In Op-Eds & Columns, Updates from Jo

Every once in a while there’s a lightning bolt. A clarion call to action. A brave, galvanizing force, capable of moving mountains. (Or legislatures.)

Enter 10-year-old Sammie, a miracle of a human. Sammie submitted testimony in support of a bill I filed, S.2282, an act relative to gender identity on Massachusetts identification. This legislation is coming to the Senate floor for a vote on Thursday, Sept. 23.

S.2282 would allow someone to choose a nonbinary option on driver’s licenses and other identification cards, codifying current practice. It also provides for similar options regarding birth certificates, and directs the state to develop a plan for a nonbinary option on all state forms and documents.

The designation X has emerged as the standard gender-neutral designation on state IDs and records, and is available on at least 20 states’ driver’s licenses (like in Massachusetts). Fourteen states allow an X designation on birth certificates. An X marker is also consistent with sex designation standards for internationally recognized IDs and passports as set by the International Civil Aviation Association. And most recently, the Biden administration announced that it is working to allow individuals to self-identify their gender, including nonbinary, on U.S. passports.

This is real international and national progress. The commonwealth has to listen to Sammie and catch up:

“My name is Sammie. I live with my family — my mom, my dad, my younger sibling, and 10 pets plus a bunch of snails: a dog, a bearded dragon, five fish, a frog, and two guinea pigs. I just turned 10 years old.

When I was born, people thought I was a boy. But I am not. For a while, when I started wanting to wear dresses and skirts and choosing pink and purple things, my parents were confused. For a little while, we said I was a transgender girl. But I knew that was not right either. But that was the only language we knew — we just immediately assumed that if I was not a boy, I must be a trans girl. So, I told my parents I was not a girl.

Then my parents and I looked up gender words together on the internet. There were hundreds. We slowly scrolled down. When we got to ‘nonbinary’ and the definition — ‘gender identities that are neither male nor female’ — I said, ‘that’s me!’ That was right around my fifth birthday. In fact, on my fifth birthday, I wore a big pink flower dress and underneath it I wore a ‘boys’ bathing suit. (My party was at a beach.)

Some people like me, on their birth certificates and other important forms, would be put into the ‘man’ or ‘boy’ or ‘male’ box. But even though I am male, I am not a boy and those boxes are wrong. Every time I have to choose between two genders I have no place to be. It makes me feel invisible.

It happens to me all the time. There are many times that I am invisible — many times every day.

For example, at my school when I was in second grade, we started using a math program called Reflex Math. We do it on iPads. When we first got into it, we had to create an avatar, and the first step was choosing ‘boy’ or ‘girl.’

I have to choose to be someone I am not if I want to participate. And every time it reminds me that I don’t belong.

But I do belong, and the world keeps insisting that I don’t.

If you are still not convinced that it would be good to have more choices for people like me to express my gender, then think about this: What if you had to choose one of only two genders and you did not identify with either of them? What would you do? Would you lie?

Why shouldn’t you support this bill? What is bad about it? Does it take away anyone else’s rights?

If enough people don’t understand about gender identity, then people like me will be discriminated against and people will be mean. If the law protects people like me to be able to express ourselves like everybody else does, then it will become safer for all of us. Then I won’t have to explain every single time I meet someone in public and they use the wrong pronoun for me and I have to explain or not say anything at all, which feels bad. If the law changes, then people will learn and those moments when I get misgendered won’t happen as much. Also, people who did not know this existed and are struggling or questioning their gender identity will know they are not alone, that there are other people like me and like them, and then they won’t be so sad.”

With support from loving parents, Sammie has a right to self-identify. Sammie has a right to be seen. Sammie has the right to live without fear. And the Legislature must ensure that all of our constituents have access to IDs with nonbinary gender markers as beautifully diverse as they are.

The House has two unwavering champions on this issue, Reps. Mindy Domb of Amherst and Marjorie Decker of Cambridge. I’m also personally grateful for the commitment of Senate President Karen Spilka and a broad community of constituent advocates.

Let’s not keep Sammie waiting any longer.

State Sen. Jo Comerford represents 160,000 people living in 24 cities and towns in the Hampshire, Franklin, Worcester district in the Massachusetts Legislature.

Read this article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette and in The Recorder.

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