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It’s a…non-binary infant? Toronto couple wants genderless identity cards for all

Following what could be the world’s first gender-free health card, issued to the child of a parent in British Columbia, a Toronto couple speaks out in support of dropping sex designation from identity cards altogether.

Ashley McGhee and Barb Besharat know firsthand the struggle of raising a gender-neutral child in a binary world.

They say their toddler, Ollie, isn’t a “he” or “she” — McGhee and Besharat prefer to use the pronouns “them” and “they,” and make an effort to keep language, clothing and activities free from gender bias.

McGhee and Besharat also think government records should steer clear of assigning sex because of the assumed gender that goes along with it.

genderless baby

Beshrat and McGhee ask friends and family to use gender-neutral pronouns when addressing Ollie. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

“One’s gender identity has no correlation with their anatomy,” said McGhee. “So when we’re asking for someone to tell us their sex that was assigned at birth, they’re really just indicating what they have between their legs structurally.

 “That’s really not telling us anything about how they live in the world and who they perceive themselves to be.”

The couple see the common conflation of sex designation with gender identity as one that may pose problems for a child.

Policy reviews in Ontario

The Ontario government said in May that it’s looking at changing its own policy about sex designation on birth certificates — an unpopular proposal according to a recent Angus Reid poll.

The survey found that 57 per cent of respondents were opposed to the addition of a third, non-binary option on official documents.

Besharat believes that instead of including a third category, the field should be removed altogether.

“I would prefer that sex wasn’t on the card at all,” said Besharat. “I think that having a third option can create a barrier to that little person depending on who they grow up to be.”

genderless baaby

Ollie’s parents think it should be okay to raise a child with — or without — whatever gender designation they want. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

In the B.C. case, parent Kori Dody, who identifies as gender-neutral, requested a non-binary health card for their child, Searyl Atli.

“I’m not assuming that Searyl is going to be cis-gendered. I’m also not assuming that Searyl is going to be trans,” Dody told CBC News.

“I’m leaving room for them to determine who they are, and trying to encourage the system to get out of the business of certifying guesses.”

Alti’s health card now has a “U” in the field that usually identifies someone as being male or female. The “U” presumably stands for “unassigned” or “undetermined.”?

‘Gender-expansive parenting’

While others fight on the policy front, Besharat and McGhee have mostly focused on raising their toddler.

The couple say they hunt for clothes with neutral colour palettes and messages, and they’re careful with the language they use to address Ollie.

“It’s easy to fall into a trap where your terms of endearment become so loaded based on gender,” explained McGhee.

The couple ask friends, family and even service providers to use neutral pronouns, but say they aren’t militant about it if somebody genders Ollie mistakenly.

“We don’t believe there’s anything wrong with being a boy or being a girl,” said Besharat, “So why would we go out of our way to correct them as though it’s a bad thing?”

genderless baby

Ollie’s parents are among a number of people who have publicly supported the removal of sex designation from government identity documents. (Ed Middleton/CBC)

McGhee describes the couple’s parenting style as “gender-expansive,” and argues that it’s within the rights of any parent to be more or less gender-expansive as they see fit, at least until the child is old enough to determine their own identity.

McGhee and Besharat hope they’ve torn down some of the boundaries they say Ollie may have encountered under a less gender-expansive parenting style.

The parents believe imposing gender can restrict opportunities for children —  or even lead to dangerous outcomes that can accompany a disparity between one’s perceived and self-identified gender.

When people find themselves in an identity conflict, “their daily life is impacted,” McGhee said. “They have higher rates of depression, thoughts of suicidality, they become isolated.

“That’s not how we hope for folks to thrive in the world.”

CBC | Toronto News