X Marks the Spot!
The soon-to-be parents have been very careful throughout the pregnancy to not be told, intentionally or accidentally, the gender of their next child. There were a few close calls when sonograms were done, and miscellaneous staff almost spilled the beans. Mom and Dad are now in the delivery room, the cervix is dilated and the head crowns. Medical staff surrounds the delivery table, the camera is carefully placed to be non-intrusive yet thorough, and the doctor delivers the newborn. The doctor announces, “It’s an X!!”
While this may be a silly thought for those of us accustomed to declaring “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl,” we may not be far from considering “X” as the third option in gender identity. Jamie Shupe is largely responsible for this new option. In June, 2016, Jamie won a lawsuit in Oregon that allowed Jamie to change the legal sex designation from female to non-binary. Effective July 3, 2017, drivers’ licenses in Oregon may now have an X marking the spot. This allows those who so choose to declare their sex as “not specified” on their license.
News reports about this action consistently state that “Oregon is the first state in the U.S. to legally recognize non-binary, intersex and agender persons on ID cards.” Inherent in the language of this report is that Oregon will not be the LAST state to take such action. In fact, legislation is already being introduced in California for the same purpose. (At this point, you may sigh, and wistfully say, “Oh, to live on the West Coast!”—well, maybe not.) As Oregonians debated the pros and cons of this change, some declared that the X would make them “feel safer, and more likely to be accepted for who and what I really am.” Others simply asked, “Why not?” While this action did not go down in the books without a fight from the usual suspects, it is a fait accompli. Good for Jamie Shupe, good for Oregon, and good for the rest of the country, as others begin to bring sense and reality to their daily living.
As in many other trends and legislative causes in the USA, we lag far behind other countries around the globe. Various cultures reflect an inclusion of a third gender. Australia has had the option for X on birth certificates since 2003. Passports, however, could not make use of the X until 2011, unless one presented a birth certificate with a matching X. Since 2011, however, one only needed to declare the X in order to have a passport match this choice.
Since June, 2016, residents of Ontario have been able to use the X to designate the non-binary gender option. Then, in April, 2017, a baby born in British Columbia became the first in the world known to be issued a health card with a gender-neutral “U” sex marker. The parent, Kori Doty, who is non-binary transgender, wanted to give her child the opportunity to discover its own gender identity. She was refused such, filed suit and in July, 2017, the Northwest Territories began allowing ‘X’ as a non-binary option on birth certificates.
Germany has been the first European country to recognize “indeterminate” sex on birth certificates, since November, 2013. However, there is a twist to this development. While the option of an X is not provided, one may forego use of the M or F and leave it blank. This is still under review by the German Federal Court of Justice.
Of all the places around the world where there is broad cultural accommodation to third gender identity, India surpasses that of all other countries. The Hijra in India number between five and six million. Some are known to be eunuchs, some intersex, and others transgender. The desire of the Hijra is not necessarily to have sex-change operations. Asked about this, one woman replied, “You really do not understand. I am the third sex, not a man trying to be a woman. It is your society’s problem that you only recognize two sexes.” In place of an X, Indian governmental forms make use of “E,” for eunuch. In April, 2014, the Supreme Court of India declared transgender to be the third gender under Indian law.
As India has its Hijra, so Thailand has its kathoeys, also known as “ladyboys.” These are persons whose assigned sex was male, yet identify and live as female. They are born genetically as male, but kathoeys claim to possess a female heart which is the gender they truly are. They may, in fact, be eunuchs, intersex, or transgender. Thai society has one of the world’s most tolerent attitudes toward kathoeys, or the third gender.
One other culture known for its recognition and acceptance of the third gender is the American Indian culture. “Two Spirit” is the umbrella term for indigenous American Indians to describe those who are gender-variant. What is different in this culture is that “Two Spirit” does not describe who one sleeps with, or how one personally identifies. Rather, it is a sacred, spiritual, and ceremonial role that is recognized and confirmed by the Elders of the community.
Since February, 2014, our most-used, most-loved—and sometimes most-hated—social medium has offered no fewer than fifty-one gender options. Since its inception, Facebook allowed its users to only identify themselves in binary terms. All that has changed, although many of us have kept our original gender markers of male and female.
Debby Herbenick and Aleta Baldwin wrote in Daily Beast on February 15, 2014, “Gender terms are dynamic and some terms are more often used or preferred in some communities...Some terms are also generational, being more common among younger or older people. Facebook’s list of gender terms cannot cover every possible identity a person can have. Gender identity can be a sensitive issue and it’s best to let other people tell you about their gender rather than make assumptions. Facebook’s new gender options give people a chance to do just that.” Herbenick and Baldwin draw the distinction between gender terminology and that which describes sex or sexual orientation. Gender identity is completely different. X marks the spot. It’s something to celebrate!