When Ryan Dingman was transitioning eight years ago, he got so frustrated with being misgendered* at a walk-in clinic that he eventually stopped going.
Dingman is a trans man, but he was assigned female at birth. The tiny “F” on his health card made for a hellish experience at the doctor’s office.
“I would go to the walk-in clinic and get misgendered. I would get weird looks, or someone who was friendly would turn cold really fast,” he says. Sometimes it would take weeks before he would go see a doctor.
“At the least, you feel anxious and exposed, and at the worst, you feel unsafe,” he says.
While plenty of trans people still face discrimination accessing the healthcare system, Ontario is taking some concrete steps to make sure they are no longer misgendered on their official documentation.
Going forward, OHIP cards will no longer include gender markers of any kind, and, as of next year, people with driver’s licences will have the option to list an “X” on their card as opposed to the formerly standard “M” or “F” identifiers.
Dingman says he’s pleased with these changes; he feels it’ll prevent people from some of the pain he went through. But some people in the trans community say that these are superficial changes that fail to address the real issues.
“An X isn’t enough—it’s literally other-ing anyone who isn’t male or female,” says Faelix Kayn, a non-binary trans activist and organizer in the greater Toronto area. They worry that non-passing trans men and women will be pressured to list themselves as X, rather than their real genders, to accommodate cis-sexist ideas of what a man or woman looks like. (Kayn uses the gender-neutral pronouns they, them and their, signifying that they do not identify as either male or female).
Kayn says to make real change, government agencies need to expand available gender markers, allow for the option of using multiple markers, and provide easier, free opportunities to change gender markers on all official government documentation. (Right now, binary markers are still required to access passports, birth certificates, banking, many jobs, SIN cards, IDs, most healthcare, and social assistance.) Forcing people to choose between male or female identifiers, they explain, is transphobic, and it has negative impacts on people’s mental and emotional health.
Ravyn Wngz is a two-spirit “transcendent” individual, and a member of Black Lives Matter–Toronto. She uses either “she” or “they” pronouns, and says people need to be able to show up and claim the identity that actually applies to them, whether that’s agender, non-binary, male, female, or any other identifier, as opposed to an X or nothing at all.
“I haven’t heard X as an identifier. I’ve heard Z. So if they’re doing as much research as they say they are, they would have chosen another one. Or a few,” she says. “Being trans, you spend a lot of time telling other people how human you are. Being able to self-identify would be a huge step.”
Minister of Government and Consumer Services Marie-France Lalonde acknowledged in a statement that there’s work to be done. “As society’s understanding of gender evolves, government must adapt,” she said. Over the summer, the government held consultations on how ministries collect, use and display gender information on all of its documentation. They wrapped up last month, and right now, the ministry is analyzing the response from online respondents and in-person conversations with advocacy groups. The community feedback will be used to create a new gender policy for all ministries.
Christine Burke is the senior communications advisor with the attorney general’s office, and she says the “X” is simply an interim response to the issue of gender expression.
“The use of an ‘X’, as a third gender marker, is a standard accepted by the International Civil Aviation Organization and is used internationally by other jurisdictions,” Burke tells FLARE in an email.
Aside from these consultations, Wngz says there are other steps that need to be taken. Trans people still face everyday violence and discrimination while being routinely denied healthcare, housing and basic human rights, and, she says, this is something government needs to be thinking about. She says a good next step would be to ensure that all government employees receive proper anti-transphobia training, and that appropriate policies are put in place so that when people do identify themselves, they’re not misgendered or challenged. It’s also important, she adds, that the government hires trans people, especially trans people of colour, to ensure that the right policies are made and enacted.
In other words, there is a lot more work to be done.
“These steps don’t address the lack of cohesive function between different government agencies, and therefore alone won’t make things more accessible and inclusive,” Kayn says. “I worry that people will take this very small and incomplete step as our battle for rights and recognition being over. A simple X is not the solution—ongoing education, communication and recognition is.”
*Here is a glossary of terms that you may find useful:
Cis-gender, cis: Used to describe a person whose self identity is the same as the gender expression assumed to belong to their sex as assigned at birth. (i.e. someone whose sex is assigned female at birth who also identifies as a woman). In other words, not trans.
Passing: A word some people use to describe whether or not a trans person can “pass for” a cis man or woman in the eyes of others. Many trans people dislike this term because it suggests they should fit into pre-defined and historically oppressive definitions of how a man or woman should be, and because it’s harmful to those who identify outside of the gender binary.
Non-binary: Someone who rejects the gender binary and does not identify as a man or a woman. Some use “genderqueer” to serve the same purpose.
They: Some non-binary people use the gender-neutral pronouns they/them/their instead of him/her/his/hers.
Two-spirit: A specifically Indigenous umbrella term indicating that a person houses both a masculine and feminine spirit. Some Indigenous people use this term to identify their gender, sexuality and/or spirituality.
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