Credit: by Scott Olson/Getty Images

September 24, 2018   3 mins

A bill that will allow individuals who identify as “non-binary” to replace the sex listed on their birth certificate with an ‘X’ was cleared last week by New York City Council. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who introduced the legislation alongside Mayor Bill de Blasio, said this “will make New York birth certificates more inclusive for all and will send a powerful signal to the world that New York City government works for everyone”.

Today’s progressive discourse has determined that everything must be ‘inclusive’ of everyone – but, in reality, this change is both unnecessary and nonsensical.

Toby Adams, executive director of the Intersex and Genderqueer Recognition Project and advocate for the bill, claimed it was necessary in order for “people whose gender is non-binary, neither male nor female… to get an accurate birth certificate” in order to validate “their reality”.

The purpose of a birth certificate, though, is not to record an adult’s feelings about their gender, nor whether their personalities align with society’s understanding of masculinity and femininity – it is to record a baby’s biological sex. Whether or not that baby takes a gender studies course somewhere down the line has no bearing on its physical body.

Adams also claimed that if a birth certificate “lists the wrong gender, you have to lie every time you fill out a form requiring you to show your birth certificate – registering for school, obtaining a ‘Real ID’, travelling”.

Again this misses the point. Gender is not the same as sex, and an individual’s feelings about their gender does not change their biological sex. Advocates of these types of policy change do not seem to understand that gender simply refers to social constructs of what it means to be male and female. Gender says a male should be a dominant, unemotional, adventurous football fan, while a female should be a polite, nurturing, delicate cry-baby with a deep desire to wear uncomfortable shoes and shave their pubic hair.

Sex, on the other hand, is biological, generally determined by a person’s reproductive anatomy. Unless born with a rare intersex condition, males have penises and produce sperm, females have vaginas and uteruses, and produce ova.

Even more troubling here, though, is the fact that the material reality of biological sex, which cannot be altered based on feelings, politics, or declaration, is framed as ‘a lie’, while one’s personal feelings about gender are framed as objective, inarguable truth, so much so that we may alter government records and data.

To misgender an individual, for example to refer to a person who is male as ‘he’ when he prefers to be called ‘she’, is now said to be a hate crime. But not only are people claiming they can change sex, and that everyone around them must play along, individuals who feel they don’t fit the stereotype of either masculine or feminine are identifying as “non-binary”.

This would all be fine – people’s personal identities are, after all, theirs alone – except for two glaring flaws in the argument. First, the idea that a person can be non-binary assumes that everyone else is, somehow, binary, in terms of their gender. But no one in the world fits all gender stereotypes. I don’t like pink, am not nurturing, and enjoy burping and swearing much more than I do stilettos. Does this mean I am not female? Of course not. It means I am a woman with a personality. And I have never once felt the need to express that personality on my ID.

Second, acknowledging that a person is male or female is neither an insult or an opinion – it is a fact. And an important one. Women and men have very different bodies and health needs. Pregnancy is an obvious difference, requiring specialist healthcare, but there are plenty of other differences. Cardiovascular disease, for example, is the number one killer of women in many countries, including the US, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the UK, in part because both symptoms and treatments have been tested primarily on men. Because our cells are sexed, diseases, treatments, and chemicals impact men and women differently.

Regardless of how you want to self-identify, scientists and doctors need to know people’s actual sex in order to treat them properly and conduct effective research.

None of this means, of course, that we shouldn’t be challenging society’s understanding of what a woman or a man should be. Pressure to stay within the rigid social boundaries of masculinity or femininity hurt us all — those expectations are difficult, if not impossible, to live up to. But this does not require us to reject our biological sex in the process.

What would be much more progressive would be to say, “Yes, I am female. No, that doesn’t mean I am inherently submissive”, or “Yes, I am male, but that does not mean I am inherently aggressive”. Birth certificates, or other forms of official identification, however, are not the place to air those opinions.

Meghan Murphy is a writer in Vancouver, BC. Her website is Feminist Current.