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'X' (sex:unspecified) passport

Updated on January 7, 2012

Fighting for legal and social recognition outside the gendered societal structure

One of the most fundamental aspects of my ongoing campaign – NON-GENDERED – Fighting for Legal Recognition – is the importance of identity and furthermore the importance of being identified correctly. This certainly applies in respect to the personal documentation that we all need to carry and applies equally to personal records held on file by organisations – from the government and public sector agencies and throughout the commercial sector.

In targeting areas where non-gendered human beings are forced to accept inappropriate gendered categorisation (and effectively are forced to become unwilling colluders in our own social invisibility) the passport is an obvious example where non-gendered transpeople are routinely failed by representative governing authorities.

The passport – where the application questionnaire requires an answer to the mandatory field of ‘Sex’ – but where the applicant is really being asked to provide a statement or affirmation of the core identity. If the applicant’s core identity is neither male nor female, then there is a problem because in most instances there are only two options. A notable exception is India where the passport application form provides three options under this field: ‘Male’, ‘Female’ and ‘Others’.

Although relatively unpublicised, it is possible – theoretically – for anyone to obtain a non gender-specific passport when neither ‘M’ nor ‘F’ are appropriate. This is due to a defined standard for machine readable travel documents that permits three options under the mandatory ‘Sex’ field: ‘M’ (male), ‘F’ (female) and ‘X’ (unspecified).

Created in 1944 to promote the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that sets international standards and regulations necessary for aviation safety, security, efficiency and regularity. Within this remit the ICAO carries the mandate and responsibility to establish, maintain and promote standards in respect to the issuance and verification of machine readable travel documents and in related border issues, as outlined in the 1944 Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention).

The full specification for machine readable travel documents is set out in ICAO Document 9303.

In the ICAO specification the ‘Sex’ field is a mandatory data element with three value options: the gendered options ‘M’ and ‘F’, and the non gender-specific option ‘X’. All three options are equal in technical value as should be seen when applied in terms of value accorded to each and every human being in the actual as opposed to the virtual world.

The ICAO deadline for universal introduction of machine readable passports was 1st April 2010. A few states have still to comply and it is understood all those states are engaged in process to achieve ICAO compliancy during 2012.

Whereas the ICAO provides a maximum of three value options to the mandatory field, each issuing country has autonomy and can determine which options are accessible to their own nationals.

In line with the (dominant) gendered societal structure adopted by western civilisation, the two gendered options ‘M’ and ‘F’ are universally regarded as mandatory requirements for the passport application form. The non gender-specific ‘X’ is generally not used.

However, as there is a growing awareness of the issues that affect transpeople around the world, there is increased demand for governing authorities and their executive agencies to show due regard in matters relating to the personal identity of the individual.

In the light of growing awareness both Australia and New Zealand have made the ‘X’ (unspecified) option available to citizens who meet a specified criteria determined by their respective governing authorities. The Australian government decision to amend policy on recognition of ‘X’ was relatively recent (September 2011). New Zealand has recognised ‘X’ for some years and there are approximately 400 ‘X’ passports held by NZ citizens (fig. Department of Internal Affairs, 2007).

Recognition of identity outside the gendered societal structure is more prevalent in countries where western imperial culture has not always dominated - such as in India. The Malaysian passport authority does, I understand, recognise ‘X’ as a valid option. Pakistan and Nepal have adopted a general approach of legal recognition towards citizens whose identity is other than male or female.

The ICAO provision however is available to any country that wishes to make use of it.

What this means is there is an international obligation placed on all countries to accept the non gender-specific ‘X’ passport as a valid travel document that apples even in such cases where the country does not extend provision to its own nationals. International border control personnel should not therefore be able to discriminate against visitors who wish to enter their country carrying the non gender-specific travel document in respect of barring, detaining or handling these visitors differently in any way.

With recognition this is an imperfect world, it is assumed there will be situations where holders of ‘X’ passports do suffer discrimination and less favourable treatment at international border control. And in these situations it is the responsibility of the issuing country to ensure that representatives of all countries honour this international obligation rather than accept there will be problems in a display of international apathy and resignation.

‘X’ is not generally recognised within the European region. Denmark is an exception but one where provision is extremely restricted and the take-up consequentially low due to the Danish authorities’ psychopathologisation of the issue.

In support of the case for the United Kingdom, I have made recommendation to the government that the UK follows the Australian example. A provision that does not psychopathologise the issue of human identity outside the gendered societal structure.

The denial of existence is the worst act of discrimination by the gendered majority against the non-gendered.

Copyright ©2012 Christie Elan-Cane

All rights reserved.


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