LGBTQ Magazine

Beyond the Binary: Question Twenty-One

By Cnlester @cnlester

Panel bios here. We’ve opened up this question a little bit to talk about a number of different countries.

Question Twenty-One:

I heard on the radio a few months back, someone (I cant remember the country this person lived in) got the letter ‘U’ applied to their legal documents. I was ecstatic to hear this and am wondering the process one would have to go through (in Canada) to do the same.

Nat: I think that was probably the New South Wales decision which was recently validated by their Court of Appeals. I believe the person in question, norrie mAy-Welby, was issued a ‘sex not specified’ birth certificate in 2010 after explaining zie was neuter to hir local register office, but this was declared invalid 4 months later. After a 3 year battle the Court of Appeals restored the legal status of the certificate, ruling that norrie had a body that was neither female nor male (due to GRS / removal of the gonads) and therefore ‘sex’ was not binary.

I think realistically for similar change to occur in other countries it will require nonbinary people who are willing to sacrifice a huge amount of time, energy and privacy to become a campaigner who persistently takes this to their MP, government ministers, the media and the courts. This is how change happens.

I’ve considered doing this myself, but all my arguments for why I would benefit from gender neutral or nonspecific identification and legal status center around the right to privacy to not disclose my ‘legal’ or assigned gender and I can’t imagine any circumstances where campaigning on this matter would not result in the information I’d wish to protect instead being disseminated across national or global media, as happened to norrie. So for me this is a ‘catch 22′ situation.

For anyone reading this who is seeking a change to their legal status on the basis of accuracy and representation and is willing the go under international scrutiny to do so, I would hope that activists who have experiences of successfully campaigning for increasing the rights of binary trans people would offer you their support and experience to help.

Hel: As far as I’m aware, gender-neutral passports are under review in Canada – I don’t know if they’ve been implemented yet. They’ve recently been rejected here in the UK, but there are third-gender passport options available in Australia, Bangladesh, India, and New Zealand.

Jennie: Personally I’d rather have the option of not being gendered on documents, and extend that option to everyone, raather than have a special marker that shows I’m not male or female. History has shown us that being marked as part of a stigmatised minority in that way can be dangerous. I’d love to get an ‘X’ on my passport and hope that this is something the passport service in the UK will reconsider soon, or that Scotland’s passport service can be persuaded to adopt if we become independent (we have a better record on inclusive trans and intersex rights so this may be more feasible). X is a perfectly acceptable option under international law.

CN: I can’t think of any other countries/cases that haven’t already been mentioned by Nat and Hel – for myself, I would rather campaign to remove gender markers on passports than fight for a third option, for three reasons. One, given the amount of data included on a passport, the ‘M’ or ‘F’ is redundant for identification purposes. Two, as Jennie says, I think it might well prove dangerous, particularly when traveling. Three – well, I don’t think it’s the law’s/government’s place to police gender and sex. This might well be a minority view, but I’m personally in favour of removing gender categories/markers from all official documents, unless needed for equality monitoring purposes or medical reasons, in which case a ‘need to know’ basis could be assumed. 

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