Fighting for legal and social recognition outside the societal gender system
An important announcement and a call to respond.
The threat of a compulsory ID card scheme for all UK residents is dead and buried along with the previous administration. The implication of this truly scary scheme for human beings unable to identify within the gendered societal structure was very stark. Aside from an inherent risk of prosecution for non compliance if attempting to avoid the scheme, the message was that the core identity of each individual had been determined to be either male or female and if the individual was to declare otherwise, then that person has no legitimate right of existence.
But all the other factors and consequences of our existence as part of a socially invisible non-gendered minority within a gendered societal structure remain. The non-gendered are part of a dominant gendered society that serves to diminish our identity and our fundamental right of self-definition and instead forces inappropriate gendered categorisation upon us.
The Identity and Passport Service
Now it is time for every non-gendered United Kingdom passport holder to act.
We have been forced to accept inappropriate gendered categorisation for the purpose of retaining a passport.
The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) are aware that we exist and we are an inconvenience in a society where categorisation and classification of the individual into the gendered societal structure has endemically and routinely encroached upon every aspect of the way society operates. We are an inconvenience to every public authority and every company that keep records on a computer system when these systems have been programmed to categorise and separate in accordance to the gendered role of the individual.
The IPS is the Home Office agency responsible for UK passport administration and, along with many other state institutions, the IPS as a system of the authorities does not function in a way that will allow the non-gendered a legitimate identity.
And they need to be made aware this issue will not go away and they should have no doubt about the strength of our conviction and how we feel.
As a young adult completing my first passport application form, I remember feeling a sense of anguish and real outrage that I was required to state a gendered role in order to obtain a passport, even though this was some time before I was able to embrace my non-gendered identity. Even though I was not aware that any human identity outside the gendered societal structure was possible and indeed very real, it nonetheless felt completely wrong for me to tick a box and declare myself to be something or more rather someone belonging of the gendered role that society had bestowed on me but a role with which I could not identify.
I returned the application form along with my corresponding gender categorised birth certificate and got my passport. The black and white photograph reflected an image not defined by gender and the photograph represented a true and honest portrait of the person inside and the person I was to become, but the gendered reference now held on record was a contradiction that I deeply resented.
Every decade I repeat the charade of ticking a box that corresponds with what the UK passport authorities have on record, even though I am vocal about my need for full legal recognition and social acceptance as a person of non-gendered identity.
And the charade has gone on for long enough.
I could take a principled stand and surrender my passport but that is not an acceptable option. I am not going to deny myself the freedom to travel (and I try to leave this miserable country whenever I get the opportunity). Why should I not be able to enjoy the privilege of travel, a privilege that is customarily afforded to all free human beings?
I have made two previous approaches to the IPS (in their former capacity as the United Kingdom Passport Service) and presented the case for a third non gender-specific option under the sex/gender field on the UK passport application form.
The first approach was in 1995. It was a rather timid approach and I did not get very far. From a perspective that failure was inevitable, I felt I had to try. With my old passport about to expire and a renewal application form in front of me, I contacted UKPS HQ by telephone. Although I eventually got to speak to someone with a grandiose job title who made some vaguely sympathetic noises, I was in all probability speaking to a senior level customer service person and I was offered nothing. The passport, I was told, HAD to indicate whether the holder is male or female for security reasons.
A typical conveyer belt response and it was inevitable that ‘security’ would come into the conversation. But at that moment in time I expected nothing more. The gendered majority were not treating the issue of identity outside the gendered societal structure as a serious issue.
A second approach to UKPS was made in 2005 and it was a formal letter to the head of UKPS from my local parliamentary representative Simon Hughes MP asking a series of questions on my behalf. By that time I was actively campaigning for the right to register my identity without inappropriate gendered references and had engaged the support of my MP. But the outcome was still predictably negative.
It was not an easy decision but this particular aspect of the wider issue of legal recognition of human identity outside the gendered societal structure is too important to allow myself to just give up and I have decided to try again.
What has changed and why should IPS listen now?
First of all there is a sense of change in the air. This could be wishful thinking on my part but I can feel a sense of change and we need to move with that and seize the moment because it might not last.
Politicians have begun to make public statements and references whereas for years this issue would rarely have merited a footnote within any discussion that concerned a wider arena of trans. rights.
The recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission are now under consideration by the Australian federal government. One recommendation made in the recent AHRC report is that a non gender-specific indicator is provided on all government forms and records. The Australian passport authority have already issued one passport with an ‘X’ denoting gender unspecified in 2003, using ICAO accepted standards which I will come to later.
The government of Nepal has issued non gender-specific identification documentation to at least one Nepalese citizen.
People around the world who are affected by this issue are no longer prepared to be silenced or made to behave like docile colluders in their own social invisibility.
