No, this isn’t really the way to include transgender people

Australian passports will now have three gender options – male, female and indeterminate – under new guidelines to remove discrimination against transgender people, the government said Thursday.

Transgender people and those of ambiguous sex will now be able to list their gender on passports with an ‘X’ if their choice is supported by a doctor’s statement.

Previously, gender was a choice of only male or female, and people were not allowed to change their gender on their passport without having had a sex-change operation.

The way to include transgender people is to let them tick ‘male’ or ‘female’ even if they haven’t had surgery. It *is* good to have a third option, it really is: some people reject both male and female. But this shouldn’t be touted as including transgender people.

(Thanks, S!)

UPDATE: Looks like it was the reporting that was the problem. Blue Monarch writes: “HuffPo’s got some serious bad reporting going on there, jender. The new guidelines allow for all gender and sex diverse people to get passports issued in their preferred gender.
Here’s a relevant quote from the press release by the Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs:
“Sex and gender diverse people now have the option of presenting a statement from a medical practitioner supporting their preferred gender.”

Binary trans* people get to have their gender marker, so rejoice! Those of us in the Australian IGSD communities are certainly quite chuffed!”

8 thoughts on “No, this isn’t really the way to include transgender people

  1. HuffPo’s got some serious bad reporting going on there, jender. The new guidelines allow for all gender and sex diverse people to get passports issued in their preferred gender.
    Here’s a relevant quote from the press release by the Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs:
    “Sex and gender diverse people now have the option of presenting a statement from a medical practitioner supporting their preferred gender.”
    (http://www.foreignminister.gov.au/releases/2011/kr_mr_110914b.html)

    Binary trans* people get to have their gender marker, so rejoice! Those of us in the Australian IGSD communities are certainly quite chuffed!

  2. Yeah, the medical gatekeeper bit is a little creepy – what exactly are we trying to block in letting people self-declare their gender? – but still, pretty cool progress.

  3. I wonder if they’re changing the “Sex” line to “Gender” on Australian passports, or if that already happened.

  4. Also, I had assumed that the requirement of a sex change operation before letting people change their sex indication on a passport might be linked in part to facilitating such tasks as matching passports/manifests to bodies in aviation accidents – a grim idea, but one in which the International Civil Aviation Organisation (which promulgates international passport guidelines) and national governments would presumably have a legitimate interest.

    While passports exist at least partly for the convenience of their bearers, the identifying information on them is really for the convenience and use of the authorities in carrying out various official tasks. It’s not exactly clear how this would be furthered by completely unrestricted self-declaration of sex on passports.

  5. @Nemo

    (this will seem irrelevant for a while, but I’ll get there eventually!)

    “Sex change operation” is a really misleading and tabloid-esque phrase that most trans people find offensive, just as an FYI. The whole idea of a “sex change” is an incorrect concept, metaphysically. It perpetuates the idea that trans women -become- women, and they do so through surgery. This is considered wrong through the eyes of trans people and through the eyes of the legal and medical world too. Without going into too much boring detail, in the UK you can correct your gender on all identification* with the support of a doctor’s statement. Not to mention the fact that access to HRT and surgery is a long, difficult and pretty humiliating process, and that many trans people do not want surgery, and surgery for trans men is limited in what kind of results it can offer, trans people tend to live and present as their gender at any point in their lives. There’s absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be the case that identification shouldn’t reflect that. I can say with almost absolute certainty that the identification of corpses has nothing to do with gender markers on ID.

    I think that your concern is that the gender marker of a trans person would be potentially misleading. This is only so long as people believe there is an incongruence with being a man who has XX chromosomes, or a woman with XY chromosomes, or any other variation of sex characteristics and gender which falls outside of non-trans, non-intersex individuals. It’s not misleading at all – it is accurate. Which is why the gender history of an individual, or the status of their assigned birth sex to their gender, is of no concern to authorities.

    Also, the sex/gender distinction for trans people isn’t an issue, legally. I could argue until the cows come home against the distinction and all the implications of the distinction, but it’s not all that relevant with this I guess.

    But yeah I hope that makes sense.

    *apart from birth certificates. they can only be changed with a gender recognition certificate which is more difficult and takes longer to get

  6. Hi Anonymous,

    Thank you for that well-considered and patient response.

    With regard to your observation about the (ir)relevance of the distinction between gender and sex in this context, I’m not sure that it’s quite irrelevant here. I’m noting this inasmuch as there are several times where you use “gender” in your comment where either (i) it’s not entirely clear that “sex” mightn’t have been more correct under ordinary usage or (ii) at the very least, swapping “gender” for “sex” wouldn’t have changed at least subtly the significance of the sentence in question. Also, I can’t agree that the distinction between these two terms, however that distinction may be conceived, is a non-issue legally. It may well be irrelevant to a given law in a given country at a given time, depending – but it’s certainly a matter of interest, discussion, and significant spilled ink in the jurisprudence.
    With regard to the use of the term “sex change operation” I take your admonition under advisement. Perhaps I should have used “sex reassignment surgery”, which seems to be commonly used even in medical contexts, although it’s not clear that the same objection you mention wouldn’t apply also to SRS. I daresay that a wide range of people would agree (albeit not necessarily all for the same or similar reasons) that the idea of a “sex change” is, as you suggest, an “incorrect concept, metaphysically”.

    You note that you think my concern is that the gender (or was it sex?) marker of a trans person would be potentially misleading, and suggest that this is only so long as people believe there is an incongruence with being a man who has XX chromosomes, or a woman with XY chromosomes, etc. etc. To that I’m inclined to add (or perhaps just paraphrase) “or as long as they believe there is an incongruence between being a man and being a female, or being a woman and being a male”. I have the impression that you are strictly correct there, at least on one level, but I also sense that this ends up being inextricably bound to questions about the referents of “male”, “man”, “female”, “woman” – and yes, “sex” and “gender” ultimately. It’s banal to say it, but of course “A” and “B” can stand in any congruent or incongruent relation, for certain respective values of A and B. To say more on this might exceed the scope of this thread. Yet discussing these matters does tend to put one in mind of Alice’s objection to Humpty Dumpty.

    It’s perhaps worth noting that whether or not something is accurate is, unfortunately, an entirely distinct matter from whether it is misleading (a truth universally acknowledged in what you’ve called the “legal world”). And while the points in your post are well taken, it seems to me that a satisfactory account of why knowledge of these things would be of absolutely no concern or legitimate practical use to authorities still remains to be made.

  7. Hi Anonymous and Nemo,

    Interestingly, my parents often identify bodies from skeletal remains. They use the sex/gender distinction rather heavily, in part as a way of making clear that one should not assume anything about how someone was known or thought of themself based on sex as identified in the skeleton. (And note, of course, that markers of sex on the skeleton won’t be affected by surgery.) They will, then, carefully distinguish markers of biological sex (e.g. pelvis shape) from markers of gender (e.g. clothing on the body). Both of these are actually very important if you want to identify a difficult to identify body, and it’s important to have a way of keeping them separate.

    None of this, however, bears on what should be put on someone’s passport.

    I agree with Anonymous of course that there are all kinds of problems with the sex/gender distinction, and lots of horrendously complicated issues.

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