The more we learn about gender the more we discover that whether you identify as male or female often has very little to do with your anatomy. Parents-to-be are moving away from throwing gender reveal parties, which put so much emphasis on the purely social construct. And states are putting policies in place to help parents adopt a gender-neutral approach to parenting their children.
At many hospitals across the country, a doctor in the delivery room will announce the baby's sex after a cursory glance at the external genitalia, but in several states, the parents are the ones to ultimately decide if "male" or "female" should stay printed on the child's birth certificate. Within the first 18 years of a child's life, parents are now able to change their sex marker to a third option: "X"—No doctor's note required.
By choosing to place an "X" as the gender on their child's birth certificate, these parents are allowing their children to define their own gender if and when they are ready to do so. Currently, in some states, if a person wishes to change the sex marker on their birth certificate they have to provide proof of gender confirmation surgery. This change in policy will make it much easier for trans and non-binary people to alter their official documents to better reflect their gender.
As of January 1, 2019, New York City allows parents to change their child's gender marker to an "X" anytime during their first 18 years of life, although they are not able to select it at birth. The law also allows adults with a non-binary identity to apply to amend their birth certificate themselves without a note from a medical professional.
In the Health Department's official press release, First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray said of the move, "No one should have to claim a false identity because the government refuses to acknowledge gender fluidity."
New York City joins Oregon, Washington, D.C., Washington state, California, and Maine in allowing people to identify as "X" on ID cards instead of male or female, however, not all of these places currently allow "X" to be printed on a birth certificate.
"Parents wishing to raise children in a gender-neutral way and parents of intersex children will test the new policy in due time and seek to make the change immediately after the original [birth certificate] is issued," says Charlie Arrowood, 31, an attorney and director of name and gender recognition at Transcend Legal.
Although parents are not able to select the "X" marker at the birth of their baby, they can conceivably do so as soon as the child is able to self identify with a gender. An "X" on a birth certificate can also serve as a placeholder until children are able to positively self identify or can remain the most appropriate marker for intersex or non-binary people.
Kryss Shane, a mental health professional and LGBT expert, says that those parents choosing to amend their child's birth certificate with an "X" may choose to do so in a bid to parent in a more inclusive way. "Choosing 'X' as a child's gender indicates an ongoing commitment to raise the child without gender norms and without making assumptions about how the child will identify as they gain self-awareness," Shane says.
Celebrity parents including Kate Hudson, Adele, and Angelina Jolie have spoken out about raising their children without pressure to conform to gender stereotypes.
Shane also says that many children who do not identify with the gender on their birth certificate may feel that they have to override their original gender designation and argue against official documentation. "This [policy change] is so important for transgender, gender non-conforming, gender non-binary, gender fluid, genderqueer, and agender people because there is no longer an uphill battle against who they were told at birth that they were," Shane says. "Instead, children are being allowed to come into the world with the opportunity to be openly who they are."
Currently, only a handful of states or cities allow "X" to replace "male" or "female" on birth certificates or identification cards, so the reach of the policy change is limited. If a child born in New York City with an "X" on their birth certificate seeks to get a driver license in a different part of New York state or in another state, they may face administrative issues. Even within a state that allows an "X" on the birth certificate, it may be problematic to get other forms of identification with matching gender assignment.
"It is still unclear what will happen when a person with an 'X' birth certificate tries to use that foundational document to obtain other documents or as proof of identity," says Arrowood, who plans to use an "X" birth certificate to obtain a new driver license. "Agencies and entities will need to come up with plans for how to deal with these documents because they're going to start showing up and the number of places that issue 'X' documents will only increase."
Arrowood reminds us that trans, intersex, and non-binary people already face marginalization and discrimination before they are forced to select options that do not fit their reality or lived experience. In addition, having an accurate ID has many practical benefits. "Having inclusive official documentation is not only emotionally validating, but it makes government services and benefits available to everyone," Arrowood says. "You can't apply for food stamps or unemployment benefits or Medicaid if the government won't accept your proof of identity."
Although gender-neutral birth certificates are a step forward towards acceptance, it's far from the end of the journey, says Max Masure, co-founder of Argo Collective, which aims to train organizations to use creativity, empathy, and collaboration to tackle gender inclusion challenges. "We have so much to unlearn from how we've been raised in a very binary society," Masure says. "I am confident that the next generation will go further and totally remove the gender assigned at birth."