Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ohio License Doesn't Require Surgery, Just Insanity

It’s official. The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ no longer requires a letter stating a person has had gender-confirmation surgery, an amazing victory. Now people are able to correct their licenses gender marker enabling them safer, more accurate identification. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people.

This past week I was sent the unofficial, pre-press printout of the new BMV form. I was thrilled, like a kid on Christmas. My head was swimming with the possibilities, not just for myself, but for so many others. I opened the PDF and started to read.

“To be qualified, the medical professional must attest that the transition is being conducted in accordance with World Professional Association for Transgendered Health (WPATH) Standards of Care. This change is only to be made as part of a permanent, full time gender transition.”

My heart sank. I could see the image of that laminated M disappear. I can’t get my marker changed because I don’t follow the standards of care.

Every six months I drive five and a half hours to Chicago to get my trans-health care because I refuse to be diagnosed with gender identity disorder. My identity is not mentally disordered. I refuse to be labeled as such simply because queer gender does not conform to what is considered normal. If you had the right doctor, you could maybe swing something, but good luck finding a doctor who’s willing to break out of the box. Remember, this is Ohio. Could I get a letter? Maybe I could, but in order to do that I have to bow to a system of standards that oppress me, that oppress my people. I don’t look like a woman, I don’t sound like one, and I don’t belong to the F marked on my license but that isn’t enough to get it changed. I have to be legally diagnosed as mentally disordered- I have to be certifiably “transsexual” and apparently I’m trans enough to count. I understand that GID is on the books, and as long as it is I shouldn’t expect our community to get anything but the bare minimum, and as a genderqueer I shouldn’t expect to get anything.

Diligent, amazing activists worked hard to make this change as comprehensive and accessible as possible, but as long as we are inside a system that supports the pathologization of gender non-conformity our community is still controlled and oppressed. We are all trapped in this system, and if we ever want these first steps take us anywhere, the system itself must be changed. My dear friend wrote about change happening from the ‘bottom up.’ To me, it isn’t just about grassroots activism; it is a statement that this is the bare-minimum. We started with nothing, now we have a something, but we have a long way to go. Other movements have left us out but we cannot leave each other. Any gender transgressor is in our community and deserves to fight and to be fought for. No genderqueer left behind.

x-posted MidwestGenderQueer.com
x-posted Amplify Your Voice


helen_boyd said...

thanks for the update, & the frustration. this policy will be problematic for anyone who does drag or crossdresses at well, or for those who transgress gender in other ways.

someday we'll just take gender markers off of IDs.

Midwest GenderQueer said...

yes, it has its issues but it is still a major break through for Ohio. We just have to keep working.

Anonymous said...

I completely sympathize with your frustration but I agree with JAC that this is a major victory. We'll win the war for transgender equality eventually but there are still a lot of battles left to fight.

Unknown said...

I had to make the same decision. I accepted the GID label to become a female. I am glad I did. Life is so much better now. And no one ever asked me about my mental health anyway.

.:dyssonance:. said...

As a note, GID is not insanity.

Per the very standards required, GID is a physical condition that causes extreme mental suffering -- much like Alzheimer's, which is classified the same way.

This is explicitly noted in the SoC.

Unknown said...


The lack of available medical resources for people who identify off the binary is a problem. People being forced to accept treatment that they don't want or need in order to get treatment that they do need is a problem.

Another problem is the stigma associated with so-called mental illness. As somebody with a couple of neurological conditions that are problematic enough to be called 'disorders' I must congratulate you on having the privilege to reject the diagnosis and still get treated. But I also suspect that your attitude implies that those accept the diagnosis are somehow failing the equality movement. Phooey.

My support group for the mentally ill recently discussed a member's change of diagnosis. Conclusion: the new diagnosis has more stigma attached to it, but it makes it easier to get the treatment you need. Accept the new diagnosis and try to work against the stigma.

Implying that mental/neurological disorders are all equivalent to insanity is perpetuating the stigma. So is going to enormous lengths to avoid a diagnosis. The crazy people (who are all quite drearily sane because we pay attention to our own irrational impulses and analyze them carefully and deal with them) will laugh irritably at you when I mention this next week.

Midwest GenderQueer said...

I agree that the stigma attached to mental conditions is a major problem. I apologize you were offended my by use "insanity." Something you have overlooked in your threat to make fun is that I might be in your group of "crazy people." I am diagnosed with several mental health conditions and have experienced oppression because of it. The main issue with GID is not because it is a mental health diagnosis - that is an ablist argument. It is because GID does not promote access as it should - including oppressing trans folks who have mental health conditions. My choice of using the word insanity (a word that applies to me personally as well) is used purposefully to promote awareness of the problem at hand: that pathologization of gender variance, in the big picture, is not productive or constructive because it not only promotes the stigmatization of trans people, but also of all mentally variant folks by making us all look like we are incapable of making our own decisions about our lives. I have further thoughts on this which I welcome you to read here: http://midwestgenderqueer.com/index.php/archives/1090

I have no issue with anyone who uses the GID system, either by choice or from lack of choice. No one can be judged on doing what they must do in order to get what they need. We all have individual paths to follow; some involve GID, mine does not. My "privilege" of avoiding GID is privilege, yes, because I have the means to drive 12 hours to another city to see a doctor. And I must sacrifice in order to access that privilege. Binary vs. non-binary is not the issue here. Accessibility and empowerment for ALL members of the trans community is what matters, and what we must continue to work for.

Unknown said...

I don't see why it's relevant if you've got a mental health diagnosis or not. I didn't really overlook it, nor assume it. You're just not in my little support group, the 'crazy people' I was referencing.

Certainly the mental health system in general has a tendency to disempower people just as you describe, making us seem as if we cannot make our own decisions. My friend who has recently accepted a mental health diagnosis that is not really accurate but matches the meds that work best has essentially done so to avoid having to defend eir choices about meds every time e changes doctors.

I don't want to see gender-variant people categorically defined as ill, but I am a little bemused.

I am trans, and sure, it's not my gender that's disordered, it was the disparity between neurologically defined expectations about the sex characteristics of my body, my gendered behavior and my actual body and the gendered expectations others imposed on me. Since this was a life threatening problem for me, I am happy to admit it was a pathology. I'm one of those on-the-binary transsexuals who feels threatened by the 'being trans is not an illness' movement because it seems to me more likely to disempower me -- there's no treatment for "nothing is wrong with you."

Sorry, that's pretty off the topic. I certainly agree with you about the gender marker on the license. It's stupid in my state, too.