California recognizes a third gender on official documents

The state of California passed legislation in October that recognizes a third gender on official identification documents.

Residents who identify as nonbinary genders will no longer be obligated to designate themselves as either male or female on birth certificates and identification cards.

“It really gives us a lot of recognition, not only in our own communities, but in government as well,” said Andi Murphey, a 20-year-old international relations major, who identifies as agender. “It now acknowledges that we exist, we’re here and we identify as such. And it’s such a huge victory for all of us.”

According to a New York Times article, Californians would have had to obtain a physician recommendation after undergoing gender transition treatments in order to be recognized as nonbinary on legal documents before this bill passed. After passage of SB-179, the Gender Recognition Act, physician letters will no longer be necessary.

“When you’re raised in your culture, your culture is going to define for you what gender means,” said Anthropology Professor Anastasia Panagakos. “In American society, since we are based in a European Judeo-Christian tradition which has tended to view gender as a binary, so you’re either male or female, it does not take into account the fluidity of gender, and that gender is a spectrum where there are more than two ways of expressing gender.”

Panagakos defined nonbinary and genderfluid as a gender identity that moves between genders or does not have a fixed gender, and transgender as a gender identity and/or expression that differs from what is typically associated with the sex assigned at birth.

“In some Native American cultures, it’s believed that people who are more genderfluid or have gender expression of a sex that they are not is actually based in spirituality and that they have been chosen for this path,” said Panagakos, referencing those commonly known as two-spirit. “They often go on to be a shaman or diplomat because they view them as a person who can see both the female and male side of things and that gives them added perspective.”

Sociology Professor George Nyenbeku said that society was ripe for this kind of change thanks to other movements, like the legalization of marriage equality.

“The desire to be free is transcendent, and so when one group says ‘we’re not going to take it anymore’ and they fight, then with other groups, that courage is so transcendent and then they fight too,” said Nyenbeku.

Nyenbeku is an ally of the transgender community and a member of LGBTQIA community. He said he supports this new legislation and sees progress for the transgender community as inevitable at this point in society.

“It’s about time. Transgender is what we use as the umbrella term for transexual, intersexual and people with different identities, but the experience of a transgendered life has been around for many, many decades and in other countries even longer,” said Nyenbeku. “So it’s important in terms of equality, life, liberty and a person’s way of living a free life.”

Oregon and Washington D.C. were the first to acknowledge third genders on driver’s licenses in the United States, and Canada has enacted a similar legislation that allows for citizens to mark ‘X’ as a third sex category for passport holders, according to the New York Times.

“I feel like people are more and more opening up to it,” said Murphey. “They may not understand it like some of the LGBT community, but I feel like with this, people will research about it and learn more about the third gender that they may have never even heard of.”

The law, written by two Democratic California senators, Toni G. Atkins and Scott D. Weiner, will be enacted in September, according to the NYT article.

“With the administration right now, I was freaked out that trans would be ruled back, but California taking a step and acknowledging the third gender is such a huge victory for the LGBT community,” Murphey said.