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non-binary rights

When Your Kid Says They’re Non-Binary

A few weeks ago, I received a message from one of my classmates from high school that said her child recently came out to her and her husband as non-binary and said their pronouns are they/them. My friend asked how she can educate herself and what guidance I could offer for dealing with relatives who may be less accepting.

When I responded, I started with, “Oh geez – your life just got a lot more complicated, but in a good way.” I gave her my number and asked her to let her kid know that they have an Oggy Ruth that they can talk to if they need a non-binary grown-up to talk to who “gets it” in ways they’re afraid that others can’t understand. (Oggy is the title I chose since there isn’t a gender-neutral term for aunt/uncle. It rhymes with “doggy.”)

This button is on my backpack.

There’s No One Way to be Non-Binary

If your child was assigned male a birth (AMAB) and they’re actually female or assigned female at birth (AFAB) and they’re actually male, the expected trajectory is more clear and can include a new name, new hairstyle, different clothes, hormones, and gender affirming surgery. If your child is non-binary, it’s best to follow their lead. Invite them to tell you what they need, whether it’s a new name, new hairstyle, or different clothes. They may want some specialty items like a chest binder, stand to pee (STP), or a packer. Ask your child about their thoughts about hormones or hormone blockers. (Hormone blockers didn’t exist when I was a kid, but if I knew I was non-binary back then, I would have wanted them.) They may also want counseling. It’s not easy to navigate a binary-centric world as a non-binary person.

Ask your child what they need from the institutions in their life. They might need gender neutral bathrooms at school. Some schools won’t address a child by their new name unless you legally change it. Your child may want to have their birth certificate and/or driver’s license corrected. Hopefully, you live in a state where you have that option.

In regards to resources, I recommended Free Mom Hugs’ resource page. I love this organization, and this page has a wide variety of resources listed. I love seeing people in the audience at the Pride parade who wear t-shirts that say “Free Mom Hugs” and “Free Dad Hugs.” I always try to stop and hug them.

Dealing with Less Than Accepting Relatives

As the parent, you are your child’s advocate. Ask your kid how they want to tell the relatives, and as long as it isn’t inappropriate, support it.

You may have to have a heart-to-heart with a relative if they are struggling to accept that your child is non-binary. They may have known your kid by a different name and pronouns for over 10 years, and adjusting to the new name and pronouns will be hard. Tell them it’s ok if they make mistakes, as long as they’re trying, and they correct themselves when it happens. Give them a chance to practice by talking about your non-binary child with them. (I have a co-worker who is working on using my correct pronouns. I’m tempted to tell him to talk about me with his family to practice.)

Note: I have a friend who has had a non-binary kid for years. She still occasionally refers to them by the wrong name or pronoun. It’s ok if you or your family doesn’t adapt overnight.

Your relative may have trouble wrapping their head around the idea that a person may not be male or female. That’s ok too. As long as they respect and accept that your child is telling the truth about who they are, I suspect your relative will be fine in the long run. Here’s my favorite video to share with people who are new to learning about what it means to be non-binary. (It’s also quite validating for me.)

Whether your child is a different gender or sexuality than what you originally expected (or both), assume there are going to be inappropriate questions. I tell people that it’s fine to ask me all their potentially inappropriate questions as long as their coming from a place of respect and curiosity. There may be times when it’s best to respond with, “I understand that you’re curious, but that’s a very personal question. My kid will talk about that if and when they decide they want to bring that topic up with you.”

Don’t be Afraid to Go into Mama/Papa Bear Mode

If you have a non-binary kid, there may be times when you need to go into full-on mama bear or papa bear mode on their behalf. It may be with your child’s school, doctor, a relative, or even the government. Going to bat for your kid validates their experience, even if you don’t get the outcome you want.

When your child tells you about a frustrating experience as a non-binary person in a binary-centric society, acknowledge it, even when you don’t understand why something is a big deal to them. Their feelings are valid, whatever they are. Hold space for your child so they have at least one place where it’s safe for them to be themselves and explore what their gender means to them.

My Bill Died

This legislative session, 1289 bills were introduced in Arizona. Every bill that didn’t receive a First Read by last Friday (February 22, 2019) is dead. If a bill doesn’t get a First Read, it doesn’t get assigned to a committee. If it doesn’t get assigned to a committee, it never gets voted on. I could not find a comprehensive list of all the bills that died (or that are still pending for that matter), but among the dead bills is my bill.

HB2289 would have given Arizona the ability to issue non-binary driver’s licenses. This law would have provided the legal recognition that non-binary people deserve to be treated the same as men and women. It would have helped alleviate the problems that arise when someone’s appearance is discordant to the gender they were assigned as birth.

