Aug. 19th, 2009

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
This week I learned that the Transportation Security Administration's new Secure Flight program will require airlines to provide the TSA with passengers' birth dates and genders, in addition to the personal information that airlines already provide, for flights originating in the US.

In the US, trans people often are unable to change the gender markers on their government-issued forms of ID (particular driver's licenses or state ID cards, and passports) to match their gender. A full discussion is beyond the scope of this post, but to keep it concrete, I'll mention that my driver's license and passport both say 'F' right now, though I'm a guy, and changing either one isn't an option for me. (That is to say, I could change both, but changing either would require doing something I can't do in good conscience.)

The fundamental absurdity of including gender on an identification card is that it's not an objectively verifiable property of an individual. We understand that if your ID says you have brown eyes, anyone can verify that by looking at your eyes. We understand that if your ID says you're 5 feet 3 inches tall, anyone can verify that by asking you to stand in front of a measuring stick. If gender is what your brain thinks your body ought to be, then you can't determine someone's gender except by asking them. Since changing your gender marker takes more than a statement of intent, gender markers do not denote a person's internal sense of gender. If the gender marker on an ID is supposed to denote whether the bearer has a penis or has a vulva, then it is not a useful property to list on an ID, since you aren't typically asked to expose your genitalia to prove that you are indeed the person your ID says you are. If the gender marker is supposed to denote whether a person who inspected you when you were born thought you had a penis or had a vulva, then it doesn't denote that property either, since it's possible to change the marker. And if the gender marker is supposed to denote whether the bearer appears more masculine than feminine, or appears more feminine than masculine, it certainly doesn't denote that property: many people, including some who wouldn't describe themselves as being trans, appear masculine even though their birth certificate says they're female, or appear feminine even though their birth certificate says they're male. So what does the gender marker denote?

If you're buying a plane ticket now, you're supposed to provide your gender as listed on your government-issued ID along with all your other information. It's one thing for me to passively carry a card in my pocket that says I'm female even though I'm not -- that's a decision someone else made for me, before i could protest. It's another thing to, actively, check that box that says I'm something I'm not, even time I buy a plane ticket. Every time I lie about who I am, I am a little bit less of a person. I'm also not willing to get someone else to lie for me in order to get my documentation changes. If I can't get my needs met as a person of integrity, then I will forgo getting them met.

I don't think anyone who makes rules like these thinks about how they might most effectively inconvenience transsexual and transgender people. I do think that because we are broadly considered to be non-human (also see: people who are willing to reject a particular health care reform plan just because that plan might provide us with medically necessary care), there is no motivation for rulemakers to consider the effect their policies might have on us. To get people to start thinking of us as human, we have to make ourselves visible and we have to resist. To be complicit with a false characterization of yourself just because that's what's more convenient for you is to move to the back of the bus: understandable on an individual level, but counterproductive on a mass level.

That means that next time I book airline tickets, I'll be listing my gender correctly as "male"; if I'm harassed either at the airport or beforehand because my ID doesn't match my gender, I'll deal with the consequences. But I won't be quiet and respectful. And if need be, I'll stop travelling by air altogether or will fly out of Vancouver, B.C.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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