Should we have the right to determine our own gender identification on our birth certificates?
If your immediate answer is along the lines of “Yes, of course we should”, then you might be surprised to know that under current law in some Australian states, the only way to get your gender changed on your birth certificate is by undergoing expensive and radical gender reassignment surgery.
That essentially means that if you identify as trans or intersex, the only way your chosen identity can be legally acknowledged is by permanently altering your physical body to reflect your chosen gender.
That’s why the Victorian Andrews government’s move this week to introduce a bill in state parliament that is designed to make it easier for people to change the gender on their birth certificates is a positive and long overdue step.
If passed, the bill will allow Victorians to change their gender to either male, female or any other gender descriptor of their choosing — without needing to go under the surgeon’s knife. It means that birth certificates belonging to Victorians could soon include a range of genders including asexual, non-binary and queer. Terms used in particular communities, such as sistergirl and brotherboy in Indigenous culture, may also be chosen.
The Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2019 also allows children to alter the sex recorded on their birth certificate, as long as their choice is supported by their parents and a medical professional saying it is in the child’s best interests. However, the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages will retain the right to refuse to register a sex descriptor if they deem it to be obscene or offensive — so it won’t be an unregulated free-for-all.
As it currently stands, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia have already removed the need for surgery to have occurred before gender changes can be made to a person’s birth certificate.
But, as you might have guessed, not everyone is happy about the changes.
The Catholic Church last week issued an official Vatican document (published during LGBT Pride Month) titled ‘Male and Female He Created Them’, rejecting the idea that people can choose or change genders and insisting on the sexual “complementarity” of men and women to make babies.
In Australia, the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Vicar for Life, Marriage and Family, Tony Kerin, said on ABC radio this week that the church did not “approve or appreciate” the reform.
The Australian Christian Lobby has also come out against the Bill, pointing to absurd concerns that the safety of women might somehow be compromised if a man with a legal female identity has access to female bathrooms.
Frankly, I am astounded that the Catholic Church has the gall to come out and tell others what to do after the numerous sex abuse scandals uncovered within the Church. Surely now is the time for the church to be reflecting on its own impacts on people’s lives over generations — rather than making judgments on the gender identity of others.
Of course, the Andrews government is right that prohibiting people from choosing their own legal gender is a fundamental abuse of their human rights and will only lead to increased stigma and social isolation among an already vulnerable social group.
This is a change that will only affect a small number of people — and for those of us who enjoy the relative social privilege of a cisgender identity (meaning our gender identity matches or sex at birth) we should show our solidarity by supporting it in the interests of basic fairness and social inclusion.
This change will simply update an outdated system that doesn’t allow people to live as they choose to live — and will give them the dignity of holding a birth certificate that accurately reflects their own gender identity.