New gender 'X' option on Canadian ID a mixed blessing, say advocates

Citizens can now update their passports, permanent resident cards and other documents to reflect their preferred gender, but concerns remain about safety while travelling, say advocates.
Inclusion of the gender 'X' marker is important for transgender and non-binary visibility, Glasson says, but uptake may be mixed due to safety concerns. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Citizens who do not identify as either female or male can now list their gender as  "X" on Canadian identification documents, the federal government announced in a statement Tuesday.

This includes passports, citizenship certificates and permanent resident cards.

Provincial documents in Ontario, such as birth certificates and driver's licenses have made non-binary gender markers available since 2017

The  federal government's statement said that the change comes as part of its commitment to respect Canadians' "gender identity, diversity and inclusivity."

"Canadian citizens and residents deserve to be respected and have the opportunity to live according to their own identity," the statement read in part.

Those interested in updating their documents to better reflect their gender identity can do so for free within the next year. However, this only applies to cases where the individual does not require a new expiry date or changes to any other personal information, such as their name.

Gender markers carry impact

Although for some updating personal information may seem like a minute administrative change, for non-binary people the impact can be monumental, said Caitlin Glasson, president of SPECTRUM Kitchener.

"Gender markers affect us in ways we don't even recognize, necessarily," she said.

"Generally speaking, the one they put on your death certificate is the one they find on your birth certificate, which may not have anything to do with how you actually lived your life."

Finn Stuart-Seabrook is a Trans Peer Support Worker at Guelph's HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health. Stuart-Seabrook identifies as non-binary, and uses the pronouns they/them. 

"I want my documents to reflect how I identify...People read me as a cis[-gender] man, but then they see my documents and immediately their use of pronouns changes, and the way they interact with me changes because my documents still say 'F'" they said.

However, what's holding them and others back from making the change, they say, is the uncertainty about their safety abroad.

Safety concerns abroad

Th federal government web page announcing the change states, "We can't guarantee that other countries you visit or travel through will accept the sex or gender identifier on your passport or travel document."

Although believing the announcement to be a step in the right direction, Glasson hopes the government will be proactive in making diplomatic efforts to communicate the changes, and compiling travel advisories catered to "X" identifying citizens.

I'm going to the States soon have no idea what you are going to be met with," Stuart-Seabrook said

"Especially because the people seeing that and reading you, knowing that you're not cis, are people in positions of power over you."

With violence and discrimination against non-binary and trans people still all too common, Stuart-Seabrook says, they  decided to not update their documents for now.

Glasson believes that a number of people who wanted this change and would like to change their personal indicators may not choose to do so.

"The reality is that Charter Rights protections are only ever honoured in the breach.In order to get any use out of them, you have to have suffered the injury," she said.

Government Responds

CBC received a response from Shannon Ker, a spokesperson from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on Tuesday evening. 

In response to questions about safety in regards to those travelling with an "X" gender indicator, Ker replied, "Travellers are informed that they are responsible for checking with the embassy, high commission or consulate of all the countries that they intend to visit, or transit through, to inquire about entry requirements that may affect bearers of a travel document with an 'X' identifier."

IIRCC also encourages concerned travellers to visit the Global Affairs' LGBTQ+ specific travel guide.