14 October 2012

Surgery Not Required In Ontario

In the Canadian province of Ontario, it is now possible for a person to change the gender as well as the name on his or her birth certificate, even if he or she hasn't had gender reassignment surgery.

This change in policy stems from an April ruling from the province's Human Rights Tribunal in the case of a born-male woman known as "XY" .  The Tribunal declared the surgery requirement to be discriminatory. Furthermore, the Tribunal's ruling said that the requirement added to the stigma felt by members of the transgender community, and reinforced stereotypes about how they experience gender.

I am of two minds about this ruling.  On one hand, I am glad that the requirement for surgery has been eliminated, and would like to see American states similarly change their policies.  The surgical requirement discriminates against those who can't afford surgery or can't have it for medical reasons. It also, as the Ontario tribunal's ruling notes, reinforces the gender binary.  We are now learning that gender identity is not merely "performative," genital or chromosomal; it is far more complex, and complicated than almost anyone realizes.  That means, of course, that there are far more than two ways to experience, much less express, gender.

Dropping the surgical requirement will also make it easier for many people, especially young trans folk, to gain admissions to schools, jobs, housing and many other actual and de facto necessities of life.  Someone who does not have those things, and can find no other option but a homeless shelter and other public assistance, will be assigned to a shelter and given benefits according to whether the "male" or "female" is indicated on the birth certificate.

On the other hand, as a friend of mine says, a birth certificate is part of an accurate record of a person's history. This friend, who is transitioning, does not want to change the gender, or even the name, on the birth certificate. The birth certificate records the gender of the body into which a person is born and the name given at the time of birth.  My friend believes that these are a vital part of a life history.

I can sympathise with this friend's feelings, and feel that if anyone who doesn't want to change his or her birth certificate, even after surgery, should have that right.   At the same time, I realize this friend is unlikely to change jobs and probably won't move until retirement from said job.  My friend will not therefore have to face the dilemma of having to start life with documents that don't match gender identity or presentation.

So, as I said, I am glad for the Ontario ruling and hope other Canadian provinces and American states--as well as other nations--follow suit.  But I also hope that no one is forced to alter his or her records after a transition and surgery.

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