The Babs Siperstein Law completely changes the way gender marker changes are handled on birth certificates, which impacts how people fill out forms for other identification documents issued by the state of New Jersey and the federal government. It also impacts state and federal records such as passports and Social Security Administration listings, Selective Service Registration, and voter registration. It further impacts other private sector records such as insurance cards—and even something as mundane as a municipal pool pass!6 The law can also impact admission to spaces such as colleges and universities where gender is still represented and dealt with in a strictly binary way.
Gender-Exclusive Spaces in Schools
Colleges and universities, specifically those that cater to only men or women, are a prime example of spaces that have remained staunchly gendered.
Despite this, there are examples of colleges and universities that cater to one gender or another creating spaces that are accessible (to varying degrees) to non-binary or transgender individuals. Some women’s colleges, such as Wellesley and Bryn Mawr, state in their policies that they accept anyone who identifies as a woman (regardless of sex assigned at birth), and they accept non-binary and intersex people as well. 7
Others such as Converse College outline that they also accept transgender individuals who identify as women, though someone who begins to self-identify as male rather than female during the course of their time at the college would be asked to leave after completing the current term. Additionally, they do not explicitly address non-binary identities.8 Morehouse College, a men’s institution historically, recently began allowing transgender men to enroll, as well as people who identify as non-binary.9
The NCAA, on the other hand, has more restrictive rules describing the gendered teams that transgender or non-binary people are allowed to participate in. For instance, individuals can participate on the team that corresponds to their sex assigned at birth (regardless of the gender they currently identify as) provided that they are not undergoing hormone treatment. For those undergoing hormone treatment however, it’s a different story. While transgender individuals who are receiving testosterone treatments can participate in men’s teams, individuals undergoing testosterone suppression associated with a male-to-female transition can’t compete on women’s teams until after one year of suppressive therapies.11
Another classically gendered space is that of athletics, and it is one that poses a particular challenge for some people from the time they are kids. New Jersey’s state guidance for school athletics teams outlines that individuals can participate in teams according to their sex assigned at birth OR their identity, but not both. It further states that any hormones found in potential sport related drug testing are considered medically explained, and will not interfere with the person’s right to participate in whichever team they choose.10
Other Gender-Exclusive Spaces
Many cisgender people do not notice how much gender plays a role in their daily lives because they don’t experience the disconnects that some in our community do. They just use the restroom, locker room, or dressing room that corresponds with their gender or gender identity—what could be more simple?
For transgender, non-binary, or intersex people, this is not so simple. For example, 33-year-old Medina, a non-binary individual, experienced the complicated and harmful nature of gendered changing rooms while shopping in the popular clothing store Zara.
The retail store chain touts nongendered clothing, yet Medina was denied by store employees from using the male dressing rooms in multiple store locations because they are “not a guy.” The NYC Commission on Human Rights opened an investigation, and after four years, Medina was awarded $30,000 for the distress caused by the dysphoria that resulted from these experiences, and as a result, Zara has promised that they will now post notices in stores informing shoppers that they can use “sex-separated facilities that most closely align with their gender identity.”12
Medina’s experience highlights the complicated dance between three things: gender identity (which is internal), gender presentation (how people try to be perceived by others), and gender markers on ID documents. What the gender marker on an ID document can do is that, (particularly when our presentation does not align with how we are perceived), it tells others, “I may not look like how you think a _____ should look, but the government has recognized me as a _______, so you must too.”
It is important however to remember that a gender marker is not the same as your gender identity. There is no requirement that you have a gender marker on an identification document in order to insist on others respecting the honorifics or pronouns you use. What gender markers CAN do though is provide the support of a legal document as backing.