Let's be honest, most of us can't stand them. Whether it's taxes, immigration, tenancy documents, job applications, arrival and departure cards at airports, hotel reservations, event registration, or a plethora of other things, they can be time-consuming, ask for all kinds of unnecessary information, and are often more complicated than trying to play the accordion blindfolded while riding a unicycle inside a steel cage with a pair of Siberian tigers.
But aside from being needlessly intrusive, they can also cause serious harm - especially when it comes to questions about gender identity.
On the surface, a form with two boxes to indicate if you're female or male might seem unthreatening. You would be wrong.
Ticking one box or the other might seem inconsequential for some people. But for genderqueer folk such as myself, it can lead to extreme mental torment, homelessness, deportation, or far, far worse.
It's well-known that the suicide rate for non-cisgender people is higher than for people who are cisgender ("cisgender" basically meaning your gender identity is the same as the sex you were assigned at birth). Let me just say that the limited options when filling out forms doesn't help.
I already know what the critics are going to say. Something about "special snowflakes," or some other nonsense about "sucking it up" because "it's only a form." I'll counter with this: How would you like it if you were denied housing, denied employment, or subjected to all kinds of other forms of discrimination and abuse simply because you were honest about who you are and don't identify as female or male? And don't give me this "there are only two genders" claptrap; gender is a spectrum, not a binary - evidence for which is backed up by plenty of research.
You could also lie when presented with the female or male question when filling in forms, but that's also not a very good idea. Knowing you're hiding who you truly are eats you up inside. I would know: I did it for years.
Every time I'm filling something out and see a section marked "gender," I get a lump in my throat and my pulse races as I squirm uncomfortably. A thousand terrible thoughts flash through my mind - and for good reason.
You see, completing forms when you're non-cisgender is one of the worst catch-22s imaginable. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Extreme anguish guaranteed.
Even when there are options besides female or male, they're not always the best. Just the other day, I was registering for an event. There were three options for gender: female, male and "unknown." What the heck is "unknown?" There are plenty of things I don't know (like how to cook beef stroganoff, how to change the oil in a car, or how to do my taxes without my head spinning, to name a few), but I'm pretty bloody sure my gender identity is not "unknown."
The situation left me feeling humiliated. What's worse, it didn't have to.
When creating forms - either online or to be printed out - how hard would it be to add a space where people could write in their gender identity? That way, if someone is non-binary like myself (or pangender, transfeminine, androgyne or any other gender), they can express that if they so choose.
Or, why do we have to reveal our gender at all? Some of us simply are not comfortable doing so. Plus, what relevance does someone's gender identity have as to whether or not they'd make a good tenant for a flat?
There's precedent for making forms more inclusive, or at least less threatening. Back in the US, my home state of Oregon allows people to indicate if they're non-binary or any other gender on their driving licence, signified by an "X" instead of "F" or "M". Oregon also isn't the only place to allow that: Washington does too. Discriminating against someone based on their gender identity is also illegal in both places, which does wonders for at least feeling safer.
And already there's some progress being made in NZ that's worth celebrating. I recently wrote to my power company asking if they could address me as "Mx" (my preferred title) instead of "Mr" when sending me bills. They had no problem with it. Why can't more companies and government organisations be so progressive?
One of the realities of living in modern-day New Zealand is that being cisgender means a person has a certain level of privilege that us genderqueer people don't have. All I ask is that if you're someone - or part of a group of someones - who creates forms for others to complete, that you be aware of how distressing they can be when the gender options are limited, or if someone has to reveal their gender identity at all.
A little knowledge goes a long way for helping others have peace of mind.