The currently law only allows for male and female designations on IDs. There are no other options. Even if you present a non-binary birth certificate or a non-binary driver’s license from another state, they can’t issue you a non-binary driver’s license. Even if the MVD wanted to, it can’t issue a driver’s license with “X” for non-binary. (I know. I’ve tried. Ditto for leaving the field for sex blank. The computer won’t process the application without “M” or “F.”)  

During this legislative session, I called or emailed Speaker Bowers’ office almost every day. My friends called and emailed him too.  I never received a response, even when I specifically requested a call back. Each time I asked him to give the bill a First Read and assign it to a committee. My requests fell on deaf ears.

I never asked Speaker Bowers to support the bill. All I asked was that he allow it to be heard.

Issuing non-binary driver’s licenses is not a new idea. Currently, Washington D.C. and 6 states issue non-binary driver’s licenses: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, and Oregon. (Looking at the pending bills and previously passed laws in other states, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont are the most likely states to be next to grant non-binary driver’s licenses.)

Wait. Back up.

Arkansas! One of the states in the “bible belt” is more progressive and accepting of non-binary people than my state!

Granting non-binary people driver’s licenses that match their gender won’t change most people’s lives, and it shouldn’t be that expensive. It’s a matter of updating a form and some computer software. By not even letting the bill be heard, the State is telling non-binary people that we don’t exist, that we don’t matter, that we don’t deserve the same rights and acknowledgement as everyone else. The State of Arizona is saying we’re second class citizens at best.

This hurt. Having my bill die without being given a chance was a slap in the face and a kick in the gut. It made me want to figuratively crawl into a corner and cry.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/taedc/34757503063
Image by Ted Eytan from Werk For Your Health (Creative Commons License)

At the same time, I want to scream at anyone who says we don’t exist. I will shop in the men’s and women’s sections if I feel like it. I will cringe every time I hear someone refer to me as “ma’am” or “miss.” I want to take my non-binary birth certificate (thanks California!) and whip it out anytime someone claims we should be forced to use the bathroom based on what gender we were assigned at birth.

We know we exist. I’m not asking for your validation. I just want the same rights as everyone else.

If you’re curious about the status of a bill, you can look it up on the State’s website. A lot of good bills died last week.

Arizona Candidates Support Non-Binary Rights

Earlier this year, I had my California birth certificate corrected to state that I’m non-binary (meaning I’m not a man or a woman). When I went to my local Arizona Motor Vehicle Department to get my FAA-compliant ID that we’re all required to get by 2020, they denied my application even though I brought all the requisite documents. By law, the Arizona Department of Transportation only acknowledge two genders: male and female. The system cannot process an application with “X” for the sex or gender.

Contacting the Candidates

Arizona needs to update its laws to acknowledge that non-binary people exist. As of this date, seven states and Washington D.C. will issue non-binary birth certificates and/or driver’s licenses. I may have been the first person to present a non-binary ID, but I will not be the last.

I contacted all 176 candidates running to represent Arizona in the U.S. Congress and to serve in the Arizona Senate and House of Representatives (via email, their website, or Facebook), told them about this situation, and asked them two questions:

  1. If elected, would you support a bill that would require the State (or federal government) to have a non-binary option on all identifications that specify sex or gender?
  2. If yes, would you be willing to sponsor such a bill?

Followed up with each candidate up to three times over the last three weeks or until I received a response.

The Results

I received “yes” answers to question #1 from 36 candidates (20% of candidates contacted), and only 50 of the 176 candidates I contacted gave me any type of response. I was delighted by the number of candidates who said they support changing the laws to acknowledge non-binary persons. Here’s the list of everyone who would support a bill to add a non-binary option to government IDs:

U.S. House of Representatives
District 3: Raul Grijalva (Democrat, Incumbent)

Arizona Senate
District 2: Andrea Dalessandro (Democrat, Incumbent)
District 5: J’aime Morgaine (Democrat)
District 7: JL Mealer (Republican)
District 9: Victoria Steele (Democrat)
District 10: David Bradley (Democrat, Incumbent)
District 11: Ralph Atchue (Democrat)
District 13: Michelle Harris (Democrat)
District 15: Kristin Dybvig-Pawelko (Democrat)
District 16: Benjamin Carmitchel (Democrat)
District 20: Douglas Ervin (Democrat)
District 27: Rebecca Rios (Democrat, Incumbent)
District 29: Martin Quezada (Democrat, Incumbent)

