No, passports should not have a third gender option

Society should not transform itself around the confusions of a small group of people.

Joanna Williams
Topics Politics UK

Christie Elan-Cane, a ‘non-gendered activist’, is taking on the Home Office in a case being heard in the Court of Appeal this week. Elan-Cane wants British passports changed so that people are no longer bound by a choice between ‘male’ or ‘female’, but can opt instead for a gender neutral ‘X’ category. The 62-year-old Elan-Cane, who has spent the past 25 years campaigning to achieve legal and social recognition for non-gendered identity, believes the UK’s passport process is ‘inherently discriminatory’. The High Court rejected her case last year, but granted permission to appeal. If she is successful, the handful of people who consider themselves to be neither male nor female will be able to gain an official stamp of approval for their confusion.

Lots of people get cross about how much passports cost. Many get frustrated with the complicated forms that need to be completed. And anyone who has ever tried to get a toddler to comply with the photo requirements no doubt swore with exasperation. But tears at the need to tick a box indicating sex? Not so much. Yet more than 80 MPs – our delegates in parliament – have signed up to a House of Commons early day motion demanding ‘X passports for people who do not identify with a particular gender’. Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas, Sir Vince Cable and Tory Crispin Blunt are among the signatories.

Layla Moran, Lib Dem spokesperson for education, has tweeted her support for Elan-Cane’s appeal: ‘It is @LibDems policy to include a gender-neutral option on passports. Society recognises non-binary gender and so should our official documents.’ But who comprises this ‘society’? And what gives Layla Moran the right to speak on behalf of all of us? When it comes to attitudes towards gender we have yet another example of the huge gulf between the views of the political class and everyone else. Go to a pub in Middlesbrough, a bus stop in Doncaster or a market stall in Plymouth and you will meet people who know that there are men and women and find the made-up notion of ‘gender neutrality’ to be either baffling or hilarious. Perhaps Moran does not think such people are fit to be included in her definition of society.

As even the Guardian begrudgingly reports, ‘The Home Office has argued that issuing passports with an X marker would have widespread implications and lead to additional costs across the whole of government. It would be a disproportionate burden, it maintains, since only a few people would benefit from the change.’ Indeed. Including a gender-neutral option on passports would not only prompt an expensive administrative change but, far more fundamentally, it would also mean changing the status of an official document that people use as a form of legal identification, at the behest of a handful of activists. It would enshrine in law the idea that biological sex is less relevant than a feeling we have about our identity.

Elan-Cane’s appeal may or may not be successful. But the fact that it has gone so far and has the backing of so many of our senior political figures is significant. We need to ask how a tiny proportion of gender ideologues are able to hold such sway over our institutions.

Writing at the Spectator this week, James Kirkup shines a light on a report called Only Adults? Good Practices in Legal Gender Recognition for Youth. It was produced by Dentons, which is, apparently, ‘the world’s biggest law firm’, along with the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Youth and Student Organisation. Kirkup explains that the report’s purpose is to help trans activists instigate changes in the law that would ‘allow children to legally change their gender, without adult approval and without needing the approval of any authorities’.

Only Adults? offers a rare glimpse into the tactics employed by trans activists. One suggestion is that campaigners should ‘intervene early in the legislative process and ideally before it has even started’ in order to have ‘a far greater ability to shape the government agenda’. Another recommendation is that activists should tie their demands to ‘more popular reforms’. We know that this has already been carried out with some degree of success: in countries around the world, efforts have been made to align the transgender movement with gay-rights groups. This has allowed access to already established networks and funding at a time when, with same-sex marriage, gay rights had largely been achieved and campaigners for groups such as Stonewall were in search of a cause. Revealingly, a key recommendation is that trans activists should ‘avoid excessive press coverage and exposure’. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the more people find out about the changes proposed by trans activists, the less supportive they are. So, very similar to the effect Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson has on the electorate, then.

Transgender campaigners employ underhand strategies to achieve their goals. This is hardly surprising to those who have followed the rapid shifts in policy and language that have come about in a very short space of time. But having a whole arsenal of tactics does not explain why so many of our politicians are so ready to jump to the trans activists’ tune. Conservative Penny Mordaunt, responsible for leading the government’s push to liberalise the Gender Recognition Act, found herself unable to answer straightforward questions such as: ‘what is a woman?’; ‘can humans change sex?’; and ‘in what circumstances is it necessary to distinguish between males and females?’, in an interview on Mumsnet earlier this year. Such deliberate befuddlement is not down to wily strategies alone.

