Voting While Trans

From The American Prospect:

A man walks into a polling place. The rolls list him as female. Can he vote?

E.J. Graff
October 18, 2012

Here’s the thing I loved about talking with Mara Keisling this week: her flat-out declaration that transpeople are winning their civil rights and cultural acceptance battles. I’m crazily Tiggerish on lesbian and gay issues: we’ve come so far so unbelievably fast, over my lifetime, that some days I bounce with glee. But given that the trans part of the LGBT coalition got started about 15 years later and has had very different challenges, I was still an Eeyore about their efforts. So it made my day to hear Keisling, the National Center for Transgender Equality executive director, declare a coming victory. “Science is on our side, first of all,” she explained. “Common sense is on our side. Decency is on our side. When you get that combination, you win every time.”

But of course, winning is not the same as has won—which is why we were discussing the right to vote, and whether transpeople will be able to exercise it this year. Until NCTE launched its “Voting While Trans” initiative, it had never occurred to me that there’s no need to list voters as either male or female. The 19th amendment is nearly 100 years old; I’m pretty sure that I have a right to vote whether “E.J. Graff” is male or female. At the polls, the only info that matters is whether I’ve registered to vote and whether I live at the qualifying address. Why identify my sex? Would I get a different ballot?

But ID, Keisling was explaining to me, can be one of the central hardships for transpeople, whose presentation and legal identification may not match. “It’s absurd,” Keisling told me. “We still put gender markers on things that don’t need to have them. For instance, driver’s licenses. The nice policeman doesn’t pull you over and say, So you’re a man, you can go 82, but if you’re a woman you could only go 72.”  When I said that, presumably, my driver’s license has my sex so the cop knows it’s really me, Keisling pointed out that most identifying data has disappeared from driver’s licenses since states started putting pictures on those little pieces of paper. So I went and checked. Sure enough, my Massachusetts driver’s license no longer has my height or weight–people lie about both, and what does it matter, really? Nor does it have my race or ethnicity, since that’s insultingly irrelevant, and often complicated. So why does it need to list my sex?

You thought you hated going to the DMV. Imagine doing it if your gender marker and your appearance don’t match–and you’re not going to be able to file for new documents any time soon, whether because of laws or finances or some other reason. As NCTE reports on its website:

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