Beyond the Binary: Question Seven
June 14, 2013 § 6 Comments
Our last question for the week – back again on Monday. Panel bios here.
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.