Beyond the Binary: Question Seven

June 14, 2013 § 6 Comments

Our last question for the week – back again on Monday. Panel bios here.



Question Seven

How long do we reckon it’ll be before non-binary recognition becomes a thing?
 (I know non-binary is a contentious term, but I don’t have a better or more descriptive catch-all term for people who don’t have a static identity that is necessarily male or necessarily female)



Jennie: I think it’s beginning to happen. An increasng number of institutions now offer Mx as a title. Last year I started studying correspondence courses at Harvard and they allowed me (without my even having to make a special request) to register my gender as ‘other’. The Scottish Government specifically invited me to contriute a non-binary perspective to their consultations on equal marriage. I’ll probably be a decade or two before we have meaningful recognition in law, but we’ll see. Just now things are slowed by the fact people think there are hardly any of us, but people coming out as non-binary will precipitate a snowball effect.



GrrlAlex: It’s hard to say when we might get legitimisation for non-binary identities but we are seeing some countries accepting a ‘not defined’ category so maybe it will happen here.  We’d have to question where the political pressure would come from when other pressures and forces make the differentiation useful (consider for example the recent conflict with Facebook who insist on a binary choice since they rely on gender identity as a key tool in differentiating their advertising: here basic commercial pressures overule high minded aesthetic considerations).



Hel: Becomes a thing in what sense? There’s been a movement in favour of it for a decade or two now, and I think (like many social justice movements) we’re in a constant process of becoming, and will be for some time yet. I feel like I’m seeing a growing general awareness about the complexities of gender – quite a few mainstream papers have run articles on genderqueer/non-binary/etc identities in the past few years, and I’m very heartened by the recent decision of Brighton City Council to introduce “Mx” as a title (particularly as I was involved in the consultation process). But in terms of legal recognition here in the UK, I think that (as with LGB acceptance) the legislature will probably lag behind the culture – my feeling is that we’ll get legal recognition of genders other than ‘male’ and ‘female’ only after there’s more widespread cultural recognition. But I’d love to be proven wrong. I know there are people in power who know we exist, because I’ve sat in a focus group with Home Office staff and talked about legal recognition for non-binary genders, but their knowing we exist and their deciding to offer us their support are quite different things.



CN: In terms of societal awareness (or, given the acknowledgment of ‘other’ gendered/sexed people in the past, I’m tempted to say ‘re-awareness’) of options other than ‘man’ or ‘woman’? I think we’re starting to gain solid ground – I’ve seen/heard of more and more universities and employers offering ‘other’ as a box to tick on forms, and a growing acceptance (still small, but growing) of ‘Mx’ as a title. In terms of legal recognition? I’m not sure – I think that for any government to acknowledge, effectively, that the traditional gender/sex binary is insufficient/that an individual’s gender is not their concern is a tremendously radical act, and would require a demonstrable shift in public opinion before they’d feel safe doing it. But, then again, when I started out as a furious teenage activist, collecting letters from politicians (like William Hague) stating that it would be wrong to pretend that homosexual and heterosexual relationships were morally equivalent , I could never, ever have predicted that same-sex marriage would have been made legal in less than 15 years. I live in the hope that we might see some legal recognition within the next fifty years – and it’ll probably be an imperfect fudge at that. But, fingers crossed, just good enough to warrant opening a bottle of something nice before carrying on with the fight.



Nat: Other countries are having more success in this area, see the recent Australian news story. The current government seems opposed to allowing nonbinary recognition, or to ‘degendering’ the law so that gender would not be the business of the state (this would be my preference). The consultation on ‘X’ passports by the UK Passport and Identity Service recently dismissed the possibly (and apparently the existence of nonbinary trans people).

I’d encourage people to talk to their MPs about this if they feel strongly about degendering the law, or individuals being given the right to have no binary gender in law.

§ 6 Responses to Beyond the Binary: Question Seven

  • Eoin says:

    I realise it’s often relevant for producing gender statistics which can highlight inequality, but I hope I live to see the day when gender/sex is just not a standard question on forms any more.

  • […] Beyond the Binary: Question Seven ( […]

  • Dj says:

    I fought long and hard to stay alive and be Mr. I’ll be damned if someone tries to say I should be Mx, or lumps me as X or Mx. A transition is by definition a state of flux. It is now in the past and has been for well over a decade. I identify as a gay male. Period. I live in a very “trans-positive” city and I don’t think that people should get to identify as male yet play on a dyke softball team and go to women only events. I don’t.

    I am part of a gay leathermen’s discussion group, and a transman accused the group of sexism because women are specifically excluded from this group. It’s for gay men. It doesn’t matter what’s between your legs as long as you identify as a gay man.

    What I guess I don’t understand is why you can’t chose. When the majority of people walk down the street and see you, do they see Female or Male? It doesn’t matter what a form says. How are you perceived amongst strangers? Gender X might be useful for statisticians, but really?

    Each one of us is unique, but by pressing this forward, it reeks of terminal uniqueness, and frankly we’re all just human.

    • cnlester says:

      No one here is arguing that anyone should be called ‘Mx’ or tick the ‘other’ gender box against their will – one cannot, by definition, fight for equality by trampling on the rights of others.

      As to ‘choosing’ – people who bend or shift or exist outside of ‘male and ‘female’ have existed throughout recorded human history – we choose to acknowledge who we are and live honestly.

  • […] How long do you think until we get official recognition? […]

  • orlando987 says:

    I think just the fact that the idea is being more frequently and openly discussed, as on your site, is a great start. I remember maybe 20 years ago or so hearing some gender expert on TV saying gender is a big spectrum and you can be anywhere on it from a butch man to very girly woman, and I found that very liberating but wished I lived in a society that saw things that way. I am starting to try to be more openly androgynous now, but it’s taken me a long time. I wish it had never been an issue, it’s taken up a lot of time and effort questioning it and worrying about it.

    By the way, I am British but now live in France and things are even more complicated here. Not only is the law not so fair for transpeople generally (eg. the transition process for transsexuals is a major struggle) but even the idea of “gender” (le genre) is quite new and poorly understood. Then the language is complicated – every adjective and past participle is binary gendered and also there is no simple alternative pronoun like “singular they”.

    There is some hope though; at least the Ts are included in LGBT associations and pride marches etc now, like in the UK, and there is starting to be some more visibility for a few T groups. And in my local one in my city they are happy for me to identify as non-binary. When I talk to French LGBT friends I gender my adjectives etc in one way or the other as I feel like it, which also kind of works as I’m somewhat genderfluid anyway, but it’s not perfect. The government has also promised a law to improve things for trans people generally – simpler gender changes, making gender identity a heading for discrimination matters etc. It’s not been tabled yet, so we’ll see…

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