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Today (15 December 2021) the UK’s Supreme Court has dismissed Christie Elan-Cane’s application to have a gender neutral option on passports. 

The Court said that there is no consistent approach from the European Court of Human Rights on whether there is an obligation on European Convention on Human Rights member states, which the UK is one of, to provide a gender neutral passport. The member states have a wide margin to decide whether this is something they want to do. 

The UK government has said they do not want to open up recognition of gender beyond male or female categories and will not have to under this judgment. 

This news will be widely disappointing to non-binary, non-gendered and gender diverse people who cannot have their gender correctly reflected on legal documents, which will continue to also include passports. X passports are permitted in six Council of Europe states, namely: Germany, Denmark, Austria, Malta, Iceland and the Netherlands. 

Although the Employment Tribunal decided earlier this year non-binary and gender fluid people were protected by the Equality Act 2020, there is currently no option in the UK to be legally recognised as anything other than male or female. Non-binary and gender diverse people who are not male or female cannot hold a marriage certificate, a birth certificate, a passport or anything that records their gender identity accurately. 

Mermaids will continue to advocate for a future where non-binary, non-gendered and gender diverse people can live freely with the same rights and recognition as anyone else”

This is also a defeat for the wider community, where the government has reinstated that people should be recorded as two categories on their passport: male or female. We question the necessity, humanity and usefulness of all of this. 

Our non-binary Director of Legal and Policy, Lui Asquith said: “We stand with Christie Elan-Cane and per tireless efforts in this case as well as all the other transgender, non-binary and gender diverse people impacted by this judgment.” 

“This will not be the end of non-binary and non-gendered recognition in the UK and Mermaids will continue to advocate for a future where non-binary, non-gendered and gender diverse people can live freely with the same rights and recognition as anyone else.”

Christie Elan-Cane this morning tweeted that the case will now go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to be reviewed. 

For me, it was a long process of leaning into uncertainty. Not knowing, not having any set answers and eventually identifying myself with the fun rhyming label: ‘gender pending’. And as someone prone to anxiety and obsessive intrusive thoughts, this was both an incredibly challenging and ultimately powerful journey.”

In this essay, Jennifer explores honestly and openly the long, scary and ultimately releasing journey of realising and owning their truth as a non-binary person. Beginning with an initial seed of awakening in 2019 and then tracking back through the memories of unease and dysphoria through their childhood and adolescent days in the 1990s and 2000s, this extract details how taking the time and space to lean into and embrace the uncertainty and possibility of it all became a powerful, relaxing and empowering tool in Jennifer’s “coming home” process…

And so the gender pending period began, which then led to… a really happy time. Not generally – it was the end of 2019 and as we all know, 2020 didn’t turn out quite how we all expected it to. But being gender pending was such an important, powerful period of my life. “I don’t know, and that’s OK.” Really believing and feeling those words finally brought me a sense of calm and peace that I’d never felt before. In a slow subliminal sense, it helped my
other anxieties too: “Let go of control. No one knows the future. You can’t change the past. And that’s OK.”

I could feel that inner knowing – now, in my strong imagination, envisaged as a very sleepy sloth who has submitted to being ignored and instead enjoyed a restful hibernating slumber – slowly waking up to find that the chains are off (now there’s chains too?! Poor sloth). The chains have disappeared, and there are no prison bars up around the sloth as they once perceived. None of it was real – internalised external stigma built this “prejudice prison” holding the sloth hostage and internally (and hopefully eventually externally) it can finally, justly, be destroyed.

But of course, the deep inner knowing sloth isn’t going to just crack on with whatever sloths do each day! They’re going to wait a while. Check that it isn’t it all trap. Also they’re TIRED. They’ve been dormant for YEARS. They’re going to go slowly. There’s no rush. They’re going to listen, first to their own heart, then to where that heart wants to take them. They’re not going to question the process, instead lean into it with compassionate curiosity. They’re going to follow queer role models on social media (using their inner sloth wisdom to utilise the gifts of social media in a healthy way.) Learn about LGBTQIA+ charities like Gendered Intelligence and Mermaids. Discuss their feelings with their queer friends and their non-queer friends, slowly, timidly, but more honestly than ever before. Even bring it up at work with trusted colleagues when they feel ready, seeing the effect all of this is having on their well-being, their confidence, their ability to engage with life in the present moment – as if I was just watching the movie of life before and now I actually get to LIVE THE MOVIE!!! (Yes I’m the sloth, the sloth is me, we get it.)

And then finally, one May afternoon in 2020, I ring up my best friend and tell her that I think I’m non-binary. This moment isn’t even binary. I do not KNOW 100%. But something has shifted. I don’t know exactly when it happened but it has. And I’m happy and relieved and excited but I am also lying on my sofa sobbing, weighed down with emotional exhaustion, fear and anticipation. And as I talk to my friend, specifically chosen from my deep inner sloth knowledge that she will be excited, comforting and supportive, I start to feel lighter.

I think the term “trans” can almost be a bit misleading. Its use as a prefix is defined in Collins dictionary as “used to form words which indicate that someone or something moves from one group, thing, state, or place to another” but that makes it sound like someone is moving away from something when they transition, to somewhere far, distant, mysterious. But for me, the opposite is true – it feels like coming home after being somewhere else my whole life that felt far, distant and mysterious e.g. being assigned female at birth. If we didn’t have such binary structures and ideas around gender and sex, would we need the word “trans” at all? Or could we just tell the world what we are as we grow, living that ever-evolving, beautiful truth from day one?

Jennifer’s full essay is available to read at their blog page, Jentopia.