It was announced this week that a child born in British Columbia had been issued the first piece of health documentation in Canada without a specified gender listed. With the growing trend of state and federal governments allowing expanded options when it comes to listing gender on official documents, what impact will this have on genealogical research in the future?
Based on various articles, including This Baby Is Believed To Be World’s First To Not Be Assigned A Gender At Birth at CNN, Searyl Atli Doty, born in November 2016 in British Columbia, Canada, has been issued the first piece of health documentation in Canada without a specified gender.
The child’s parent, Kori Doty, who identifies as non-binary transgender, had the child “outside of the medical system” (assumed to be home birth) and therefore doctors did not do a genital inspection to assign a gender. Doty’s insistence on the use of “U” for Undefined on Searyl’s national health system ID card is based on Doty’s own experience with gender identification issues and being forced into a specific gender as a child.
Changing Views of Gender Identification
The situation in Canada is not the first such incident and likely will not be the last as an expanded view of gender identity is embraced by governments and citizens. Views towards gender have greatly changed even since the mid-20th century to include options such as “non-binary” or “intersex” where one is not forced into the usual “male” or “female” selection.
Recent cases include:
- Starting July 3, 2017, Oregon state residents are now able to select “X” for “not specified” when it comes to gender appearing on Oregon state driver’s licenses, driver permits and identification cards.
- In December 2016, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a “corrected” birth certificate for Sara Kelly Keenan who had been born in Brooklyn New York in 1961. Keenan was allowed to select the term “intersex” and have the term displayed on the certificate based on documentary evidence from a licensed US-doctor.
What is Intersex as a Gender Issue?
In the New York City case, Kennan had sought to make the change without any documentation from a medical authority, but has stated that they find the term “intersex” preferred over “non-binary” and the end result is “really validating.”
Intersex is when a person’s anatomy does not conform to the usual definitions of male or female. In the past, most intersex infants were slated for genital “correction” surgery within the first few weeks of birth. “Hermaphrodite” was a common term prior to the 21st century for those born with a dual set of genitalia, both male and female. The preferred term now is “intersex” and it is treated more as an identity in that the definition of the term will vary from person to person.
Can gender be forced or assigned via surgery? The prevailing thought in the 1960s, when Keenan was born was just that: there was no psychological component factored in, nor was the subject allowed any input to the gender correction surgery.
My Personal Experience with Gender Identity Issues
I was born in the early 1960s and identify physically and psychologically as male. Through my own genealogical research, I have obtained copies of official government documentation listing my gender as male. In the mid-1980s, I “came out” as a self-identified homosexual and in doing so I started a journey of encounter and understanding when it came to gender issues. Within what is considered the LGBTQ community, I had the opportunity to meet various transgendered persons and discuss issues involving the medical and psychological aspects of gender identity.
In fact, my greatest “woke” moment related to gender issues was when my best friend James, a female-to-male transgendered person, came into my life. I’ve learned so many things to counter the “anti” transgender bias I had embraced due to my upbringing. I’ve since learned not only to avoid pejorative terms such as “tranny,” but that gender is a complicated issue.
Let me just say that James is an amazing person. He is an Army veteran, has experience in a variety of occupations including long haul truck driver, and even competed in the recent International Mister Leather contest in 2016. If you were to meet him, you would likely never suspect that this masculine, tattooed and goateed person had been born with an assigned gender of “female.”
Over the past two years, with James sharing information about gender identity and based on my own interaction with the transgendered community I’ve learned:
- Gender is not just physical. In past years, gender identification was based on outward appearance, especially involving genitalia, and no allowance was made for the psychological aspects of gender.
- Many intersex infants have been forced into a gender identity based on parental decisions. This process has often included gender correction surgery.
- Only 20% of transgendered individuals complete full gender reassignment surgery. Many will embark on a regimen of hormone replacement and partial surgery (i.e. removal of breasts for female-to-male transgendered persons and breast implants for male-to-female).
- Millennials are much more “gender” fluid and their views are often the driving force for changes in awareness from a societal perspective as well as changes in documentation procedures on a governmental level. In fact, according to a recent survey, over 20 percent of Millennials identify as LGBTQ.
I’ve expanded my consciousness and as more and more people publicly address issues of gender identity, the community of genealogists and family historians will need to incorporate gender selection options into their research.
Gender Identification and Genealogy: The Future Impact
Options in terms of gender selection on documents will have an impact on genealogy. It is a matter of time before forms such as family group sheets are updated to reflect a new consciousness. (In fact, many family group sheets still only offer opposite sex marriage listings and some even only list an occupation for the husband).
Here are questions that the genealogical community will need to address:
- What if, as a common-place practice, gender were not assigned based outwardly apparent gender indicators (genitalia), but the individual were allowed to select their gender at a later date?
- When is an appropriate time to select a gender? Is there a set date, such as 18 or 21 years of age? As in the case of my friend James, gender identity realization did not occur until later in life. It appears that there is no specific age at when gender identity is fully developed and selection/self-identification can be made.
- Will there be an increase in “corrected” birth certificates and birth documentation based on later-life gender selection?
- What about states such as Texas where there is no uniform method of changing gender on birth certificates (and often involves a court case) or other states that require proof of full gender reassignment surgery when allowing people to change their gender?
Over the next few years, not only will these issues be debated in the genealogy community, but solutions will be developed that will also impact genealogy database software as well as online family-tree programs. The important thing to remember is this: during the process we are dealing with people who have likely had a difficult journey of identity. More options in genealogy documentation are just that: options. They don’t force a set of beliefs on anyone nor do they take away options from you or me. Options for gender identity can only serve to augment and expand our understanding of what it is to be human.
©2017, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.
References and Resources
- Gonella, Catalina. Survey: 20 Percent of Millennials Identify as LGBTQ, 31 March 2017, NBC News (http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/survey-20-percent-millennials-identify-lgbtq-n740791 accessed 7 July 2017).
- O’Connor, Lydia. Oregon Is First State To Offer Third Gender Option On Official IDs, 15 June 2017, Huffington Post: Queer Voices (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/oregon-third-gender_us_5943071be4b01eab7a2ca104 accessed 7 July 2017)
- Scutti, Susan. ‘The protocol of the day was to lie’: NYC issues first US ‘intersex’ birth certificate, 2 January 2017, CNN (http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/30/health/intersex-birth-certificate/index.html accessed 7 July 2017)
- Wong, Curtis M. This Baby Is Believed To Be World’s First To Not Be Assigned A Gender At Birth, 5 July 2017, Huffington Post: Queer Voices (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kori-doty-birth-certificate_us_5956fd04e4b02734df32831f accessed 7 July 2017)
- Gender Free I.D. Coalition
- Intersex Society of North America