What happens if you have spent your whole life trying to be a male and/or a female but nothing you do seems to feel like you’re expressing your authentic self? What if you simply feel like you are neither a male nor a female? Not feeling attached to these traditional gender norms can be isolating and make it difficult to express and identify yourself.
The nation’s most populous state is on its way to officially carving out a place for individuals who don’t fall into the traditional categories of gender identity and expression.
A Few Quick Definitions:
A person’s gender identity, as explained by the Human Rights Campaign, is:
“One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.”
Gender expression, on the other hand, relates to how some presents their gender to the world, “usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine.”
You may also see some strange pronouns ahead: individuals who don’t identify as male or female often don’t care for the pronouns “he” and “her.” In this piece, we’ll use the non-gendered term “they,” but there may be places where you’ll see “
California’s Senate Bill 179
California state Senate Democrats, Toni Atkins of San Diego and Scott Wiener of San Francisco, have offices right next to one another in the statehouse. They are also openly gay members of the state’s upper chamber of Congress.
This past April, these two senators brought Senate Bill 179 (SB 179), or the California Gender Recognition Act, before their colleagues.
SB 179 would introduce a nonbinary option for state forms of identification. The bill also makes it easier to legally change your gender on various forms of ID, and the bill makes it possible for minors to have access to these changes to ID laws.
For Wiener, when he brought this bill to his colleagues on the Judiciary Committee on April 25, his case was simple. He wanted “to create an atmosphere for people to be who they are and to succeed… We need to basically get out of the way and let people be who they are.”
“You know at a young age that you are not like everyone else,” Wiener told the committee, whose transcripts were later reviewed by BuzzFeed News. “When you have that realization, it makes all the difference in the world when you have a family that embraces that, and it makes all the difference in the world when you have a government that supports those families.”
This Bill Affects Real People
One of the advocates for this bill is a 17-year-old high school student named Star Hagen-Esquerra. Star identifies
“Even though it was just a piece of paper, it was finally like I didn’t have to try to prove my identity to other people,” Star told BuzzFeed. “People can’t tell me that ‘Oh, you don’t look very gender neutral,’ because my document says I am.”
Star wants SB 179 passed so that their peers can go through the process of having their identifications changed to match their identities.
“My hope for this bill is that actually being nonbinary is a lot more normalized,” Star said, “So that when minors come out to their family, it’s not quite as jarring or unexpected and they can be more accepting of their child.”
One of Star’s mentors is Sara Kelly Keenan, an intersexed individual who was recently—at the age of 55—granted legal nonbinary status by the state of California.
Together, Star and Keenan are acting as bold advocates for all Californians who identify as nonbinary.
“We are nonbinary,” Keenan told the same Judiciary Committee where Senator Wiener introduced SB 179. “We exist. Please see us and protect us.”
Hopefully formal nonbinary recognition—”Gender freedom, as Keenan calls it”—helps people struggling to find a safe place to express their true selves.
SB 179 passed the California State Senate on May 31, 2017, and the bill now heads to the state’s House of Representatives for further consideration.