My recent letter to the new IPS Chief Executive was sent in July 2010. Under the subject banner ‘Inappropriate gendered reference on UK passport application forms’, I presented the case for a non gender-specific option on UK passport application forms. The change would require an amendment to current IPS policy that only makes provision for two gendered roles to the detriment of human beings whose identities are not recognised within the gendered societal structure.
I quoted the following statement found on the IPS website: “We are committed to promoting equality, fairness and respect amongst our customers, staff and partners, whilst maintaining our high customer service standards.”
I referenced the fact that it is not possible under current UK legislation for a birth certificate to contain a non gender-specific entry under the ‘sex’ column and that recognition should not be dependent upon the applicant being in possession of a corresponding birth certificate.
The IPS letter of response was typically non committal but the text and language used in the reply was also notably less bound in negativity than found in previous responses from UKPS. The letter contained an acknowledgement that IPS are aware of the issue “We recognise that not everyone identifies themselves as a male or female as set out on the form.” It then goes on to explain how the IPS computer system does not allow for a passport to be issued unless the inappropriate and offensive requirement for the applicant to state a gendered role is answered.
IPS has indicated in their response a preparedness to “listen to the issues” with the caveat this would be at some time in the future.
I have sent a reply to the IPS letter to express my sense of encouragement that IPS have indicated they would “listen to the issues” and reiterated some of the reasons why a change to IPS policy regarding this question is necessary. I managed to rebut the predicted IPS reference to “security implications” of issuing a passport with no gender. I made the point that a gendered indicator on a passport is more likely to raise security concerns at border control when travelling overseas if the appearance of the passport holder is not stereotypically gendered.
I intend to maintain a dialogue with IPS because I feel that a step forward has been made.
And this is where I need the help and support of EVERY PERSON within the United Kingdom who is personally affected by this issue.
As an instrument of the state, the IPS will not change its policy unless it can be demonstrated that there is a real and genuine requirement for a non gender-specific option to be provided on a UK passport application form.
The policy makers at IPS need to be shown how existing policy is failing UK passport holders who are non-gendered or do not align to gendered identities of male or female (a matter of note: within a gendered society that only recognises and accords social legitimacy to the gendered identities of male and female, all human identity other than M/F can equate to being non-gendered).
The terminology might vary such is the nature of diversity but a universal need for provision and entitlement to register a core identity other than the socially permitted gendered identities of M/F is something on which most of those affected by the various issues should agree.
It is important that all who are denied a legitimate identity within gendered society and cannot accept a situation of enforced gendered categorisation should take an interest and get involved in writing, not just to IPS but to their own political representatives and ask that they support this initiative.
You might find the following pointers useful for reference:
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is the Canada based international body responsible for drawing up internationally accepted standards in the format of a series of data elements for machine readable passports. Passport application forms in all countries must adhere to ICAO standards. ICAO standards determine three permitted options under sex/gender field for the international passport application form: M for male, F for female and X for unspecified. Whereas the first two options are compulsory, the third option is discretionary and the authorities within individual countries are empowered to make the decision to include or exclude it. Unfortunately most countries have chosen to exclude the third option of X for unspecified but the option is nonetheless permissible under international law.
India and Malaysia are two countries known to use the third option and both countries allow their citizens to apply for a passport without a requirement that the non-gendered applicant state a gendered role. An English language version of the Indian passport application form is available online
It is much hoped the Australian government will respond positively to the AHRC recommendation for provision of non gender-specific option, and a favourable outcome could result in Australian citizens eventually being able to apply for a passport without being forced to declare an inappropriate gendered identity.
I have sometimes resorted to quoting from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
and The European Convention on Human Rights when trying to emphasise a point in written communications to various authorities about current failure of gendered society to make adequate provision to enable productive and functional human existence outside the gendered societal structure.
I have identified areas within UDHR and ECHR doctrine where the societally enforced gendered categorisation of the non-gendered person should be perceived as breaching the rights of the non-gendered individual.
Take a look at these websites if in need of further inspiration. I was surprised when I found out how much actually did apply to me and to everyone affected by this issue.
The Identity and Passport Service
89 Eccleston Square
And remember to write to your own MP.
I believe there is great strength in numbers. The IPS – and every institution or organisation that chooses to ignore our fundamental right to a legitimate existence and forces inappropriate gendered categorisation on us – should be aware that we are not fooled by their excuses for inactivity and that a growing body of socially invisible people from within the United Kingdom and around the world will not tolerate any longer a situation where we are relegated to the status of non-person in the eyes and the mindset of the privileged gendered majority. We need to let them see we are no longer prepared to be fobbed off with their lies.
The denial of existence is the worst act of discrimination by the gendered majority against the non-gendered.