Arizona House of Representatives
District 1: Ed Gogek (Democrat) and Jan Manolis (Democrat)
District 3: Andres Cano (Democrat) and Beryl Baker (Green)
District 4: Sara Mae Williams (Green)
District 5: Mary Robinson (Democrat)
District 8: Carmen Casillas (Democrat) and Linda Gross (Democrat)
District 10: Kirsten Engel (Democrat, Incumbent)
District 11: Hollace Lyon (Democrat)
District 13: Thomas Tzitzura (Democrat)
District 15: Julie Gunnigle (Democrat) and Jennifer Samuels (Democrat)
District 18: Denise “Mitzi” Epstein (Democrat, Incumbent) and Jennifer Jermaine (Democrat)
District 19: Lorenzo Sierra (Democrat)
District 21: Gilbert Romero (Democrat)
District 22: Valerie Harris (Democrat)
District 23: Eric Kurland (Democrat)
District 24: Jennifer Longdon (Democrat)
District 28: Kelli Butler (Democrat, Incumbent) and Aaron Lieberman (Democrat)
District 29: Richard Andrade (Democrat, Incumbent)

In addition to these 35 supporters, a number of candidates responded to my emails by saying they would support such a bill, but because of the circumstances related to their race, they could not publicly support such a bill at this time. I respect people in this situation, and I will follow up with them after the election if they win.

Commitment to Sponsor a Bill

“Arizona Flag” by Gage Skidmore from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Of the 35 candidates who would support this bill, 31 of them said they would sponsor such a bill.

The main reasons given by those who would not commit to sponsoring a bill were either because they commitments related to other issues to pursue or because they would be a freshman official and they did not know enough about the process to sponsor a bill yet.

Other Responses

Here are some additional responses I received to my inquiries from candidates who said “yes” and “no” to supporting a bill for non-binary rights:

Kelli Butler: “Thank you for spearheading this effort! I was a co-sponsor of HB2492 last session and hope to win my election so I can co-sponsor the bill again. This is an important step for equality and respect for all and I was extremely disappointed that the bill never received a hearing.” (Democrat, District 28)

Hollace Lyon: “My first, ‘gut’ reaction to your story was, ‘Just because one doesn’t declare a sex, doesn’t mean they aren’t a person!’” (Democrat, District 11)

Julie Gunnigle: “I am very concerned about what this means for non-binary citizens and their fundamental right to travel (not to mention the bigger picture of equal treatment by their government).” (Democrat, District 15)

John Fillmore: “I do not think I can support this.” (Republican, District 16)

The responses from these candidates give me hope for the next legislative session in Arizona, that we’ll be able to pass a bill that will acknowledge that non-binary persons exist, similar to the bill that died in committee last year.

Support HB2492: Tell Arizona to Allow Nonbinary Driver’s Licenses

At Phoestivus last year, I asked my friend and Arizona Representative Ken Clark to introduce a bill that would allow people in Arizona the option to select “nonbinary” as their gender on their driver’s licenses. A few weeks later, HB2492 was born.

Rainbow by Benson Kua from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Currently, all persons must identify as “male” or “female.” You have to pick one, and you can’t leave this field blank. I had to go to the Motor Vehicles Department (MVD) last year to update my photo. I asked if I could have “X” (abbreviation for nonbinary) on my driver’s license instead of “M” or “F” for my gender, and the clerk said the system didn’t allow her to do this. I asked if I could leave this field blank, and she said the system wouldn’t process my new license unless it had a selection for the person’s sex.

When I contacted the Arizona Department of Transportation about adding the option for nonbinary to the driver’s license application, they said they couldn’t do this unless the law changed. Hence, I had to go to Ken for help.

A new law went into effect in California this year, where you can have the state re-issue your birth certificate to indicate that you are nonbinary. I was born there, so I’m going through the process to get a nonbinary birth certificate. And I want my driver’s license to match.

Photo by Jay Chatzkel Photography
Used with permission

HB2492 was assigned to the Transportation Committee, chaired by Representative Noel W. Campbell. So far, this bill has not been added to the committee’s agenda. If the bill isn’t heard by the committee, it will die and never reach a vote by the Arizona House. If this bill dies in committee, we’ll have to wait until next session to introduce it again.

If you want the Transportation Committee to hear HB 2492, please contact Representative Campbell:

And please, spread the word!

If Arizona doesn’t change its law and allows people to be legally recognized as nonbinary, the State is essentially telling me that I and people like me don’t exist. My fingers are crossed that the Transportation Committee will at least hear HB2492.

Please help me, and other nonbinary people, make this happen. Contact Representative Campbell and tell him to add HB2492 to the Transportation Committee’s agenda.