Nonbinary in Britain … So We Can't Marry

Nonbinary in Britain … So We Can't Marry

Why you should care

This couple can’t legally marry in the U.K., so they had a protest wedding instead.

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While I’ve never really been into marriage, it would be a lie to say that I’d never thought about it or even fantasized about the perfect wedding. Just about everyone in the Western world has at some point. But enjoying an official union is more complicated when you’re queer.

Growing up, I couldn’t picture a future for myself. As a trans person, I had to go on a long and obstacle-filled journey of self-discovery. But even now that I’ve overcome most of those earlier challenges, I still can’t marry my partner, Owl, because we both identify as nonbinary. In the U.K., where we live, that means marriage is not an option.

In most countries, people can only be registered on official documents like marriage certificates as male or female. While that’s not an issue for most people, it is for those who identify as nonbinary, a term describing trans people who don’t identify exclusively as male or female. It can also mean they identify as fluid, a mix or completely outside of the gender binary.

The institution of marriage has a long and problematic history that’s deeply tied to norms about gender — think of how women have been portrayed as chattel throughout history — sexuality and monogamy. Many queer people have therefore criticized the LGBTQ community’s focus on marriage equality as an act of assimilation when they’d prefer to see a deconstruction of gender norms. The right to marry also pales in comparison with larger issues of discrimination, such as hostile media debates, hate crimes, homelessness, poverty and the unsafe conditions of sex work.

Owl and I know that marriage is not the biggest issue facing people like us, but the fact that we can’t get married highlights how the lack of legal gender recognition stops us from participating in society in the same way as others. It doesn’t really matter whether or not nonbinary people want to get married; the fact remains that everyone should have the right to.

And that’s why Owl and I had a protest wedding.

The wedding itself was pretty low-key, with friends and family joining us for the mock ceremony. We had some traditional elements — rings, a bouquet, white clothes. I was worried I might cry because I’ve always gotten emotional at weddings, especially queer weddings.

The ceremony had a powerful emotional effect on us both. Two years later, we’re still wearing our rings.

There’s something about people being denied it for so long and seeing people’s friends and family come together for an occasion like this that makes me tear up. So actually going through it myself, even in defiance, felt different from what I had expected. It had a powerful emotional effect on us both. Two years later, we’re still wearing our rings.

To legally marry in the U.K. today, we would have to do so as two women. The only other option would be to change the gender designation to male, which wouldn’t feel right either, not to mention that the legal transition process is quite costly in the U.K. Not being able to change our gender to reflect who we are is invalidating and upsetting, and we are not alone.

After our protest wedding, we conducted an informal survey of nonbinary people to find out whether many were interested in getting married. We didn’t expect the amount of responses we received, with person after person saying they were upset by the fact they couldn’t legally marry as themselves, or that they had put their wedding on hold until they could be legally recognized.

Some had even endured the process of being referred to by binary terms like “wife” or “husband” for the court’s sake, which made a day that was supposed to be about love and happiness quite upsetting and invalidating.

There’s still a lot of prejudice and misconceptions about nonbinary people, and those who see gender in more binary terms often have a hard time accepting that some people aren’t just one or the other. It’s only in the past few years that we’ve really started seeing discussions about nonbinary people in the mainstream media, which, as my partner and I know all too well, can be very toxic.

While there isn’t a country that specifically offers legalized nonbinary marriage, there are countries that offer a third gender option on most forms of identification (typically marked as “X” on official documents), which essentially allows people to get married with that gender designation. The countries include Argentina, Malta, Denmark, Nepal and Canada, as well as several states in the U.S. What might seem like a small and pointless change to many is actually an incredible recognition of and sign of acceptance for those who identify outside the gender binary.

Even though I’d personally like to get rid of legal gender altogether, I know that’s still a very distant goal and might never happen for a variety of reasons. But recognizing that gender isn’t just binary, both socially and legally, is an important step toward ensuring we can all equally participate in society, whatever our gender identity.

The author, Fox Fisher, married Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir — aka Owl — in a protest ceremony in 2017.

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