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Non-Binary in Arizona

Why does legal acknowledgment of non-binary people matter? Being non-binary in a state that only acknowledges men and women, makes me feel like the government doesn’t acknowledge that I exist.

I’ve known I was different for most of my life. I remember feeling different than my peers as young as 4 years old. At first, I thought I was queer, but in the last few years, I realized I’m non-binary too. Once I understood what I was, so many things made sense. Growing up, I felt like my female peers were so different than me, like they were a different species. Now I know, they basically are.

More than 1/3 of people who are transgender are non-binary. (Transgender is a blanket term for anyone whose gender identity is different than what they were assigned at birth.) I’m lucky in that I was born in California, and this year their new law went into effect that allowed non-binary persons to have their birth certificates corrected and re-issued. I had my birth certificate re-issued in May and now I have discordance between my birth certificate and my Arizona driver’s license.

I went to the MVD to get a new FAA-compliant ID card, as we’re all required to do by January 2020. I brought the documents they required – my birth certificate, my social security card, an Arizona utility bill, and a bank statement that showed my current Arizona address. I told the clerk I wanted my new ID to match the gender on my birth certificate, and she said the system would only process an ID that specified “M” or “F” for gender. (The abbreviation for non-binary is “X.”) The clerk acknowledged that mine was the first non-binary birth certificate she had encountered, but it wouldn’t be the last. This is an issue that is not going away.

Allowing people to have non-binary driver’s licenses isn’t just about semantics. The results of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality showed that nearing 1/3 of transgender people reported being harassed, assaulted, or denied service because the gender on their ID did not match their “gender presentation.”

This causes problems for people who are trans, including interactions with government agencies. “Presenting an identification document that does not accurately reflect one’s sex and is inconsistent with one’s gender identity can trigger invasions of privacy, prejudice, stigma, violence and discrimination and harassment in a wide variety of settings, including in employment, education, public accommodations, health care, housing and interactions with the government, including with law enforcement,” the non-profit organization, Lambda Legal, wrote to the Oregon Department of Transportation.

So far, I only have issues with the TSA because they don’t have a protocol when a non-binary person sets off the scanner. Their policy is to have someone of the same gender pat down the person. I’ve had a range of experiences with various TSA agents ranging from considerate and professional to thoughtless.

The clerk at the MVD was right. This isn’t an issue that isn’t going away. Indeed, there are over 1.3 million transgender people in the U.S., and Arizona is ranked 12th in the country for having the most transgender people (~30,500 adults in Arizona are transgender – 0.62% of adults in the state). In fact, more and more states are issuing birth certificates and/or driver’s licenses with the non-binary designation:

California
Maine
Minnesota
New Jersey
New York
Oregon
Washington
Washington D.C.

Massachusetts is close to passing a similar law, and Vermont is expected to offer non-binary driver’s license by July 2019.

What is Arizona going to do when a person moves here from out-of-state, and they only have non-binary documents from their previous state if they haven’t changed their law for driver’s licenses?

The Arizona House of Representatives considered a bill in 2018 that would have allowed the state to issue non-binary driver’s licenses, but the bill died in committee. The vibe I got from many people when this bill was introduced was that they believed there were only two genders and/or that this was not an issue worthy of lawmaker’s time.

I don’t know what to say to people who believe that everyone is a man/male or a woman/female, except that I’m living proof that that’s not the case. Anyone who states there are only two genders has never dealt with the dysphoria that comes with living in a body that doesn’t reflect my gender and living in a society that wasn’t designed for people like me. I deal with challenges regularly about how to dress, which bathroom to use, and dealing with people who assume I’m a woman.

Arizona needs to update its laws to acknowledge that non-binary people exist. It’s as much about respecting people for who they are as it is about protecting them against violence and institutional discrimination. When I announced on Facebook that I got my new birth certificate, one of my non-binary friends reacted with “HOW? HELP.” They unfortunately were born here, so they’re forced to wait until Arizona lawmakers recognize a third gender option.

I hope I can use my experience to show people in power that (1) non-binary people exist and (2) we deserve the same level of acknowledgment and protection under the law as other citizens.

4 Comments

  1. […] I’m non-binary, which means I’m not a man or a woman. You may not realize how much of everyday life is focused on, or divided by, the idea that there are only two genders. Think of bathrooms, garments, watches, hairstyles, hygiene products and so on. […]

  2. Bob Sample says:

    But, you ARE a woman, according to your very DNA. That you don’t feel like you can identify as female is a matter of psychology, not nature. You can call yourself a bird, even sew wings to your skin, but it doesn’t make you one. You have value, worth, and you matter, no matter what you call yourself. But your quest to embrace and champion confusion, whatever success you feel is achieved, would appear to serve only selfish ends at the expense of society as a whole. The needs of few do not outweigh the needs of the many. Undeniable, indeed.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      When it comes to my DNA, you claim to have more information that even I have. I’ve never had my DNA sequenced. My knowledge is limited to my phenotype, not my genotype. Regardless of what my chromosomes say, my gender is separate experience. A lot of people have trouble understanding that genitals and gender identity are two completely different things.

      Before I understood that non-binary is a gender, I was confused about what I was. As a child, I looked at the girls in my class, and I felt like they were a separate species from me. Now that I know that I’m not one of them, my life makes a lot more sense.

      It’s not selfish to want the same level of acknowledgement as any other gender. I look at it like situations where the government requires you to identify a race for yourself and they didn’t include “Native American” on the list of options. According to the census, Native Americans make up only about 2% of the U.S. population, but I wouldn’t say they are less worthy of acknowledgment just because they are small minority of the population. The same is true for non-binary people.

      Additionally, given that five states and Washington D.C. will issue non-binary identification documents indicate that this isn’t a selfish issue. This is a human issue. And the expense for not acknowledging non-binary people is harassment and violence against us.

      It’s ok if you don’t understand what it means to be non-binary from an individual and cultural perspective. I still have questions. It’s ok to be confused. I found this video from the BBC validating and informative: https://youtu.be/8b4MZjMVgdk. Maybe it will help you too.

      1. Pamela Gold says:

        Beautiful, thoughtful response. What you are doing is the opposite of selfish. You are being brave and paving a path for people who come after you to live better lives. Thank you.

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