Jeffrey Marsh is a social media star, LGBTQ activist and author of How to Be You
Many folks I know online are open about their LGBTQ status and, even more delightfully, open about their gender identities. The bios for my Twitter followers use beautiful words like “genderqueer,” “queer,” “nonbinary” and “fluid.” All of these terms point roughly in the same direction: there are many of us who do not experience ourselves as man or woman, M or F. What unites us all is the desire to be seen and understood, to feel validated.
Watch Jeffrey on TIME’s Facebook discuss their life motto:
What may be shocking is that the need for more gender labels is hardly a new idea. As Zachary Pullin wrote in the 2014 Native People article “Two Spirit: the Story of a Movement Unfolds,” alternate genders and nonbinary identities have been recognized by some Native American tribes for centuries. In these tribes, nonbinary members were treated with equal respect and tribal recognition. Different tribes had different names for these fluid folks, but in 1990, representatives from several tribes agreed on the term “two spirit” as a way to unify American Tribal LGBTQ communities and give categorical respect to gender variant tribal members.
We need this type of recognition and respect from the American Government today. The Government must allow us, the T and Q in LGBTQ to have a designation beyond M or F on government forms and IDs. We are part of a legal and paperwork world that has little to do with a spiritual respect for the different ways gender can be experienced and expressed. In fact, in Western culture, because there are negative ramifications for incomplete, inaccurate or absent identification papers, it can be difficult for nonbinary or trans people to live honestly and get jobs or open bank accounts.
Countries including Australia, New Zealand and Nepal already offer alternate gender markers in official government identity papers. Now it’s America’s turn. Although there are court cases underway in a number of states, there is no way to recognize a nonbinary (or just not M or F) identity on Birth Certificates, Driver’s Licenses, Military IDs, Passports, bank and tax documents, social security paperwork, and voting registrations. But we are making headway. In June, an Oregon judge ruled that the state government must legally recognize Jamie Shupe as its first nonbinary citizen.
I would like to be as lucky as them someday. Every time I pull out my ID, it feels wrong, inaccurate. My Tumblr bio can tell the truth, while my driver’s license lags behind. My license represents a lie. It shows a dumbed-down, wrong version of this person, “Jeffrey.” My driver’s license is a testament to a system where I don’t belong. This all might sound trite, but I think about it every time I need to show ID, which, if you’re conventionally gendered and don’t think about it like I do, you may not notice is very, very often. We show ID when paying with credit cards, when going to the airport. We show ID when doing anything official.
I want official documents that reflect who I am. I want recognition. I want official respect. I want our country and our government to validate not just my passport, but me.