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Why Being Non-Binary Matters

Non-binary Ruth Carter

I’m speaking to a group of lawyers this week about being non-binary. Since I’m always me, I asked my Facebook friends to tell me what question they have or have had about my non-binary experience or non-binary people in general to help me prepare.

One friend sent me a direct message and respectfully asked, “Why is a non-binary identity important to you? Why does it matter?” She went on to say that my name, gender, or pronouns wouldn’t change our relationship. (My friends know that I welcome all sincere questions. If they’re trying to be respectful and inadvertently say something wrong, I will not be offended.) It’s a valid question, and one that does not surprise me coming from a person I know to a cisgender heterosexual.

Photo by Scotty Myers Photography

Non-Binary People Exist

Being non-binary matters as much as it matters to be any other gender. Unlike men and women, I live in a society that often doesn’t acknowledge that I exist. Whenever I need to use a public bathroom or fill out a form and there are only male/female options, the message I hear is that people like me don’t deserve the same acknowledgment as men and women, that they don’t believe I exist, or that I don’t matter.

When there are only male and female facilities available, if I’m not welcome to use either option, then I’m not comfortable using any of them. Earlier this year, I attended a conference where there were only men’s and women’s bathrooms. I didn’t want the organizers to have to deal with an uncomfortable situation of someone complaining that I was in the men’s room, so we agreed that I’d use the bathroom in my hotel room. (The conference was in the same hotel where I was staying.) This worked fine until the last day, when I’d checked out of my room. I felt like an imposter using the women’s room when I needed it.

I live in a society that doesn’t even have terminology for non-binary people. There is no gender-neutral term for “sir” or “ma’am,” though I’m in favor of adoption “pe’n,” short for “person.” Most people don’t know that the non-binary alternative to Mr./Ms. is Mx. (pronounced “mix”). When my sister got pregnant, I had to pick my own title since there is no gender-neutral term for “aunt” or “uncle.” (This is a common question in the Non-Binary Gender Pride Facebook group, also what do you call a non-binary parent, significant other, spouse, or child.) My sweet nibling has aunts, uncles, guncles (gay uncles – they picked their title too), and an oggy (me). (“Oggy” rhymes with “doggy.”)

I’m Legally Non-Binary – and Still Not Recognized

I have a non-binary birth certificate. (Thank you, California!) I am legally recognized as being neither male nor female, and yet, I can’t get a driver’s license in Arizona that reflects this. The State Department will not issue me a non-binary passport. The State Department won’t even issue one to Dana Zzyym, an intersex person, even though it’s been court-ordered to do so. When I travel, I bring my passport and my birth certificate in case I have to explain why some of my tickets says non-binary and some say male or female – because not all airlines have the non-binary gender option, but I should be able to use it since I’m legally non-binary.

In most places, I can’t even walk down the street on a hot day with my shirt off like my male counterparts without the risk of getting a ticket for indecent exposure, even in California. (Arizona law says “female areolas” must be covered. I don’t think a judge would throw the case out if I went in with my birth certificate that proves I’m not female, and thus, I can’t be in violation of this law.) Thankfully, MeUndies hooked me up with a nude bralette so I can at least give the illusion of toplessness at a distance. I could also wear my nude chest binder, but I tend to overheat in that thing.

Men and women in the U.S. have never had to fight just to say they exist. Women have to fight for equality, but they’ve never had to fight to be recognized as different from men. In regard to legal rights, my friend’s question made me think:

Non-binary people are different than men and women. We often live in societies that only recognize males and females – socially and culturally. When I realized that I was non-binary, something clicked into place. Up until then, I thought I was just a weird girl. I didn’t understand why the other girls and women seemed so different than me. When I realized that I’m non-binary, it made sense why I felt like I was so different than the other girls I grew up with – because I am! And even though we’re different, and live in a binary-centric society, we still deserve the same rights and freedoms as everyone else, and to be acknowledged for who we are.

I guess that’s why being non-binary mattes to me. I want to be seen as who and what I am. 

LGBTQ Bills Introduced in Arizona

I did a quick search on the proposed bill for this session in the Arizona legislature and saw that there are at least five bills that are related to LGBTQ rights. I am hopeful that we’ll see progress this year.

HB2289: Non-binary Driver’s Licenses

This bill is my baby. This bill will allow the MVD to issue non-binary driver’s licenses and identification cards. All you would nee to do to prove your gender is to submit an affidavit that says you are non-binary.

This bill has the same verbiage as last year’s bill that died in committee. I was ecstatic to see that this bill has 16 sponsors, but then I saw that it was similar to the number of sponsors it had last year. They are all Democrats, but I believe some Republicans will be willing to support this bill, if for no other reason, because so many other states offer non-binary birth certificates and driver’s licenses. We’re going to have people who move here who only present non-binary documents. If the State refuses to issue non-binary driver’s licenses to these people, they’re asking for a lawsuit.

HB2156: LGBTQ Equality in Employment

It’s almost shocking that this isn’t a law yet. This bill will prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or marital status.

My first job in Arizona was for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. At orientation, the presenter went on and on about how they wanted everyone to feel comfortable working for the county and we should report any issues. I flipped to the back of the employee handbook to read the County’s non-discrimination policy. My heart sank when I saw that it didn’t include sexual orientation. This bill will prevent others from having the same experience and provide recourse against bigoted employers.

SB1047: Conversion Therapy Ban

If only one of these bills becomes a law, I bet it will be this bill that will make conversion therapy illegal for anyone under 18 years old. Conversion therapy for minors is already banned in 15 states and Washington D.C. Arizona, and every state, should be on this list. This bill also has support from both Democrats and Republicans.

HB2290: Death Certificates

This will require death certificates issued in Arizona to reflect the decedent’s gender identity. The murder rate in the transgender community is alarming, and there are issues with the police and the press mis-gendering victims as well as using the person’s “dead” name. This bill will require the state to acknowledge the person’s correct gender if it has been changed on a legal document. If the deceased has multiple documents with different genders, the gender on the most recently issued one will be used.

Not every transgender person has their gender or name legally changed, so this bill may not help them, but it will help those who have gone through the process. In Arizona, if you are female-to-male or male-to-female transgender, you can legally change your gender on your driver’s license and social security record.

HB2381: Crime Statistics

The Department of Public Safety collects information about whether prejudice played a role in a crime. Currently it collects data about prejudice based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, and disability. This bill will add gender identity and gender expression to this list. Hopefully this will lead to more complete statistics.

It’s encouraging to see Arizona lawmakers being so progressive. This is only the beginning of the legislative process. Each bill will have to get through committee and then receive a simple majority vote in the Arizona House (31 votes) and Senate (16 votes) before it will go to the Governor’s desk for a signature.