Be Afraid, Be Very Very Afraid

Two and a half weeks ago, two trans men from Western Australia won the right to change the sex marker on their birth certificates without their having had hysterectomies. Though this may seem rather minor from the outside, the ruling by the Western Australian State Admin Tribunal was an important victory for transsexual and transgender rights in Western Australia, moving document change away from expensive and painful genital surgery. Yesterday, however, the West Australian Attorney General Christian Porter announced that the State would be appealing the decision.

Why, you might ask?  What is so important, so pressing, such a grave injustice that the WA Attorney General’s office would use taxpayers money to continue to fight a case they’ve only just recently lost?  The scary transsexual men might breed.  The genesis of the case I covered on Questioning Transphobia back in November last year, after the State first denied the mens’ petition.  From the Australian:

After former West Australian attorney-general Jim McGinty decided to challenge the case in the tribunal, the state will argue that the possibility of pregnancy exists.

“The ability to bear children is plainly not a gender characteristic of a male,” George Tannin SC said in the State’s submission to the appeal.

“The retention of such an ability must necessarily result in the applicant not possessing the gender characteristics of a male.”

That’s right.  It’s not whether they currently can bear children – because both are on testosterone and cannot – but the possibility that they might.  One day.  Maybe.  Both men testified that they intended to take testosterone for the rest of their lives, but that apparently doesn’t suffice for the Attorney General’s office.  What cannot be abided is the mere thought of a Thomas Beattie, of trans people having power over their own reproductive capacities.

Even the judgment of the tribunal victory for the two men two weeks ago makes clear that the document change was conditional on their infertility:

“Both applicants had undergone bilateral mastectomies and testosterone treatment as a result of which each had undergone extensive physical changes consistent with being male,” the tribunal said in its finding.

” … the tribunal accepted the evidence of each applicant that he intended to continue testosterone treatment for the rest of his life.

“It accepted the medical evidence that each was, and would remain, infertile for as long as he continued testosterone treatment”.

Now, the West Australian rules are inconsistent on this front with regard to trans women—our permanent sterility from estrogen counts for precisely nothing, legally speaking.  This would have, I hope, given trans women a lever into another test case with non SRS based criteria.  But no, first this case needs to be appealed again.

Also important to note is that this represents one half of heteronormativity—the clear exertions of the State to try to keep trans people from contaminating heterosexual reproduction with our.  The other is the fact that trans people who marry pre-SRS cannot change their birth certificate either.  The ostensible reason is that with the Federal ban on same-sex marriages, the State would be creating them.  However, the Federal government in July suggested it would accept same-sex marriages with one transsexual partner.  The point is then, that it is the West Australian State (the Gender Reassignment Board) that is working hardest, trying to “protect” the heterosexual institutions of marriage and childbirth from trans people.

So what if there’s the unlikely event that one or both of these guys has a baby sometime?  So what?  They and other trans people deserve the right to the correct documentation.  But I know, I know, I’m living in Magic Fairy Land, where populations don’t need to be sterilised in order to not be put at risk for discrimination and violence.  Back in the real world, apparently it does seem like quite a threat to the State.

**  Note:  Trans threads have a way of getting ugly on feminist blogs, so when commenting, please refer to trans people by their correct genders.  OR ELSE.



Categories: gender & feminism

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15 replies

  1. I agree with everything you say, and this in particular stood out to me:
    So what if there’s the unlikely event that one or both of these guys has a baby sometime? So what?
    I really can’t figure out what’s so threatening about this idea. I just… can’t.

  2. First, welcome Queen Emily to Hoyden!
    I had a huge double-take at the ‘hysterectomy’ requirement while reading the first paragraph – reading on, my brane hadn’t even figured that it might be about fertility, of all things. This smacks of ignorant, bigoted attempts at eugenics, as well as the interlinked issues you’ve identified.

