In the suburban New Jersey town where I grew up, getting a driver’s license was a rite of passage. It meant freedom, independence and having to drive your siblings to do their errands. Though more and more young people are moving to urban environments, eschewing car ownership for ride-sharing apps, getting a driver’s license still remains an important rite of passage for many. For some people it might even be the only legal record documenting who they are. Transgender people and those born with an intersex condition or difference of sexual development (DSD), face challenges when documenting their sex on both state and federal forms. These forms typically only include binary male or female categories, which fail to recognize the variations present both in physiological sex markers (e.g. genitals, internal organs, hormones, genetics) or in neurological aspects of sex (e.g. gender identity). The process of changing them is often costly and time consuming.
On Thursday, the Maryland House Environment & Transportation Committee heard testimony from legal advocates, medical professionals and community members in support of a bill, Maryland HB13, which would create an “unspecified” option for sex markers on Maryland State driver’s licenses. Similar changes have already been made in other states, including neighboring Washington D.C., a point driven home by Dr. Dana Beyer, representing Gender Rights Maryland. My colleague, Dr. Elyse Pine, a pediatric endocrinologist at Chase Brexton, spoke to the socially constructed nature of natal sex and encouraged the committee to consider that, for many people with intersex conditions/DSD, having a non-binary sex category would be a better reflection of who they are. The same is true for transgender individuals who identify as non-binary and present themselves as such.
In addition to echoing the above points, my testimony also spoke to the challenges that researchers face when trying to conduct research on populations who are not able to identify themselves accurately. For example, when I served on Chase Brexton’s Diversity Committee, one of our goals was to find a better way to document trans* and non-binary identities in our electronic medical record. Our inability to search for our patients using non-binary categories prevented us from a) describing our population accurately, b) identifying people who would be candidates for tailored health interventions, and c) conducting outcomes research, some of which is required by federal regulations, accrediting bodies and/or grantees. My colleague, NP Jill Crank did a yeoman’s job in calculating numbers based on a manual review of diagnoses… but researchers and practitioners need others (e.g. governing bodies, insurers) to join us in creating more accurate ways to define and collect both sex and SOGI (sexual and gender identity) data.
Changing the way we record sex and gender data on state licenses, adds momentum to the already evolving way that scientists, societies and individuals understand sex and gender, and creates more room on the road for both intersex and transgender individuals. I support this bill and hope to see it move forward.
Read more about the bill and my testimony in this Washington Blade article.