Early in October, California lawmakers passed a bill that would allow Californians to have gender-neutral and nonbinary gender options on licenses and identification papers.
The bill, known as the Gender Recognition Act, is set to be in effect by 2018. California will be the second state in the U.S. to offer gender neutral options for IDs, with Oregon being the first state and Washington D.C. being the first district to offer these options.
The option “X” or “other” would benefit people with a nonbinary gender expression. Defined by the American Psychological Association, nonbinary gender refers to people whose gender expression is not accurately defined by male or female. People who are nonbinary might feel that neither gender describes them while some feel that aspects of both genders fit them.
Many believe the legislation is a first step towards the recognition and validation of nonbinary people and identities. California Senator Toni Atkins, one of the signers of the Gender Recognition Act, shared her reasons for supporting this bill.
“For Californians who have an ID that does not match their gender presentation, showing it at airports, shops or to law enforcement can be extremely stressful and lead to harassment,” Atkins said.
However, some have doubts about what this new option for forms of identification will mean for colleges. After the bill was passed, an opinion article in The San Diego Union-Tribune expressed the concerns of the group’s president Jonathan Keller and his peers. The addition of another gender option, Keller said, would have to make colleges comply with stricter Title IX regulations in order to cater to nonbinary students.
“California’s nearly 150 public colleges and universities, and all 10,453 public schools would be required to provide not only male and female athletic teams and facilities but nonbinary ones as well,” Keller said.
Regardless of opinion, the Gender Recognition Act in California challenges our perceptions of gender and causes us to think of the many ways in which gender has an effect on our daily lives. This week, we received 248 responses to our poll, and 44 students wrote in expressing their opinions.
Expert Corner: Dr. Evan Smith and Dr. Dori Hopkins
Dr. Evan Smith, associate professor of psychology and coordinator of the women and gender studies minor, talked about some of the challenges of discussing this legislation on campus.
“The concept of nonbinary and binary gender is sometimes hard for people to grasp, so defining what these words mean and the different types of gender expressions will be important,” Smith said.
Other then adding to the many ways in which people express themselves, the Gender Recognition Act causes us to ask questions on what it means to live in a culture with a strong gender binary.
“We live in a pretty binary world,” Smith said. “A lot of how people perceive us and how we perceive other people is based on whether or not they are male or female, and those definitions do not always fit people’s expressions.”
Smith continued by adding what this legislation will mean for nonbinary people in California. “Acknowledging another gender option will validate so many people. It’s a great first step and it will push us to rethink our ideas about gender,” Smith said.
Dr. Dori Hopkins, an adjunct in women and gender studies, elaborated on the extent to which gender is a factor in our experience.
“From the moment we get up in the morning, our jobs around the house, our commitment to our family members and the way we get ready for the day is determined by gender,” Hopkins said.
Gender often assigns roles and responsibilities to people without much thought being put into it. One assumes the role one is given or expected to fill. For nonbinary gender folks, filling a role for a gender isn’t as easy.
“It’s others’ perception of our gender expression that often affects us,” Hopkins said “People believe you should behave a certain way based on how you look, and, for nonbinary people, this can be difficult because they might not fit the male or female expression.”
To Hopkins, this legislation is one of several steps to make nonbinary people more comfortable. “It validates people’s experiences. Through this legislation, we could learn as a campus more about gender and be able to address these issues in a more open, supportive way,” she said.
Student Poll Responses
Q1. Do you know what it means to identify as a nonbinary gender?
Q2. How did you learn what nonbinary gender is?
Q3. Would you support a law that added a nonbinary gender option to Pennsylvania IDs and driver’s licenses?”Jay Talk
“Jay Talk” Quotes from College Students, Faculty and Staff
“I feel like it would be a good change because it would validate how people would feel. I know I don’t feel very female, but I also don’t feel very male. I just exist and I’d like a gender-neutral option for my expression.”
– Carly Sherba, first-year
“My one problem with a non-binary option on IDs and driver’s licenses is that if they are submitted to a hospital, it will delay treatment given to them because doctors might have to be invasive to see what their biological sex is.”
-Anonymous Response, Student Poll
“I’d be happy to see an M or F option on licenses, and then under it an ‘identifies as’ section as well. Licenses are used so the state can identify you, not so you can self-identify.”
-Anonymous Response, Student Poll
“It is a sign that society is possibly getting better at understanding different expressions and being more tolerant.” – Dr. Dori Hopkins, professor of Women and Gender Studies
“I think there should be an intersex option though, as drivers licenses are more for identifying the person via their appearance/biological sex.”
– Anonymous Response, Student Poll
“Acknowledging another gender option will validate so many people. It’s a great first step and it will push us to rethink our ideas about gender.” -Dr. Evan Smith, associate professor of psychology