Why it’s not enough to add a ‘nonbinary’ option

Robin Dembroff writes in the NYRB:

I grant to progressive lawmakers that it is better to have a third, nonbinary option than to limit constituents to “male” and “female.” It is an achievement to resist a near-universal legal practice of marking (and policing) bodies according to a binary classification of reproductive features. The best solution, though, would be eliminating all gender markers on state-issued identification. Americans should not have to resign themselves to a choice between two legally classified genders based on genitals and three legally classified self-identities.

Read the rest.


3 thoughts on “Why it’s not enough to add a ‘nonbinary’ option

  1. Tentatively (these are by no means final thoughts):

    I agree that it’s about as desirable to put one’s gender on a driver’s license as it is to put one’s genitals on it. Obviously, if the point of a driver’s license is simply to be able to legally drive, it makes no sense to track factors that are not relevant to legal driving. But I’m not sure about not tracking gender (or sex) at all.

    Might the state have an interest in tracking (presumed-reproductive) sex from the perspective of demographics? In certain contexts (esp. certain developing nations), it seems that this is how terrible injustices are tracked, for instance, higher death rates of female children, attributable to food being disproportionally reserved for male children. Another example might be from the perspective of public health policy. If sex-and-or-gender transitioning or non-conforming people have higher rates of suicide, then wouldn’t it be important to know the histories of their sex-gender, to be able to target health care and other resources justly/proportionally?

    It seems that different consequences (including injustices) track different aspects of sex and/or gender… Certain consequences are tied to sexual identity, gender identity, sex role, gender role, gender image/presentation, reproductive gender, reproductive sex, sex anatomy, sex hormones, sex chromosomes, and sex cells (gametes), evolutionary sex, sexual orientation, sexual activities, asexuality, etc. I’m not sure that the way to win justice for those who are discriminated against along one of these axes is to stop tracking any of the other axes. They should be tracked ethically, justly, and responsibly, which at this time, they’re not. But erasing sex or gender in order to disable certain consequences that track them would only serve justice in a world that was already gender/sex-blind, a world where corrective measures were unnecessary. Perhaps it’s a catch-22.

  2. “Legal gender was part of enforcing Title IX: without the law’s ability to track male and female students, it might have been more difficult to ensure that females had equal access to education programs. Title IX is but one example of the ways in which legal gender has been used to secure certain rights for women in the United States.

    But now Title IX faces problems. It was built on assumptions that did not take into account the complexity that intersex, trans, and nonbinary students introduce to education systems.”

    If taking into account intersex, trans and nonbinary students means we can no longer provide sex based protections for people born female (roughly half the population) we face a serious dilemma. However, I like to think a third way is possible, one that allows us to account for gender diverse people at the same time as keeping the political and social protections that are absolutely necessary for people born female. We need to have more information, not less: have three check boxes for sex assigned at birth (male, female or intersex), and also have a section where you write in your gender identity (man, woman, nonbinary, genderqueer, demigender, intergender, none, etc). And as Maja comments above, there will be some contexts in which this is unnecessary information (although I think it is necessary on a driver’s license because a driver’s license is used for identification in many contexts where sex and/or gender is relevant).

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