Searyl Atli Doty, a baby born in British Columbia this past November, has recently been issued a healthcare card that doesn't mark their gender as either male or female, a report from CBC states. The document is rumoured to be the first of its kind in the world.
So why is this important?
Sex and gender are two separate parts of someone's identity — one can't be determined based on the other. Sex, either XY ("male") or XX ("female"), is something we're assigned at birth, after our genitals have been examined by the doctors who deliver us. Gender (either "girl" or "boy," by limited binary definitions) is based on identity and expression, and how a person fits into (or rejects) the expectations of femininity and masculinity.
When sex is conflated with gender, it can be harmfully reductive, especially for transgender, intersex, and non-binary people who must then fight the expectations of their assigned sex to have their true gender identities recognised on state documents. Aside from not wanting to be documented as a gender they're not, those documents directly influence the experiences of transgender and non-binary people in legal and medical situations.
As a non-binary trans person who uses they/them pronouns, Searyl's parent, Kori Doty, knows that reality all too well. "When I was born, doctors looked at my genitals and made assumptions about who I would be, and those assignments followed me and followed my identification throughout my life," they said in a statement to CBC. "Those assumptions were incorrect, and I ended up having to do a lot of adjustments since then."
Since Searyl is a baby, they can't yet identify their true gender. That's why Doty is fighting to keep gender markers off of Searyl's government documentation. Searyl was born in a friend's home and was therefore not examined by medical professionals and assigned a sex by them.
"I'm raising Searyl in such a way that until they have the sense of self and command of vocabulary to tell me who they are, I'm recognising them as a baby and trying to give them all the love and support to be the most whole person that they can be outside of the restrictions that come with the boy box and the girl box," Doty's statement continues.
Doty is a member of the Gender-Free ID Coalition, which aims "to remove all gender/sex designations from identity documents." The coalition is working to allow as much freedom in gender identity as possible by doing away with official, potentially restrictive markers.
So far, the province of Slocan Valley, where Doty lives, has refused to give Searyl a birth certificate without a gender designation. But last month, the province issued Searyl a health card marked with a "U" as the gender designation, which is assumed to stand for "undetermined/unassigned." The card means Searyl will have access to medical services, a huge plus given that much of the system has yet to catch up to recent demands to accommodate more genders.
Some parts of the US and other countries around the world are in the process of potentially amending their policies to offer a third and non-specific gender designation on official documents, and some people have succeeded in legally changing their gender to non-binary. But there is work to be done. Doty is currently one of eight complainants hoping to change the gender marker on their own birth certificates in a case with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, and is fighting to keep gender identification off of Searyl's birth certificate as well.
"It is up to Searyl to decide how they identify, when they are old enough to develop their own gender identity," Doty said in a statement released by the Coalition. They are currently waiting to set a date for Searyl's certificate review.
Refinery29 has reached out to Doty and will update this story if we receive a response.