California will allow a nonbinary option on documents. Here’s what that means for these residents.

California will allow a nonbinary option on documents. Here’s what that means for these residents.
California residents Seven (left) and Tre’vell Anderson Mic/Seven
California residents Seven (left) and Tre’vell Anderson Mic/Seven

The state of California made history Sunday when Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill allowing residents to choose a third, nonbinary gender option on official state documents.

That makes California the first state in the country to officially allow nonbinary as a gender option on a statewide level, including on driver’s licenses, birth certificates and identity cards. And for these California residents, the legislation means a new kind of recognition.

Oregon took a similar step earlier in 2017, becoming the first state to provide a third gender option on driver’s licenses by allowing residents to mark “X” rather than male or female.

“I think that this legislation and legislation like this is enormously important because it creates visibility,” Seven, a Los Angeles-based playwright and comedian who identifies as intersex and nonbinary, said in a phone interview with Mic on Tuesday.

Playwright and comedian Seven.
Playwright and comedian Seven. Seven

Seven, who was born in the U.K. and moved to California in 2015, said they had delayed getting a California driver’s license because they were hopeful this legislation would soon pass — and because getting a license marked “male” or “female” would feel like a lie.

“It’s the important things, like your passport, like your driver’s license, that are really important in how you move through the world and how you’re perceived,” Seven said. They added that carrying a passport that marks them “female” when they’re actually nonbinary makes them feel “queasy.”

“I have this passport, it’s basically a document that enshrines lies,” Seven said. Seven came out publicly as intersex in a 2006 essay in the Independent. Like many intersex children, Seven underwent surgery as a child without their consent. Seven said they hoped legislative changes like this one could translate into greater acceptance for intersex and gender-nonconforming young people.

“Society is not going to change until everybody knows that intersex people exist ... and that we have a right to choose who we are, to be nonbinary or male or female,” Seven said. “This legislation puts it in the public domain.”

Seven (left) with their girlfriend, theater director Jessica Lynn Johnson
Seven (left) with their girlfriend, theater director Jessica Lynn Johnson Seven

For Tre’vell Anderson, a Los Angeles resident and Los Angeles Times writer who identifies as gender nonconforming, the new legislation was a symbolic step in the right direction.

“It’s generally important for me, as someone who identifies as gender nonconforming, to find a number of ways where I can be affirmed in that identity,” Anderson said in a phone call Tuesday. Anderson said he would likely apply for a nonbinary ID, but that he was also “skeptical as fuck” the on-paper change would lessen discrimination against gender-nonconforming people.

“We know based on history that when these developments come about that are supposed to affirm people’s identities and ensure people’s civil rights ... We know that does not always turn out to be the truth on the ground,” Anderson said.

“To many people, an ID won’t matter,” Anderson said, adding that a nonbinary marker on a driver’s license doesn’t necessarily mean a gender-nonconforming person won’t be hassled by a bouncer at a club or forced to choose between “male” and “female” when going through airport security.

Tre’vell Anderson
Tre’vell Anderson Tre’vell Anderson

“It’s a great symbol, it’s a great moment that should be celebrated, but we can’t get caught up in the celebration and forget to look into the implementation,” Anderson said.

In California, advocates cheered the legislation. In a statement released Monday, Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center, lauded the importance of the new option. “With this simple change, California has made daily life much safer and easier for many gender nonbinary and transgender people,” Hayashi said. “We’re asked for identification everywhere, from banks to bars to airports, and it can be devastating and even dangerous for nonbinary and transgender people to navigate life with an ID that doesn’t reflect who they truly are.”

The new rules won’t take effect until 2019, even though, as CNN reported Tuesday, most recent bills Brown signed will go into effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Seven said they were disappointed to learn the change would be delayed. “I went to the DMV yesterday [to apply for a nonbinary license] and was met with a stony wall,” Seven said. “Let’s encourage the [Department of Motor Vehicles] and the state bureaucracy to move as quickly as possible.”