Why This Filmmaker Is Applying for a Non-Binary Birth Certificate

“This isn’t just about pronouns.”

by Allison Tierney
May 16 2017, 6:52pm

Photo courtesy of Ferguson

On Friday, Ontario-born filmmaker Joshua M. Ferguson applied for their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity: non-binary. They're the first to go public in the province with such a request, but for them, a birth certificate that aligns with who they truly are has serious implications for the visibility of non-binary people in Canada and in the world.

"Currently, my birth certificate discriminates against me and my gender identity and my gender expression because I was assigned male at birth. I am not a male, and I am not a female. I am not a man, and I am not a woman," Ferguson told VICE. "Right now, I feel I'm being marginalized by the system—and other non-binary people in Canada are—by the erasure of us as human beings."

VICE reached out to talk to Ferguson, who is known for the short film Limina, which made history when a genderfluid child who performed in it was eligible in both male and female categories at a major film awards program in Canada. Ferguson was born in Ontario but currently resides in BC.

VICE: Why is getting this birth certificate important or significant to you?
Joshua M. Ferguson: Non-binary people don't have legal and social recognition in Canada yet outside of Ontario's X option on driver's licences. This discussion that's been created by my application for a non-binary birth certificate contributed to this larger discussion about the existence of non-binary people and our erasure, our invisibility.

This isn't just about pronouns. I know the media discusses pronouns a lot when it comes to trans rights and trans protection, but there's a serious component to this. There are ramifications when you are an invisible, erased, oppressed person in society. Currently, non-binary people in Canada are almost invisible. We don't really have a voice. We aren't really counted as human beings in our society. This application for a non-binary birth certificate, it is important to me to be accurately and truthfully recognized as who I am—as neither a man nor a woman—on my identity documentation. A first step is to get my non-binary birth certificate in Ontario, then my other form of identification in BC, then eventually my passport.

But this process also highlights the reason why it is important to have this identity documentation because if this identification doesn't exist in a formal way that is recognized by the powers of the state and by society, how will laws protect us that exist… if non-binary people, our identity isn't even recognized in our legal documentation?

Our lives are precarious because we face increased rates of suicidal thinking, unemployment, physical and verbal violence. Legal documentation really is so critical to our lives and who we are.

Why is it important for people who have a profile, such as you, to make moves like this that could affect others who identify as non-binary?
It's difficult to comprehend how many families, how many parents, how many non-binary kids, how many kids in schoolyards, teachers, professors, university classrooms, workplaces across the country and maybe in other parts of the world that are now having these important conversations and saying the word "non-binary" and starting to understand what that means. It's a promising moment for non-binary visibility because I understand that many people may not know someone who is non-binary and may not understand what it means. But the story that is being reported is creating these conversations that are happening at multiple levels in our society right now.

Many people have reached out to me and expressed gratitude for being vocal and visible about this—parents, non-binary youth. This has both contributed to non-binary visibility and discussions about non-binary people, and I think that's a wonderful thing. It's also made non-binary people in Canada feel a little less invisible and a little less erased. That's really important.

It's a promising moment for non-binary visibility. I understand many people may not know someone who is non-binary and may not know what it means. But the story that is being reported is creating these conversations.

How has being visible impacted your life?
I have a personal and professional background that provides me a platform to speak about who I am as a non-binary person… My PhD [at The University of British Columbia] highlighted the erasure of non-binary people and articulated an academic space for our recognition. I grew up in a very small town in Napanee, [Ontario], and I was quite oppressed growing up. Because of that, I was made to feel confused and made to dislike who I was. I don't want anyone else to experience that. I've made a decision to speak openly about my story to try to make things better for other non-binary people—and for anyone who doesn't feel like they're being accepted by their community or classmates or family.

What will you do in the case that Ontario rejects your request?
I can't answer those specifics right now. I would consider my options, but I certainly would not accept the rejection. The federal government has spoken publicly about their plan to ensure all identity documents reflect gender diversity here in Canada. Canada is a leader in human rights around the world. There's no reason this can't happen now. I know the province of Ontario made a statement last week about developing gender-neutral birth certificate options, and I was pleased to see that. But I also believe that it should happen now and not a year from now because the infrastructure exists. This province is a prime position to make this happen… I am hopeful.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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