Just not fitting

Today is the last day of non-binary awareness week. In this project, one thing we’re very interested in is how the everyday categories of the welfare system that have been designed by heterosexuals align with queer lives.

It probably will not surprise you to learn that UK welfare bureaucracy really does not seem to be aware of non-binary identities. The forms to claim welfare benefits ask for gender, and they also include gendered titles. But these are entirely binary. As a result, firstly, this blog post almost writes itself, and secondly and more importantly this poses real challenges for non-binary people accessing welfare.

At the most basic level, this means non-binary people accessing welfare cannot be themselves – they are forced back into a gender binary that does not reflect who they are. From our initial analysis we can see that participants had three strategies for coping with this situation: denying their identity and fitting themselves within the binary; diverting attention to other parts of their identity; or actively subverting the system.

In terms of denying identity, Mrs Frank* explained how:

“it’s all under my deadname, so it sort of feels like a separate official version of me, and then the gay, the trans me that spends the money, but we don’t get it”

Although they went onto explain that it did not bother them, it was effectively bureaucratic violence in terms of a complete misrecognition of who they were.

Sammi used the second strategy, denying their identity and also diverting attention towards the part of their identity they felt matter more – their disabilities – which were the reason for them claiming Personal Independence Payment:

“it’s easier to be just sure I look like a woman, let’s go with that, yes. I mean if I want to keep the focus on my disabilities and my illnesses then it’s just easier to go with those. Let’s not bring gender and sexuality in as well”

Finally, another participant resisted the gender binary within the bureaucratic administration by choosing a different gender depending on how they felt when they were completing that particular form. The drawback of this approach were the barriers they faced when records across different systems did not match which could affect a claim.

As an administrative barrier this should be a fairly straightforward change for welfare agencies to make – it is simply creating another gender category and adding other titles to drop-down menus. Yet another non-binary participant, who was in the process of starting a claim for Adult Disability Payment, through Scottish Social Security was disappointed that even this brand new system did not move beyond the gender binary. For them, this was particularly dispiriting as the service-user engagement and consultation by the Scottish Government in creating this new system suggested that non-binary genders and titles should be allowed in this brand new system.

Thus, a very obvious recommendation from our project is that welfare agencies must make their bureaucratic administration aware of non-binary identities.

* all participants chose, or have been given, pseudonyms

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