It's My Right To Change My Gender On My Birth Certificate, Surgery Or Not
As a transgender person, I am often faced with the profound absurdity of having other people debate my existence for me -- not simply whether I do exist, but also whether or not I should.
It’s a strange mental dislocation to behold, watching politicians, media figures, and total strangers alike discuss your life the same way one might argue the quickest way to get to the supermarket from home. That metaphor fits, too, because in these discussions there is always a sense that there is, there must be, an objective right or wrong way to do it -- that is, a right or wrong way to be trans, to transition, to live your life as a gender different from the one you were assigned at birth.
In reality, there are countless different paths to transgender identity, and no one trans person has the same journey or priorities when they transition. I’ll be more specific: for some, to be trans requires physical change -- for these trans people the pain caused by gender dysphoria can only be alleviated by gender reassignment surgeries that allow their bodies to more closely resemble how they see themselves. For others, the change is more social, cultural, or even mental and emotional. Many non-binary people, for instance -- those who identify as something other than male or female -- feel no need to change their body, preferring the affirmation of changing social roles, gender presentation, alternate pronouns and alternate relationship structures.
The difference is that, while that path of physical and medical transition has been viewed with increasing acceptance over the last several decades, and trans people who undergo reassignment surgery are now fully legally recognised (at least in Australia), the same has not been true for those who don’t wish to follow a medicalised path.
On Tuesday, the Victorian government passed new laws allowing trans and gender diverse people to choose the sex on their birth certificate. This law means that trans people will be able to change the gender on their birth certificate without requiring gender reassignment surgery.
It also introduces the option for non-binary and gender non-conforming people to have that indicated on their birth certificate, rather than restricting trans people to a male/female binary.
Whilst this is, in many ways, a moment long overdue -- similar legislation has already passed in Tasmania, the Northern Territory, South Australia, and the ACT -- it remains a vitally important step in the ongoing push for trans people’s legal and social recognition, and it’s crucial we don’t underplay that fact.
This reform now means that far more of those countless many ways to exist as a transgender person will be seen as legally legitimate. As a transgender man with no current plans to undergo the traditional surgical transition path for various reasons, I have until now been “insufficiently trans” as far as the law is concerned. Despite the fact that I live my life as a man and have done so for almost six years without regret or uncertainty, I was unable to legally change my gender in most parts of Australia until far too recently.
I should not have to “prove” myself by jumping through what are, for me, risky and invasive surgical hoops in order to be afforded the safety and protection that comes with legal recognition. No trans person should have their ability to safely apply for jobs, seek medical treatment, travel, or do anything that requires a legal ID, curtailed because they either don’t want or are unable to have or afford surgery.
There has, not surprisingly, been backlash from those who fear the reform makes things ‘too easy’ for trans people. Australian transgender pioneer Carlotta when interviewed on Studio 10 posited a common sentiment -- when asked her thoughts on the bill she said she believed trans people should “have the sex change, and then go get your papers changed”. The concern, as many have put it, is that making it easier to legally declare your gender will lead to more people falsely or mistakenly identifying as transgender. “Because anyone can do it,” Carlotta said. “You could go in and say ‘I want to be a boy’, and you’re not a boy.”
The fallacy we have to operate under for this to be true, is that more trans people existing for any reason is a bad thing.
I by no means wish to single out a transgender voice of dissent in this debate and contribute to the continual cannibalisation of the trans community in public discourse. I bring up this quote from Carlotta because it illustrates the moral panic around trans identity that still plagues us -- we don’t want to make it easier to be trans, because we still see trans identity as something dangerous, or defective.
We can work towards acceptance for those of us who are already trans, but our society draws the line at anything that might be perceived as an encouragement to ‘become’ trans.
In truth, when we make it easier for trans people to change their legal identity, what we are really doing is making it easier for someone to live, work, seek medical treatment, marry, and die as the gender they are and not the sex they were assigned at birth. And the detractors are, in a way, right. This reform will encourage people to identify as trans -- but they are wrong to think that those people weren’t already trans. It’s simply a case of opening a new path to acceptance.