California is on track to becoming the first state in the country to recognize a third gender: nonbinary. This gender classification uses the "they/their" pronouns, and has been used by people across the United States. According to BBC News, nonbinary "applies to a person who does not identify as "male" or "female"," while genderqueer is "similar to "non-binary" - some people regard "queer" as offensive, others embrace it."
For Star Hagen-Esquerra, the need to have these definitions legally recognized is very real. Star came out to their family at the age of 15, informing them that they are nonbinary––neither man nor woman––and asking that the family use plural, non gendered pronouns.
But now, at the age of 17, Star is coming up against the legal system and all of the boxes one needs to fill out. These boxes, once checked or filled in or excluded, tell the government who we are and how we identify. Unfortunately, these definitions do not include the nonbinary.
Star and their family started applying to colleges, but could not use the name they had been using for two years. According to BuzzFeed, "every time they had to fill out an official form, Star felt almost fraudulent, writing down a name they barely recognized on the rare occasion they heard it said aloud."
10 days before the 2017 presidential election, Santa Cruz County held a "Documents Day," letting residents learn more about the state and federal name and gender changes. Star decided it was time to change their name, officially.
That same day, Star met Sara Kelly Keenan (55), an intersex activist who had become the first Californian to be declared nonbinary by the courts four months earlier. Keenan is also the second known American to ever be granted such an order. Once the two got to talking, Keenan recognized an opportunity to help younger generations achieve their goals of identification––and not wait until their fifties.
After three months of paperwork and jumping through legal hoops, Star became the first minor to be granted nonbinary status.
While no state formally recognizes nonbinary yet, all of that could change this year. A "bill supported by Keenan, Star, and more than a dozen other Californians who’ve been granted nonbinary status [is making] its way through the California state legislature."
According to BuzzFeed, "The proposed law would establish a third, nonbinary gender option on state-issued identity documents (driver’s licenses, ID cards, and birth certificates) for California’s 39 million residents. The whole state — not just a handful of its county courts — would recognize nonbinary citizens. And it would become easier for nonbinary people, bureaucratically, to obtain this recognition. It’s a fairly radical act — a state-sanctioned challenge of rigidly held beliefs about boys and girls and the space in between — and one expected to trickle down to other progressive states, and perhaps beyond."
Keenan had been in the activists spotlight for months, but now Star has been pushed into it, too. Niether of them was looking to become the face of a movement, but together they are "charging the next frontier of LGBT rights: nonbinary recognition."
Thankfully, there is not a lot standing in the way of Senate Bill 179, also known as the California Gender Recognition Act. This bill is three or four bills rolled into one, starting with a historical bill and moving in to a more specific demand.
If the measure passes in California, other states may follow suite. This means there would be a "X" option on driver's licenses, an option already available to Canadians. But ths decision would go beyond an identification card. It would spread to court systems, schools, public records.
“It’s critical that people don’t have to select an ‘M’ or an ‘F,’ and be legally recognized for who they are,” Sasha Buchert, staff attorney for the Transgender law Center, said. He added that other states will "see this policy is popular and will work out well.”
Buchert reported the National Center for Transgender Equality's 2015 survey was completed by approximately 27,715 transgender people, one-third of whom identified as nonbinary. One-third of that number also reported harassment, discrimination, or violence for not identifying with the gender on their state-issued IDs.
San Diego's Senator Toni Atkins and San Francisco's Senator Scott Wiener support the bill.
“This is gonna blow up the whole 'who we think we are' in terms of gender.” Atkins remarked.
Star and her family stand firm on their decision. Star's mother, Joy Hagen, has even joined the Intersex and Genderqueer Recognition Project as a supporter. She goes to Sacramento (about a three hour drive) any time she is called upon to support SB 179.
“I’m not demanding anything that wouldn’t be reasonably done for anyone else,” Star said.
“I'm almost 60 years old,” Keenan said. “I'm looking forward to retiring in a few years. Probably gonna move to Mexico and live in a beautiful little bungalow. So it doesn't really change my life, but it needs to change for Star's life and for kids who aren’t even born yet.”
Another step forward!