to me. Do I really want to live in a world divided into a binary, where the group labelled “women” are constantly fighting for the same rights as the group labelled “men,” or do I want gender-neutrality, a world where the government pays attention to gender only in a limited number of circumstances where it really matters, assuming such circumstances ever exist? When it comes to something as important as my government-issued identification, the less invasive, the better. Government issued ID may contain a wealth of very personal information, such as religion, marital status or race, that can be stigmatizing and may violate privacy. Birth certificates in many countries require that biological sex be listed on the certificate for unclear, and sometimes discriminatory, reasons. Is the point of biological sex markers on a birth certificate to collect data, to provide babies and families with more tailored resources and services, or simply because we’ve always done it that way? Is the point to force parents to pick one of two limited categories?
Tell an American that the government is going to put your religion on your passport and that conversation will likely not go well. Yet we all accept having our government-issued gender stamped all over almost every document we own. Maybe it’s time for that to change.