The UK parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee in its recent report has also made the sensible observation that the state, in this age of supposed equality, has no need to record gender on any official document and that statistical monitoring of equality issues can be handled separately and anonymously. This is undoubtedly a desirable thing. Discrimination within law on the basis of gender cannot occur if gender is never mentioned and only laws seeking to protect equality need reference to it.

However, a surprising amount of media attention was brought to the issue of gender-free passports, and consequently many cis people gained the impression that trans people want to strip them of their official gender identity, driving another mini-backlash. In fact, the consensus I found amongst even non-binary trans people is that all passport holders should be given a free choice of gender marker. I imagine this will be along the lines of M – Male, F – Female, X or N – Non-binary and, finally, a blank marker to indicate agender or a preference for a gender free document.

The problem with enforcing removal of all gender markers is that it then throws gender identification back on to the appearance of the person.  This is fine for trans people who conform to cisnormative standards, and for cis people of course, but not for those trans people who don’t meet society’s exacting expectations in looks or airport-scanned genitals.  When British comedian Avery Edison was denied entry to Canada, she faced jail in a men’s prison but was eventually transferred to a women’s facility, thanks in part to a passport that identified her clearly as female.

Trans people choosing between options should give consideration to the countries they intend to visit and the general levels of acceptance there. If a society is ignorant of non-binary identities, think about stating a ‘gender of last resort’, purely for safety.  Without the support of a passport clearly stating their gender, it seems all too possible that trans people might be detained in the least appropriate facility of some far flung destination.

It should not be a surprise that trans people are fighting to be listened to within a cisgender society. Most cis people will not have even begun to consider the implications of that M/F marker, so trans people must be included in all discussions around gender representation.  We are not fighting over academic points, we are fighting for recognition and understanding.

by Lisa Severn (@lisasevern)

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