Crucially, there has been a readiness from people outside of the transgender community and in positions of authority to enforce new laws, speech codes and behaviour codes in line with the new trans orthodoxy. A fear of being labelled transphobic seems to override even the most basic degree of common sense. More than this, defending trans rights allows politicians with little democratic legitimacy to act on behalf of the oppressed. Transgender people – always, so we are repeatedly told, on the brink of committing suicide – are apparently the most victimised group around today. Providing the trans community with protection from harm provides an important source of moral authority for those in positions of power.

Assuming the moral authority of the oppressed and acting on behalf of the transgender community legitimises censorship and the introduction of fundamental social change with serious implications for women’s rights. Whoever wins next week’s General Election, we urgently need a government willing and genuinely able to speak on behalf of society: that is, the overwhelming majority of citizens who still recognise the existence and importance of biological sex.

Joanna Williams is associate editor at spiked. She is the director of the new think tank, Cieo. Find out more about it here.

Picture by: Getty

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK


Marvin Jones

10th December 2019 at 2:58 pm

The human rights and equality Dung Heap is getting to be the weapon of the lunatics. The passport should reflect one’s gender by the genitals that the person possesses. OR, let them have their wish, but not recognised by any country. We must end this bias for sick minorities wanting more rights than the sane majority.


14th December 2019 at 7:52 pm

If you think genitals alone determine biological sex then you are sadly mistaken. I suggest you brush up on biology and perhaps read some books about endocrinology because it is patently obvious that you know next to nothing about this actually very complex issue.

brent mckeon

25th December 2019 at 9:01 am

Why don’t you enlighten him then, a few wise words not trashing like a troll, and explain why genitals (and by implication genes) are mostly not relevant. It is sliding down a slippery slope to allow a tiny minority to change the whole of society, with the majority of the society not having any say at all. Surly the trans people can be made safe and welcome of their place in society without overturning the whole of the country and hundreds of years of embedded culture.

Bella Donna

10th December 2019 at 10:22 am

Instead of pandering to these freaks they should be sectioned instead!

Molly Warburton

15th January 2020 at 7:38 am

What the hell? They are not freaks they are people!!! Just because you are so small minded that you don’t understand doesn’t mean everyone else should suffer. Non binary and gender non conforming people should be accepted just as much as the LGBTQ+ community should aswell

Titus Groan

6th December 2019 at 11:24 pm

Thers us something really rich in the feminist objections. For the very group whose “theory” trumpets that biological sex is irrelevant when all is gender identity. Then having banged on about equal rights suddenly they trumpet the importance of womens rights that magically now are attached to sex nog gender after all (and most of these suddenly important sex based rights appear to be to do with toilets).
As for the MO described in the article it is simply listed from feminism. For decade after decade survey after survey shows the feminist agenda is not popular with women (oddly actually a bit more with men when they are asked) so we have small coterie of well placed feminists busy undermining and trying to tear down all the things people actually say they want. With only a few word changes this article could be about feminism. For a movement that can claim “unwanted compliments” are “Rape culture” shouldnt be surprised if others climb on the bandwagons of oppression, safe spaces, feeling comfortable and getting the police to shut people up, even 6 year old schoolboys.

Ven Oods

6th December 2019 at 3:58 pm

“New Zealand has an X.”
Not the way I spell it.

M Bosatsu

5th December 2019 at 2:30 pm

I suggest removing both age and gender/sex from all documents. The government has other means of matching the person to the document. For that matter remove the home address if it appears. All that needs to happen is that the document be capable of being authenticated and and that the person bearing the document is the person to whom the document pertains.

Marvin Jones

10th December 2019 at 3:03 pm

Why don’t we make it mandatory for everyone to wear a black bin liner with slits for the eyes, so no one is recognizable? We could also, decide to remain in our own country of birth and never travel.

James Knight

4th December 2019 at 6:24 pm

Passports do not record gender. So it is not adding a 3rd gender but adding a new and unnecessary category.

Evan Collins

4th December 2019 at 5:52 pm

Passports are used for identification BY THIRD PARTIES. Thus any information contained must be readily obtainable and objectively true. Somebody’s gender, much like somebody’s favourite song, might form part of somebody’s identity but cannot be used as a marker of identification because it’s totally subjective and wide open for abuse.

