(In honor of the Vermont Law School’s “Sex, Gender, Expression, and the First Amendment Project” (SGE1), which officially opened on March 20 and continues through April 10.)
Friend of mine* just got a new driver’s license. New terrible picture, same old information — with one exception: a gender change from F to M.
*Yes, I do have friends. Shut up.
My friend is not fully comfortable in either gender, but to the casual observer, clearly looks more male than female. Which has led to all kinds of fun encounters in, for instance, public women’s restrooms. (Even before the official change, my friend often used the men’s room just to avoid unpleasantness. In men’s rooms, nobody looks at anybody else.) My friend describes the new gender identification as a “flag of convenience” to avoid these kinds of awkward moments.
But that, plus the opening of SGE1, raised a question in my mind.
Why do we need to include gender on driver’s licenses anyway?
The kneejerk answer, I suppose, would be that it’s the same as the photo, height and weight: helpful identification markers.
But what if it’s not? What if that woman over there, just for the sake of argument, is packin’ a penis? What if that man has a vagina? Some of them do.
Indeed, more and more of them do: sex-change surgery used to be the norm, but today there’s a whole range of options — surgery, partial surgery, hormone therapy, and just plain talkin’ therapy, among others. Transgendered people are feeling more and more free to choose the path that suits them best. After all, gender isn’t a matter of one or the other, black or white: it’s a spectrum. Or a rainbow if you prefer. A lot of folks are somewhere in the middle.
Indeed, if you accept the tired notion that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, maybe that means the transgendered are the only real Earthlings.
Back to my point: how does it help the police or the border patrol or a bank teller to think they know the gender of a person but they kinda don’t? If a strip search might be in order (well, not at the bank, obvs) and the driver’s license says the subject is male but he has female genitalia, did the license really help? Or did it lead you down the wrong path? (I worry a bit about what might happen to my friend if such a situation were to develop in a closed room at a police station.)
The photo is the most important identifier. The height and weight are helpful (although my license weight is, ahem, roughly 10% below my actual), but does the M or F really do anything useful?
Is there any legal or social purpose served? Or is it just a matter of “We’ve always done it this way”?
If anyone in GMD-land has a good argument for keeping gender on licenses, I’m happy to listen. For now, allow me to take a provisional stand: Get gender off our driver’s licenses!
p.s. As part of SGE-1, Governor Shumlin will be giving a talk on April 2 at VLS. If there’s a Q&A period, maybe someone can ask him this question.