Why does a passport have a gender?

Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.

Kofi Annan

When does a passport become prison for some?

The UK governments women’s and equality committee chair, Maria Miler, has asked for the removal of gender identifiers on passports and driving licence. She goes further to call on removing gender markers on university and job applications. This has come during a time the committee is looking at transgender discrimination and the results are set to be published this week. This news will be most cheered by anyone who identifies as non-binary or gender fluid as currently the only two options for a UK passport is male or female.

The idea of ones passport causing offence is not a new idea. Before the semi-standardisation of passports by the League of Nations, between 1914 and 1921 UK passports held descriptions about peoples face shape. So you could have been described as having a big nose or broad chin. Yikes! This is also a next major step in the fight against gender conformity. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 finally allowed UK citizens that identified as a different gender than that of their birth gender to legally be recognised in their acquired gender. This breakthrough has opened the road to allow other legal documents and processes in line with European human rights laws.

The first step in bringing down the barriers was this law.

Despite this the UK has not acted in recognising non-binary people unlike other countries who realise the need for gender neutral identifiers. This is also not a new idea, the Lib Dems were pushing for gender neutral markers on passports when they were in the coalition and were left disappointed not to get this pushed through parliament. The issue of binary gender passports (male or female only) can cause huge anxiety for those who do not identify as such and it is only fair to not ask anyone to disclose this information as it has no real bearing on identifying any individual. In an age where discrimination is illegal and we are encouraged to be ourselves it seems strange to ask people to conform to something that opens the door for discrimination. If you do not identify as male or female how can you be asked to choose one?

Changing your gender on a passport when you are a transsexual can sometimes be difficult as well. It requires additional paperwork from doctors that ‘proves’ you have transitioned and just adds to the hassle of getting your passport how it should be. Then once this is done it can cause confusion and stress at airports if the individuals appearance does not match their passport details. None of this would matter if gender was removed from them.

Shadi Petosky suffered terrible abuse at an airport.

The next logical step is to remove gender identifiers from documents altogether because in my eyes gender is much more a social idea then an official or legal need. Pieces of paper do not help me feel or be accepted how I want to be nor do they give me any new freedoms to express myself in that matter. The world moves fast and people express themselves in so many ways these days that your identity should be fluid if you choose it to be. Only their date of birth or the town born someone cannot change, although the notion of being able to pick your date of birth is very appealing. If I want to change my name and title I can, so why do I have to be held back by a single letter of M or F?

It is possible Lili Elbe was the first person to have their passport gender legally changed in 1930.

I can imagine many years ago when everything was paper based that having gender on applications could have served as some aid to filing. But nowadays with digitisation all it does is add an insignificant letter to somebodies passport. So in this age of progression it is natural for the laws and processes that create and govern society evolve with its people. The age gender expression and non-conformity is well and truly here and the humble passport once again will need adopt the attitudes of its people. I hope this gets serious consideration after the publication of the committees findings and this obvious change takes place with minimum fuss.



  1. Excellent and well researched article that encouraged me to jump to looking at the reference documents.

    We really need to push both for the removal of gender markers in our passport through to including all documentation. Some organisations do allow one to select the Mx option as our ‘title’ but in truth the whole notion of Mr, Miss, Mrs, Ms is irrelevant. If I were a Doctor or Reverend I would not be asked to also reveal my gender. I have a debit card from one bank that is happy to only show my initials and surname; another bank insists prefacing these with Mr. As my transition progresses you can be sure which bank I will use.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. yes the disparity between organisations is bewildering at times. You would have thought huge institutions like banks would have solved these issues by now. thank you for your comment, i am trying to make my blog less inward and more worldly, you can only talk about yourself so many times!


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