Governments around the world issue identity documents (IDs) that list people’s gender. These IDs include birth certificates, passports, national identification cards, and driver’s licenses, among others. People are expected to present IDs in everyday life for a wide range of purposes, such as opening a bank account, renting a car, boarding an airplane, and voting. Longstanding human rights principles support the proposition that, if IDs contain gender markers, individuals have the right to obtain markers that match their gender identity. For example, a transgender woman should have the right to identify herself as female on her IDs. A transgender man should have the right to identify himself as male. Individuals should also be given the right to indicate if they identify outside the male/female binary.
This book chapter proceeds in three parts. First, I map out the ways in which the right to choose one’s own gender markers—which I will refer to as the right to gender recognition—derives from other well-established human rights. The right to gender recognition is not explicitly mentioned in any international human rights treaty, but this chapter contends that existing treaty provisions nonetheless cover the right to gender recognition. Second, I examine and ultimately reject potential justifications for overriding the right to gender recognition. Third, I assess the extent to which legal institutions have come to acknowledge and protect the right to gender recognition.