Irish Non-Binary Legal Recognition

There have been a number of posts on social media this past week, applauding the introduction of a new bill to be debated in the Oireachtas (Irish parliament) this May (2017). This bill introduces a number of amendments to the original gender recognition bill, not least of which includes recognition for children under 16 years of age, and the removal of the tedious requirements for recognition of 16-18 years old. However, many people have (incorrectly) stated that this amendment also introduces non-binary legal recognition. This is not the case.

If you read the language of the amendment relating to non-binary legal recognition, you will see that it doesn’t so much introduce non-binary recognition as state that the government will consider the inclusion of non-binary people in the review of the gender recognition bill, due to begin in September 2017 and to be published in September 2018. The exact wording relating to this recent amendment of the bill regarding non-binary legal recognition is quoted below:

“[to] ensure that the review of the operation of this act specifically considers, amongst the other topics and questions determined appropriate by the Minister, the possibility of providing legal gender recognition to persons who have a preferred gender which is neither man/male nor female/woman.”

Although it is important that non-binary legal recognition is considered in the amendment of the original 2015 bill, it’s imperative that we do not become complacent by believing that the Irish government will just allow non-binary legal recognition without a huge push from the Irish trans &/ non-binary community.

Some of the issues that will undoubtedly come up when non-binary legal recognition is considered are how this will affect: gender segregated services and institutions, such as educational institutions and the prison system; medical records including the registration of gender at birth; insurance policies such as health & life insurance, with the exception of driving insurance as Ireland has removed the weighting of driving insurance based on gender as part of its “equality” legislation; social welfare regulations and employment legislation such as retirement age and equality legislation (how do we rule for discrimination if there are more than two genders?); and access to gender specific services such as women’s shelters which require segregation based on a binary gender system.

Unlike legal recognition of binary trans identities, non-binary recognition highlights the fallacy of legislation and a constitution written on the basis that gender is binary. How our society is structured, right down to the question often asked of pregnant people “is it a boy or a girl” will be challenged with the consideration of non-binary legal recognition. So we have to ask – is Ireland ready for this? We have quite a traditional culture – marriage, children, family, gendered roles in society – all of these things are built into Irish culture. Of course, there are many of us who reject these roles, but we aren’t necessarily in the majority.

I believe that the Irish people are fundamentally in favour of freedom of identity. If we look at our history, with the centuries of oppression from both British rule and the Catholic Church, Irish culture has come to represent a rejection of authority, and along with that, the concept that everyone deserves the right to live freely and honestly, without fear and without the need to hide our true selves. The recent overwhelming vote in favour of marriage equality highlights this.

The campaign for marriage equality was won, not in the courts, but through the hearts of the people. By encouraging LGBQ Irish people to come out to their parents, their relatives, their friends and their neighbours, many who may have voted against the constitutional reform were persuaded instead to vote for the sake of someone they love who would be affected positively by the introduction of marriage equality. It is my opinion that we need to approach the inclusion of non-binary gender identities in Irish legislation and society in much the same way.

Beside the social affects of non-binary inclusion in Irish legislation, there are the practical aspects. As a non-binary Irish trans person with both UK and Irish citizenship, I have many contradicting forms of gender registration. My UK passport states that I am male. My Irish passport and driving licence state that I am female. My UK medical records state that I am of “indeterminate” gender and my bank statements use the gender-neutral title Mx. I also have different usages of my name across various departments: tax, healthcare, ID documents. This is due to the costly and time-consuming nature of changing documents without a procedure that allows for recognition of a non-binary gender identity.

Today, I went into the driving licence centre to renew my licence and the woman processing my application spent a good 30 minutes trying to figure out a way of allowing me to have an X marker and a gender neutral title on my driving licence. She didn’t question the validity of my gender identity, nor did she take issue with my contradicting forms of identity as both male and female. She was helpful, understanding, and told me, as I was leaving, that if she could have it her way she would give me an X marker (in the end we had to agree that I would have an F marker until the Irish government legislates for non-binary legal recognition). She couldn’t see how my possession of an X gender marker would negatively affect society because it DOESN’T negatively affect society any more than marriage equality does. Greater inclusion leads to greater acceptance which reduces hate crime, suicide and mental ill health rates and ensures that the next generation will grow up with a greater tolerance for difference. What’s so wrong about all that?

I still haven’t heard back from the Irish government regarding my appeal against their refusal to accept my application for an X marker on my birth certificate. I sent in my appeal in October 2016. It is now April 2017. By their own rules they have breached my right to a response to an appeal within 90 days. Perhaps they think if they just ignore me, I will just go away. If so, they couldn’t be more wrong. I have lived experience of the inordinate amount of inconveniences that lack of legal gender recognition imposes upon my everyday life. I also refuse to accept that what I am asking for is impossible. All I’m asking for is the right to privacy, the right to autonomy, and the right to freedom of movement… and the removal of the countless daily frustrations resulting from lack of non-binary gender legal recognition.

So if you’re on the fence when it comes to the inclusion of non-binary legal recognition, or if you have never even heard of non-binary gender before today, consider how it might feel to constantly deal with the inconvenience of NOT having your gender recognised, and consider speaking out for the inclusion of non-binary legal recognition in the upcoming gender recognition review.

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