Canada Is Overdue for Gender Neutral IDs

by January 26, 2017
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Last summer, high off of Pride Parade love, Justin Trudeau told the press that Canada is on its way to getting gender neutral IDs. No further details were shared, other than that the Canadian government is studying other jurisdictions to determine the best way to implement this change. Documents from June 2015 show that officials from Citizenship and Immigration Canada were in talks of “identity management” issues before Trudeau was elected, making me question the timing of the announcement and why the plan hasn’t come to fruition yet.

Just one week prior to Trudeau’s disclosure, and without consulting the federal government, Ontario became the first province to allow the use of a third gender indicator, X, for health cards and driver’s license. New Electronic Travel Authorizations (eTAs) offer visitors to Canada a gender neutral designation, save for anyone with a U.S citizenship. What’s stopping the federal government from extending the inclusivity to its permanent residents? So far, only Australia, Bangladesh, Germany, India, Nepal, New Zealand and Pakistan allow third sex designation on their passports.

Being a cisgendered heterosexual, I sought help from some genderqueer friends of mine, Avery and Yayuk, to navigate why gender binary IDs can be harmful.

For Avery, born male, gender neutral IDs would make the days they’re representing as female easier. Avery has just come out as gender queer, but is comfortable being referred to by male, female or neutral pronouns. They explained to me that when they’re feeling more female, they present accordingly and would prefer to be viewed at that end of the spectrum.

“Because I usually don’t shave my abundance of chest hair or always wear makeup, I have to answer a lot of questions in social situations. Some women don’t wanna wear makeup all the time, some women have body hair and some women have penises. And sometimes, that’s me.”

Gender neutral IDs would not necessarily make a huge impact on Yayuk’s life, who was born female and generally uses the matching pronouns while trying to stay neutral on social media.

“I would hope that [gender neutral IDs] would become a catalyst for other changes that would very much affect my life like gender neutral bathrooms, change rooms and more common use of neutral pronouns,” Yayuk tells me.

We also discussed the ways in which gender neutral ID’s could aide authorities who are inclined to discriminate non-binary persons.

“Gender queerness is very much taboo, especially in the eyes of more conservative security agents. With a gender neutral ID, this could still make me a target for abuse – whether that be holding me up to miss my flight, or simply being demeaning,” Yayuk says.

Genderqueer persons could also face problems when it comes to their Managed Service Provider (MSP).

“I was mislabeled as a man by someone at a clinic and MSP is now refusing to pay my general practitioner for my pap smear until I provide them with a copy of my birth certificate,” Yayuk tells me. MSP only reimburses clinical services associated with women to those born female, which is a huge barrier to health that trans women face.

It’s not just the health care system that could cause potential barriers, however. The Canada Revenue Agency as well as Employment and Social Development Canada say they rely on information regarding sex. This research aids their analysis on income distribution, job data and student loan receipts but apparently doesn’t affect or determine a person’s eligibility for benefits. The issue doesn’t seem insurmountable.

“Just add ‘insert column’ in that Excel spreadsheet, and away we go.” suggests Avery.

“This is a completely stupid argument,” agrees Yayuk. “Having a third or ‘other gender’ designation would allow for those agencies to collect information on even more vulnerable groups and allow for effective, specifically tailored interventions.”

So what’s really holding Trudeau and the rest of Canada back from having a gender neutral option on IDs? Trudeau has gone back on his word before, demonstrated by his approval of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline. Yet he is also the leader who’s unsatisfied with the ‘improved’ restrictions around homosexual men donating blood and was the first prime minister to walk in the Pride Parade.

“Politics represent the most privileged, and these people generally don’t have any interest in speaking up for the marginalized,” states Yayuk.

Avery agrees with this sentiment, adding that “being non-binary is a concept that a lot of people can’t wrap their heads around, especially when it starts to spill into gender as a fluid spectrum as opposed to being black and white.”

Trudeau has been quoted saying he’ll keep calling himself a feminist until he’s met with a shrug. He urges everyone not to be afraid of the word feminist, but we need to see that bravery coming from our leaders. Getting a shrug should not be the end goal. The objective should be reducing the privilege that white, cisgendered heterosexuals are born with in order to gain equality for marginalized groups. That’s what a truly feminist politician would do.

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