‘X’ marks the spot: RMV offers non-binary gender option on IDs

  • State Sen. Jo Comerford and state Rep. Mindy Domb (pictured here) sponsored legislation in the Senate and House, respectively, earlier this session that would allow people to select a non-binary gender designation on driver’s licenses and birth certificates. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS


Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2019 2:53:45 PM

EASTHAMPTON — On Wednesday, Genny Beemyn planned to go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles the next morning to get a new driver’s license. Beemyn, 53 and the director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, identifies as non-binary — meaning not female or male — but their driver’s license does not reflect that.

Having an incorrect gender listed on their license bothered Beemyn, who uses they and them pronouns. “It’s one of those things that irks you, to have something you carry around with you that denies who you are,” they said.

That’s about to change for Beemyn.

As of Tuesday, Massachusetts residents are able to select an “X” and identify their gender as non-binary on new credential issuance, renewals, and amendments of licenses and IDs, due to an RMV system upgrade, according to a Department of Transportation spokesperson.

For Beemyn and other non-binary people in the commonwealth, being able to choose “X” is a big step forward. “I’m thrilled by this,” Beemyn said. “I’m going to go down there … first thing tomorrow morning to get my license changed to say non-binary because it doesn’t reflect who I am, and it makes me feel invisible to have my license not reflect my identity.”

As of Thursday morning, 29 people in the commonwealth had selected the non-binary gender marker, according to the Department of Transportation. Massachusetts joined a number of other states, such as California and Arkansas, that offer the non-binary gender option on driver’s licenses.

Valley legislators state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and state Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, sponsored legislation in the Senate and House, respectively, earlier this session that would allow people to select a non-binary gender designation on driver’s licenses and birth certificates. In April, the Senate voted 39-1 in support of the legislation, and Domb’s similar bill in the House is currently in committee. Comerford and Domb both applauded the RMV’s recent change and underscored the importance of passing the legislation to codify the change into law. 

“The RMV change is an enormous leap forward,” Comerford said. ​​​​​“We want to put it into law because if we put it into law, a change of administration can’t reverse it.”

Both the House and Senate legislation would also allow people to change their birth certificates. 

Domb is hoping the change will help build momentum for the House legislation. “How fabulous is this that they just kind of did it,” Domb said of the RMV. “And guess what? The earth didn’t stop rotating on its axis.” It’s not a big deal to anybody, she said, except for “the people who are directly impacted who want to make sure they are visible on their identification.”

Both local lawmakers said people in their district have urged them to work on the legislation. “Right after I got elected, I heard from constituents about this issue,” Comerford said.

Shutesbury resident Michael DeChiara, 58, is one of those constituents. DeChiara has a family member who identifies as non-binary — to protect his relative’s privacy, he did not want to be more specific — and he testified for both the Senate and House bills. 

Among people in his generation and others, DeChiara said, there is sometimes discomfort with using they and them pronouns. “You’ve been patterned to speak binary for your whole life,” he said, “so it’s taken lightly.”

But through experiences with that family member, he has learned that misgendering someone — incorrectly identifying someone’s gender — is painful for transgender and/or non-binary people. “The thing I learned — that’s the deepest hurtful thing you can do. You’re not recognizing who the person is,” DeChiara said.

Beemyn, a Valley resident, also submitted testimony in support of the Senate bill that Comerford read at a hearing for the legislation. 

“As a trans person,” their testimony reads, “I am told in subtle and not so subtle ways that my life does not matter; this change would be a powerful step forward by Massachusetts to say that my life and the lives of other trans people do indeed matter.”

On Thursday morning, Beemyn said they applied for the non-binary gender marker and expected their new license to come in the mail in about a week. 

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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