On ID cards and the meaning of “gender” in terms of identification

Gender is complicated.  I think we’ve all realized that.  Even defining the word is hard.  The meaning changes in different contexts.  (For example, what pronouns am I going to use while speaking Latin?  It’s freaking hard to decide.  But the Romans did somewhat use a weighted nonbinary system.  More on that later; end ecphrasis.)

But the main problem a lot of people have with gender is ID and documents.  Out in the “real world,” it’s pretty binary.  If you’re DFAB, have a feminine name (mine’s feminine in pretty much every Indo-European language out there), but present as masculine/male (which I’d likely do if I ever have time to get a proper binder), the discrepancy can make people very upset.  I have to dress relatively femininely around my hometown, so I haven’t encountered this problem yet, but I fear that someday soon I’ll have my credit card or check refused because my name doesn’t match my gender presentation.

So that brings me to gender in terms of Identification.  The other day, I got my PA  ID out of my wallet and looked at it.  SEX: F.  I laughed wryly.  “Sex” refers to physical anatomy, and in that regard, I am definitely female.  A good deal more so than I want to be.  But the purpose of an ID card is identification.  If I’m binding and in full guy drag, “F” is not going to help anybody identify me because that won’t be what I’ll look like.  So I thought, “How the f*** do I solve this linguistic problem?”  Removing the gender marker doesn’t work.  For cis people with gender-neutral names, it would make identity theft much more likely.  Headshots can look surprisingly gender-neutral.  Changing the marker is the other obvious solution, but that requires enough paperwork to kill a paper factory.  Adding the option of a gender-neutral or non-binary mark is another option, but such a mark would undoubtedly invite cissexist discrimination.  You’d have to out yourself every time you…pay with a check, get pulled over, buy alcohol…you name it.

The trouble with the sex markers is that they are a form of identification that can only be verified by stripping you naked–perhaps not even then.  ID is about what can be seen–in other words, gender presentation.  Instead of “sex,” why not have the marker be for “usual gender presentation”–abbreviated, perhaps, as “UGP”?  Same number of letters.  Does this individual present as male or female?  In this society, we’re going to be read–identified–as one or the other.  If an ID card is about physical identification, it might as well be set up so it works as such.


Edit on Dec. 11:  And then the Sage Smith story broke.  The police put a male gender marker on the missing posters even though she presents as female.  How likely is she to be found?

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Posted in Politics, Queer Life, Queer Stuff
6 comments on “On ID cards and the meaning of “gender” in terms of identification
  1. tigr says:

    (don’t publish this one, I just wanted to get a notification if/when you reply:))

    • Thanks! Yeah, I guess the only real need for a sex marker on a driver’s license type card would be in cases of medical emergency. But you could just wear dog tags. On passports, I suppose it’s to stop international crime or something. In the US, where I live, you only need a passport if you’re going out of the country. Everything else is driver’s license or state ID.

      • tigr says:

        Well, my point was I *don’t* see how a gender (or sex) marker would successfully stop crime or otherwisely be necessary at all! — I think it’s just a “oh we’ve always had sex markers, CLEARLY we need them”. (“We’ve always known whether someone is a man or a woman, -clearly- we need to know!” Obviously the world will implode if there is someone with whom you really, really can’t tell whether they’re “male” or “female”. ;)) And why would people need to know my sex in a medical emergency? If it’s *related* to my sex they’ll find out, and if not, they don’t need to care…

  2. tigr says:

    Hey, got here via a comment you left on genderfork — nice blog:)

    One thought:

    “Removing the gender marker doesn’t work. For cis people with gender-neutral names, it would make identity theft much more likely.”

    Why? At most there’d be twice as many people who could try to impersonate you, but I think that’s an overestimate. And as you wrote, it’s not like it doesn’t change. What good is a “Usual Gender Presentation” marker when you happen to present differently for a change? What about people who DO present androgynously (yes, people still read me as male or female, but some people as one and others as the other, at the same time!)? Nota bene: EU id cards actually DON’T have a gender marker! And they’re the most commonly used ID. Haven’t heard anyone complaining about being impersonated by the opposite sex. (Most identity fraud is online anyway.) It’s only our passports which show ‘sex’. So why do we need it?

  3. Hey my name is Sally and I’m a student and this article really helped me. I’m refocused! Thanks very much!

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