It might be thrilling to have my height say 6’2″ on my ID when I’m actually 5’5″, but it’s a useless, and dangerous practice to enter lies into the official record.

M Bosatsu

5th December 2019 at 2:33 pm

Then surely it is an unnecessary ID category unless the intent is to examine the genitals or do a DNA swab for confirmation.

Evan Collins

6th December 2019 at 12:49 am

Gender is useless for ID, but physical characteristics are important, including sex, particularly in emergency situations when the ID holder might not be conscious and needing specific care or treatment.


4th December 2019 at 10:47 am

Why no mention of biological intersex conditions in this article? There are people with conditions such as Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia etc. who are genuinely neither ‘male’ nor ‘female’ and for whom ‘X’ more accurately reflects the indeterminacy of their biological condition.

The law in Ireland was changed to allow gender dysphoric people to change their legal gender without any of the hysteria that we are seeing in the UK; nor has there been an avalanche of incidences of tg persons using their identity for criminal purposes in Ireland.

One can only conclude that the British are somewhat prudish, ignorant and hypocritical when it comes to gender, biological sex and/or sexuality.

Tim Hare

4th December 2019 at 12:19 pm

So what would be the advantage of being labelled x have over being labelled male or female? No one needs to know that they are x. As long as they know that they are x then that is all that should matter to them. They are not being discriminated against in any way except not having an x on a document. Anyone who is male or female does not need to have official recognition of their gender why would an x person need this?

Discrimination is only discrimination when someone is refused something of value because of their gender. You have to be able to prove the value of what you deem to have lost because of your gender. What have they missed out on exactly?

Pragmatix Pragmatix

4th December 2019 at 8:18 pm

What is your valid point, please?

“Females with severe or classic virilizing CAH due to 21-hydroxylase deficiency will most likely have ambiguous or atypical external genitalia (masculinization or virilization), although they are genetically female and will have normal internal reproductive organs.”

We must surely accept, a majority of humans are either MALE or FEMALE.

True hermaphrodites represent circa 1 in 1,500 – 2000 of live births: and most can be corrected surgically early on.

Once again, a tiny percentage of mentally deranged people are shouting loud enough to influence and distort mainstream reality.

Greta Thunsberg Syndrome…

Tim Hare

4th December 2019 at 10:41 pm

My point is that there is no point in having gender identity recorded on passports. Passports have names, photos, country of origin and very little else of relevance to any country you may wish to visit. It does not matter if you are male or female to the authorities who can check your passport and therefore there is no need for a third distinction.

The need only resides in the mind of the x person who needs others to confirm their gender because they have no confidence in their own judgement about what gender they are.


14th December 2019 at 7:56 pm

‘1 in 1,500 – 2000’ live births would mean that it does not qualify as a rare medical condition according to the standard criteria. Also, early surgical interventions on intersex people are extremely ill-advised given that the individual affected is not of sufficient age to provide consent. There are cases of intersex people growing up and disagreeing with the form of the original intervention.

Ven Oods

6th December 2019 at 9:43 am

“One can only conclude that the British are somewhat prudish, ignorant and hypocritical when it comes to gender, biological sex and/or sexuality.”
Of course, one *can* conclude that, if one chooses to. But, it is hardly the only possible conclusion.
Given that there exist people of both genders who are routinely mistaken for the other (which must be annoying, embarrassing or worse) shouldn’t we also be looking into how we could avoid that happening, however non-cost-effective it would be?
And since that hasn’t happened in Ireland, should my only conclusion be that the Irish don’t care about such unfortunates?

Jonathan Smith

4th December 2019 at 10:41 am

“the more people find out about the changes proposed by trans activists, the less supportive they are. So, very similar to the effect Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson has on the electorate, then.” That made me guffaw. Thank you.

Dan Bryan

4th December 2019 at 1:37 pm

I nearly choked on my green tea it was so funny…

In Negative

4th December 2019 at 9:51 am

If we analyse the history of academia, there will be a point where sociologists began making distinctions between gender and sex. On the wone hand, this looks like a tool by which sexual roles can be analysed; on the other hand, it marks that those analysts themselves have become able to separate their conscious experience from their bodies.

There is a radical difference between a culture that can make the informational separation between gender and sex and the culture that cannot make such differentiations. In fact, there is a radical difference between a culture that can separate its body from its mind to one which cannot separate mind and matter.

