The High court has ruled against Elan-Cane who appealed to the court to have a gender-neutral category on British Passports. This step has been taken in only a handful of countries across the world, including Germany, Australia, Malta, India and Pakistan.
‘Gender’ is the central component of Elan-Cane’s argument. An acceptance of gender identities outside of the binary is growing, as have movements which have allowed them to be passed into law. Formal equality is central to all contemporary liberal movements, and thus it makes sense for gender non-conformity to be embraced the same way homosexuality and women’s rights have been in the past.
Opposition to the notion of gender neutrality often comes down to either bigotry or a lack of information about gender non-conformity. For many, this identity cannot be real as it does not fit into their prescribed narrative of people being easily defined. Human nature has always depended on categories; cognitive schemas translate to societal labels and boxes, thus it is natural to try and create binaries, with gender being a prime example. The gender-specific binary is based upon the idea that human sex is a binary, i.e. you are either male or female, you either have a penis or a vagina. This link is abundantly clear in arguments against transgender people and has been supported by the ONS’ decision to rule out a possible separation of sex and gender in the next census.
However, the sex-specific binary does not necessarily exist the way that human nature, and therefore human society, desires it to. Whilst the majority of the population are born with either a phallus and testis or a uterus and ovaries, 1.7% of the population have a combination or absence of both forms of sexual organs. In this instance, if even the sex binary which people in society are categorised proves to be arbitrary, the argument against the inclusion of gender neutrality in legislation and legal documentation is weakened.
The official argument of the High Court and Home Office is that the policy regarding gender recognition is ‘administratively coherent’ and ensures national security. With the nation’s security and the ease of administrators being considered, it would make sense that accurately presenting someone’s sex or gender on a passport would ensure both of the concerns of the Home Office are addressed. Confusion around sex, gender, and appearance cannot only cause distress for the holder of the passport but without the existence of a gender-neutral option will cause problems in the processes that are argued to be ‘administratively coherent’. Whilst it is a very traumatic and distressing thing for people who do not conform to the gender binary to do, they are able to put their biological sex into the binary choices provided. Those who are intersex and do not belong on the binary for biological sex are forced to give inaccurate information.
By refusing to provide a gender-neutral category on British passports, the High Court and Home Office have undermined a key function of a passport; accurate identification. Elan-Cane said that they were not seeking special treatment by pursuing this case, but were instead simply attempting to be treated like human beings. No person should be put in a position where this basic right is up for debate in a courtroom, but that is what the establishment and their institutions have achieved through their obsession with sexual and gender binaries.
Despite this, the media attention caused by this case has made more people aware of the identities that exist outside of binaries and the constant discrimination which they face. With more attention resulting in more pressure on the government, real changes can be made to improve the lives of those who face discrimination as a result of ignorance.