VANCOUVER – A parent’s request to exclude their child’s sex on government-issued identification is pushing past the boundaries of gender stereotyping, experts say.
Kori Doty, a B.C. parent who identifies as transgender and prefers the pronoun they, refused to provide the sex of their child Searyl to the government when they were born in November.
Doty said it was a victory when Searyl’s provincial health card arrived in the mail in April displaying a “U” instead of an “M” or “F” to designate the child’s sex.
Vancouver-based lawyer barbara findlay, who advocates for gender-free identification, said race is no longer recorded on birth certificates or other identification because it’s personal information and gender should be treated the same way.
“One’s sex, one’s gender identity is as personal a piece of information as how you identify your race and it shouldn’t be on ID documents,” said findlay, whose legal name is not capitalized.
Historically, the government used information about gender to distinguish who — specifically men — could own property or vote, findlay said. Since those barriers no longer exist, she said it’s unnecessary to continue displaying gender on ID documents.
Aaron Devor, chair in transgender studies at the University of Victoria, said an infant’s gender identity may not develop as expected. Assigning gender may also force intersex babies into a category in which they don’t belong.
There shouldn’t be a need to identify someone by gender on their ID at all because discrimination is prohibited, he said.
People also shouldn’t be “labelled and pigeonholed” to a particular stereotypical set of gender expectations, Devor said.
Stereotyping is especially damaging to people who are transgender and whose identity cards don’t match the gender in which they present.
“They’re subject to any number of unpleasant circumstance, which could range simply from being looked at funny to being denied service that they require to being abused verbally or even physically,” he said.
It’s because of those restrictive stereotypes that Doty didn’t want to prescribe a gender to Searyl. Instead, Searyl can determine their own gender identity when the time comes and not be limited by societal expectations of how boys and girls should be, Doty said.
“I’m not imposing a non-binary gender identity on my kid, I’m just holding the space for them to figure out who they are without the application of a rigid assumption,” Doty said.
Jen Marchbank, a professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at Simon Fraser University, said studies have shown that infants are treated differently when labelled a boy or girl with babies dressed in blue getting played with more than those dressed in pink.
Raising a child without an assigned gender could help avoid people imposing their biases, Marchbank said, adding it would be impossible to avoid stereotypes entirely.
“Even if it’s not being imposed on them, they will witness my friend Patsy, who is a girl, is treated this way and my friend Bobby, who is a boy, is treated that way,” Marchbank said.
Efforts to do away with the male-female binary would benefit everyone, but simply offering a third option isn’t the solution. Marchbank said she knows many people who feel their gender is fluid, rather than permanently fixed as male or female, and a third option wouldn’t necessarily represent them.
A third option displayed on government ID would unnecessarily “out” someone as being either transgender or intersex, putting them at risk of discrimination, said Marchbank, who works with transgender youth in Vancouver.
In Ontario, gender was removed from health cards in June 2016 while driver’s licences have “X” as an option.
It’s a move Doty and other advocates for gender-free ID want to see implemented for all government documents.