Washington State is considering an alteration to state law that would allow a third sex marker to be indicated on birth certificates. That means, in addition to the traditional ‘’M” and “F” indicators for male and female, Washington may soon allow your little baby to have their sex legally nullified with a wild capital “X.” And it’s not just for kids; this latest erosion of the gender binary would be extended to all Washington State residents who wish not to be identified as biologically male or female.
Sorry to ruin your carefully planned baby shower, pregnant people, but the child growing inside you isn’t a boy or a girl—at least not yet. The invention of third-sex gender markers is a far better idea than the invention of male and female gender markers—but most things are, since those were a terrible idea. (Clearly, I am not fun. If I were, I would be pregnant, crying tears of joy with a belly covered in jelly. Instead, I am a sterile journalist who plans to beget nothing but opinions.)
A few years ago, I attended one of the largest gatherings of transgender people in the world: the Southern Comfort Conference, held in Fort Lauderdale, which draws trans people from across the United States and beyond who contend with and have overcome social barriers to altering one’s sex. But as I left the hotel on the final day of the conference, I was met with a poignant reminder of where our ideas of gender begin. The hotel had shifted to its next event, an elaborate baby shower; blue streamers choked support beams beside a banner insisting, “It’s a boy!”
The irony hit me like a box of legally amended birth certificates. I had just witnessed the rare gathering of a marginalized community celebrating their independence from the gender binary, and here was a stupidly cliché reminder of just how deeply the concept of sex is rooted in the rearing of all Americans.
Washington State’s potential movement beyond that customary indoctrination is part of a growing trend in adapting legislation to reflect a change in perception of gender in the United States. Third sex gender markers have already been adopted by California, where one can be identified as “nonbinary” on their legal identification, and Oregon, which led the way when they adopted the marker “X.” This futuristic amendment to state law is obviously controversial. Americans are freakishly attached to the idea that boys and girls are identifiable by their genitalia, and that biological sex is fixed to two opposing physical realities.
Throughout history, but more visibly in the last several years, trans people have easily demonstrated that genitalia does not indicate gender. But there are even more radical deconstructions of gender and sex out there. Gender theorist Anne Fausto-Sterling’s 2000 book Sexing The Body explores the idea of sexual diversity beyond a binary, largely by analyzing the historical treatment and existence of intersex children. In the 1990’s, Fausto-Sterling famously proposed doing away with the gender binary and replacing it with a gender quintary, in which five sexes are recognized instead of two.
Seventeen years ago, in Sexing The Body, Fausto-Sterling wrote, “We are moving from an era of sexual dimorphism to one of variety beyond the number two. We inhabit a moment in history when we have the theoretical understanding and practical power to ask a question unheard of before in our culture: ‘Should there be only two sexes?’”
The invention of third-sex gender markers is a far better idea than the invention of male and female gender markers—but most things are, since those were a terrible idea.
The fact that we are seeing representations of nonbinary sex within legislative reform today may signal that Fausto-Sterling was right in 2000—we have been “moving from an era of sexual dimorphism.” This isn't only occurring in Washington, California, and Oregon in the form of third sex gender markers; it's part of the broader movement to redefine social ideas about sex and the body in regards to transgender citizens.
ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio is a leader in the legislative fight for transgender rights, notably representing trans teen Gavin Grimm in his fight to use the boys’ facilities at his high school. Like Fausto-Sterling, Strangio has argued against the idea that biological sex exists as an objective binary. “At birth, we classify infants as male or female based solely on the appearance of their external genitalia,” Strangio wrote in an op-ed for Slate, citing a report by transgender law professor Dean Spade, which outlines how gendered classification at birth “serves population control and surveillance and not medical purposes.”
“The medical experts I have spoken with could not identify a single medical purpose for assigning sex at birth,” Strangio continues, going on to list the myriad qualities that, together, make up what we understand to be “sex.” They include: “chromosomes, genes, hormones, internal genitalia, gender identity, and secondary sex characteristics.” Which is just to say that, at the very least, sex is not just one thing—whether that's chromosomes or your genitalia.
If you’re trans, it obviously sucks to have your parents, school, friends, employer, state, and strangers ignore your existence and try to force you to role-play as another gender for your whole life. But I think state sponsored binary gender identification sucks for cisgender people, too.
Women are clearly oppressed on the basis of their sex—pay disparity, lack of access to reproductive healthcare, and childcare responsibilities being but a few examples. All of that is, in part, supported by the idea that men and women exist on opposite sides of a gender coin, rather than just being people with somewhat different bodies. And this hurts men too, who are frequently socialized to be aggressive, entitled nut-jobs who aren’t allowed to mine the depths of their emotional life.
It’s evident that creating equal rights for trans people—like making it legal for us to exist in public spaces such as bathrooms—will help to create a more inclusive world for people of all genders. But altering the concept of gender at birth will produce a change in the fundamentals of gender in American society.
And seeing as we’re not a race of immortals (sad), such a change will alter our socialization generationally. Curmudgeons in Washington state might not understand or be happy about the agenda of the Transsexual Empire to eradicate the categories male and female, but they will die one day, and the people who replace them will have been born into a world where they are not obligated to figure out how to fit into a binary.