Gender fluidity is the natural progression of this developmental line. The original intellectual separation of the body from gender marks the origin of our ability to separate sex and gender at the level of our conscious experience. Everything else is just a struggle over how to deal with this fact. A struggle about how the society should assimilate this shift.

Ellen Whitaker

4th December 2019 at 10:19 pm

If you can define for me what a woman is, without reference to biology, and without reference to the behavioral and affective stereotypes, and stereotypes of dress that have been imposed upon women by society, I would be very interested in your definition.

David Rart

4th December 2019 at 8:45 am

I agree in general with the article, though cheap appeals to ordinary folk, i.e., ” go to a pub in Middlesbrough, a bus stop in Doncaster or a market stall in Plymouth”, don’t do anything for otherwise well articulated arguments.

Ven Oods

6th December 2019 at 9:45 am

You’d have preferred the more succinct ‘Just ask Joe Public’?

Dominic Straiton

4th December 2019 at 8:44 am

Presumably it wont be illegal to lie on other legal documents.

Liz Davison

4th December 2019 at 7:48 am

Also a passport is an official international document. Will all other countries even accept the X designation? This ridiculous proposal flies in the face of rational thought. What has become of the Civil Service in Britain? This is exactly the kind of problem they are supposed to give advice about. Have they not thought this through at all?

Jerry Owen

4th December 2019 at 7:42 am

When do ‘gender neutral’ people claim their pension 66 or 67 ?

Ven Oods

6th December 2019 at 9:47 am

Obviously, at 66.5.
It’s only fair…

Tim Hare

4th December 2019 at 6:57 am

What does it matter whether you are bound by a choice of male or female? What advantages that can be determined by the possession of a valid passport would be available that are not already available to males and females alike? There is absolutely no point in having another category other than to pander to the insecurities of those who see themselves as neither male or female. If you feel you are neither male nor female, well good for you, but why do you need official recognition of that status when such recognition provides absolutely no benefits?

Passports are not issued as authentication of your gender but of your citizenship. They are not meant to be documents about your gender since it does not matter to governments what gender you claim to be. You can pass through any customs point and know in your own mind that you are either male or female or x gender. That is all you need to affirm who you truly are. You do not need anyone else’s affirmation.

We need to stop pandering to people who want to use bureaucracy and tax payer dollars to affirm what can only be affirmed in the mind of the individual.


14th December 2019 at 7:53 pm

Tim Hare has never heard of biological intersex conditions. There are lots of them – look them up!

Steve Roberts

4th December 2019 at 5:35 am

Williams raises an extremely important point here, the question of oppression, and as with almost all definitions in the political realm today its meaning is becoming very problematic.
If there are sections of society that are oppressed then it would seem right that political representation is made on their behalf to change that situation, if we support basic freedoms and equality of opportunity ,to among other things generalised rights ,this would be acceptable and necessary.
So without straying into semantics it is necessary to have a commonly understood meaning of oppression, in this case regarding transgenderism and issues that are tangential to it , are trans an oppressed minority, what rights are they denied in society that non transgender people have access to ? Does the lack of those rights impinge on them being able to lead a full social and political life that is available to the rest of society.
These are matters that need the fullest discussion in society, especially when ,as in this situation ,it means that the norms and values that are commonly accepted and consented to as a very large part of our entire social interactions will be fundamentally changed.
That will necessitate arguments been won in the wider public arena to facilitate and legitimate any major changes that should be consented to, whereas what we have now is political activism been not only taken up enthusiastically by the political class but beyond that imposed on the majority of society, that is not consent it is more tyranny by a minority, allegedly on behalf of an oppressed minority.
Neither can we have any person or sections of society self declaring their own particular identities and demanding an imposition of their entitlement to their own demands in effect unilaterally .
That would and is becoming anarchical, no universal or majoritarian consent, and little more than petulant demands for me me me.
If the political class continue with these impositions then it will be no surprise if the general public – among whom most of this nonsense has no resonance in fact it is ridiculed -will have to start calling this out for what it is at a personal level, and publicly, there will be offence taken and social conflict at some level but if the establishment refuses to consider most of us we will have to do something to make barriers against these impositions which can at times as Williams pointed out create real safety issues for women and kids too.

Michael M

4th December 2019 at 3:05 am

New Zealand has an X. But the X is used in instances where they are awaiting gender reassignment surgery, not for gender neutrality. The box is for sex, not gender anyway. Let them identify with whatever gender they want, just make sure their biological sex is recorded properly, using X where there is naturally indeterminate sex

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