‘X’ marks the spot for state’s non-binary citizens

  • ACLU Trans Justice Organizer Palana Belken (left) and Alex Brendan McEntee at the State House steps on Tuesday, July 17, 2019. Both were involved in the new law that allows people to chose third gender marker on their driver's licenses. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • ACLU Trans Justice Organizer Palana Belken (left) and Alex Brendan McEntee at the State House steps on Tuesday, July 17, 2019. Both were involved in the new law that allows people to chose third gender marker on their driver's licenses. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • ACLU Trans Justice Organizer Palana Belken (left) and Alex Brendan McEntee are shown at the State House steps Tuesday in Concord. Both were involved in a new law that allows people to choose their gender marker on their New Hampshire drivers licenses. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/20/2019 6:26:11 PM

Alex Brendan McEntee did not have words, as an 11-year-old girl, for how uncomfortable it made her when she got her period. Or when, in middle school, she began to develop breasts.

Alex, then called “Amy” just remembers feeling angry when her body started to change.

“I never wanted to be a woman,” McEntee said. “That was not in my future plans.”

Back then, McEntee was not able to verbalize those feelings. It took decades to find a term that felt right to describe McEntee’s identity: transgender non-binary.

Today, at 48, McEntee does not identify as a man or a woman, and goes by singular they/them pronouns.

Like others who are transgender, non-binary individuals do not identify with their birth gender. But instead of transitioning from one gender to another, McEntee falls somewhere between the two genders.

McEntee said living with a non-binary identity – as Alex – means living life more freely.

But while McEntee has been living as a non-binary person for years, there was no official acknowledgment of that reality from the state. McEntee’s name was legally changed from “Amy” to “Alex,” but McEntee is still listed as a female on most official documentation.

That’s about to change. Last week, New Hampshire passed a law allowing people to have an “x” gender marker on a drivers license instead of an “m” or “f” for male and female.

People will be able to change their gender markers to “x” starting Jan. 1. McEntee said it’s a first step toward feeling validated.

“I’m going to be there at 6 a.m. with my little lawn chair, my form and doctor’s note in hand, ready to go,” McEntee said. “Being non-binary in a binary world, I feel invisible and invalid. But this makes me feel like I’m valid. Now, I will have this ID. A state-issued identification that says ‘Alex McEntee is non-binary.’ It’s an acknowledgment of who I am.”

There was other legislation before the governor this session that would have allowed non-binary people to update their birth certificates with the correct gender identity. That bill, House Bill 446, was vetoed by Sununu on Friday.

Still, advocates hope to return to the State House to pass that legislation in the coming years. Gender issues are becoming more of a norm in state politics,  said Palana Belken, Trans Justice Organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire.

“There are more people recognizing: ‘I don’t really neatly fit into one box. I see myself as something in between,’ ” Belken said. “It’s coming quick and this ID is coming at just the right time. I think it’s going to start to become pretty prevalent.”

Alex’s story

McEntee had a revelation at age 46 after watching spoken word poet Emil Eastman perform at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord.

McEntee had never heard someone else describe the feeling of being caught between two genders.

As a young person, McEntee struggled with feeling disconnected. McEntee had felt uncomfortable wearing dresses or other feminine clothing since elementary school, but never thought of identifying as transgender.

McEntee ​​​​​​had long been a member of the LGBTQ community, identifying as bisexual and pansexual, but did not know much about people who identified as non-binary.

“I was 46 years old and my whole life just made sense,” McEntee said, after hearing Eastman’s poetry.

McEntee considers that day a new birthday. From then on, McEntee went by Alex, a gender-neutral name that means defender and protector in Greek. McEntee asked people to use “they” pronouns instead of “she.”

There were some challenges along the way. McEntee came out to the pastor at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Concord that McEntee had attended for 14 years, and he banned McEntee from working with children in the congregation.

“He said, ‘our church teaches that this is impossible,’ ” McEntee said of the non-binary identity. “That church was my almost only family. That was who I saw all the time. I was absolutely heartbroken.”

But McEntee was able to find acceptance at a new church community, at the South Church in Concord. McEntee started volunteering with the ACLU to promote trans issues.

Even still, it’s difficult to have to constantly remind people to use the correct pronouns and not “he” or “she.”

“I understand that it’s hard. I understand that for some people, it doesn’t make sense,” McEntee said. “It might not make sense, but it’s my pronoun. It’s who I am.”

McEntee sometimes wears a button that says “they/them” on it and wants to make a “they/them” baseball hat to remind people to use the correct terms. McEntee also hopes a new identification card will spark conversation and give others an opportunity to learn.

“I want people to feel empowered to ask if you don’t know. Don’t assume what you see is what you get,” McEntee said. “I’m excited about having an ID that when I go to the grocery store and buy a beer, or when I go to the bank and cash a check, or wherever I pull my ID out, more people are going to be like, ‘what’s that?’ and I’ll be like, ‘well, let me tell you about how hard I worked for that.”

Belken said it can be hard for people to get used to the idea of non-binary at first, because many social norms are constructed around gender.

“There’s so much built into the societal programming that it’s tough to defeat that idea of ‘men’ and ‘women’. All that language is just so ingrained in every single step of how we address people and talk about our society,” she said. “But if you leave out the gender, it allows people to appreciate the person for their accomplishments, and not what they were assigned at birth.”

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