Carrying Our Genders In Our Wallets

My non-binary identity cannot be reduced to a single letter on a piece of plastic.

Pax Ahimsa Gethen

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Recently, the California Department of Motor Vehicles sent me a notice that my state ID card was up for renewal. I was eligible to renew online, but if I wanted to upgrade to a Real ID, I had to visit a DMV office in person. I stalled on making the decision. I knew that a Real ID or passport would soon be required for boarding airplanes in the U.S., but I am not a frequent flyer, and am aware of the security and privacy concerns expressed by many about this new form of identification.

Ultimately, I decided to upgrade, and just in time too, as there was a backlog of more than two months for DMV appointments in the San Francisco Bay Area. I began filling out the online application offered to streamline the process. On the “Basics” page, I stopped at a question that most people would answer without thought or hesitation: “What is your sex?”

Screenshot from the California DMV identification card application. The text reads “What is your sex?” with the options of “Female”, “Male”, and “Nonbinary”, and explanatory text about changing gender categories.

Five years ago, I changed my legally-recognized sex from female to male, and changed all of my identification cards accordingly. However, my gender is actually non-binary; I identify as an agender trans male, not a man. The distinction might seem confusing or subtle — or even downright ridiculous to many — but it is important to me. (Note that “sex” and “gender” are used interchangeably in the above DMV screenshot — as well as in many other places — which doesn’t help matters.)

I am glad that California now offers the option to select a category of female, male, or non-binary on driver’s licenses and state IDs, without requiring a court order, doctor’s note, or any further documentation than a self-certification on the appropriate DMV form. However, I have been reluctant to change my own ID again for a number of reasons.

For one thing, changing the marker on my state ID card would put that official document out of sync with how I am categorized by the federal government. I am currently listed as male with the Social Security Administration and on my U.S. passport, and I have no option to change to non-binary for either of these. The United States is behind a number of other countries in this regard; Australia, Canada, and New Zealand all allow non-binary designations on passports, and several…

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Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Queer agender trans male. Black vegan atheist, pacifist. Pronouns: they/them/their. funcrunch.org, patreon.com/funcrunch