It's Time to Take Gender Markers Off of Government IDs

Michigan has made it easier for trans people to correct their documents. That's great! What would be easiest of all is not having to do anything in the first place.
November 19, 2019, 9:37pm
trans, transgender, nonbinary, documents, id, identity, driver's license, nonbinary, lgbtq, x, m, f, gender marker, michigan,
Photo by Tetra Images/Getty Images

As reported on Monday, Michigan has made it easier for trans people to change the gender marker on state-issued documents. Previously, if a Michigander wanted to switch the M to an F (or vice versa) on their driver’s license or state ID, they’d need a court order or a birth certificate or passport bearing the correct gender, additional bureaucratic hurdles that require considerable time and energy. Now, they'll fill out a form, go to a Secretary of State branch to have their photo taken, and pay a small fee ($9 for driver’s licenses, $10 for all other state IDs). Still, I can’t help but ask, as I do whenever a state changes its rules around gender markers: Why not just get rid of the gender markers entirely?

I’m a trans woman changing all her legal documents, so I understand why gender markers are very important within the existing system. According to a National Center for Trans Equality survey, only 11 percent of trans people have the correct the name and gender marker on their personal identification forms. A mismatch between your paperwork and presentation carries risks: Nearly a third of the NCTE survey’s respondents experienced harassment and violence, or had been denied service, after showing an ID that did not match their presentation. More accurate gender markers, as things stand, are a good thing.

But why push for a good thing when we could have a great thing: removing gender from identity documents entirely? Trans people in Michigan and the 11 other states where correcting your gender is relatively easy still go through taxing, complicated bureaucratic processes. In New York, which is relatively hospitable to trans people updating their documents, it has taken me nine months—and I still have three major documents left to correct.

Removing the gender marker would also be helpful for non-binary people, who can currently change their marker to X in 14 states. Some have voiced concerns about the nonbinary marker, since it outs a person to everyone who sees their ID. "We give our ID to so many people that have so much power over our lives," Mari Wrobi, a 22-year-old trans and intersex person, told USA Today. "They have the power to decide if we can get a loan, or [...] continue to drive, and so many other things.”

The solution? Remove gender markers from legal documents! This is only a problem that trans people deal with—why not give us a taste of that sweet, sweet, cisgender peace of mind, and throw those M’s, F’s, and X’s in the garbage for us?

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