  3. So, when these men are past the age when they could possibly bear children with those terribly confusing female organs, they’ll immediately be granted the right to change the sex marker on their birth certificate. Right, Jim McGinty?

  4. I read a report about this yesterday and was rather stunned. I particularly liked the idea that it might have unpredictable implications for the legal system (or some such nonsense). Oh yes, the whole world will fall apart if the state doesn’t get to decide which gender a person is. There’ll be looting in the streets.
    What I just can’t get my head around is why anyone cares what gender someone sees themselves as. I care very much that transgender people are so horrifically discriminated against, but I can’t imagine holding any moral … opinion at all really, never mind outrage about someone simply existing as a transgender person. I can’t even stir annoyance at a boy having a baby. I guess I must be going to hell.

  5. Thanks Lauredhel, glad to be here 🙂
    Yeah, it is fairly plainly eugenics. The difference with trans women is, we’re usually sterile early on, so they don’t have to worry about sterilising us. It doesn’t give us any free passes, they just search around for *different* criteria to deny us our documents.
    WA’s not alone in this anxiety though, Sweden floated a similar proposal after the publicity with Thomas Beattie.

  6. So what if there’s the unlikely event that one or both of these guys has a baby sometime? So what? They and other trans people deserve the right to the correct documentation.
    Nail. Head. Why is it so damn threatening that trans people might feel the desire to reproduce?

  7. Hmmm. Faily ironic, given the constant barrage in the press both dead-tree and online, that women are fairly unlikely to achieve their biological destinygive birth because they’re just too inclined to delay childbirth, be picky about choosing male partners, want jobs, and other unsavoury feministic practices… then once some fomerly -women have bilateral mastectomies, start taking testerosterone therapeutically and announce their intention to live as men from then on… well, then their fertility is not only assumed to be effective, but positively rampant.
    Can’t understand the reasoning behind any reporting on social issues at the mo.

  8. As somebody who is currently going through this exact difficulty, (trying to get documentation) It’s becoming a Pain in the ass.
    As a trans-woman who is partnered with a cis-woman I’m very worried about the future events of all of this…

  9. Queen Emily: Sweden! Why did I have them in my head as a relatively progressive-ish place?

  10. It’s totally bizarre the way that baby-making entires debates about the law and LBGT issues – like objections to gay marriage on the grounds that marriage is all about reproduction. Most women have one of two children (that is, we’re only engaged with the process of baby-making for a few short years of our lives) and a big minority of us don’t at all. Some women aren’t ever able to have children and all of us lose this ability with time.
    The ability or lack thereof to get pregnant can’t even be said to be a biological marker of being female or male – not unless everyone under 12 and over 50 can be classified male – so what it’s got to do with gender, I really don’t know.

  11. It really demonstrates how much about heteronormativity it is, doesn’t it, bloblobbolob? That everything comes down to circumscribing where and when and how and why reproduction will occur. Totally eugenicist, just like Lauredhel said.
    Em, you’re totally on the money here; I agree with every single word! The law has been utterly hideous with respect to trans people in Australia, and it looks like continuing (seriously, the pervy descriptions and ‘assessments’ of trans women’s bodies from judges are astonshingly awful. Transgender Jurisprudence is my rec, for anyone wanting to look at the history of Australian law’s engagement with trans women (less men), though I have a feeling I’d find parts of it problematic now…).
    I do particularly like the anxiety about outcomes for the law: unknowable futures? My god! How awful! When futures get unknowable, clearly you’ve screwed up. 😛 I’m always intrigued at what seems to raise the discourse about law getting broke by new law. Potentially pregnant trans men. Obviously law will crumble into nothingness and society into chaos. However would we deal. etc. /snark WTF?!
    I hope things go smoothly for you, tru7hless… I haven’t kept up with what happened in the aftermath of the HREOC investigationy thing (I heard about some of the problems with the ‘community consultation’ process, but haven’t tracked down the suggestions released. Should do that) but I know documentation was at the heart of the issue. I wonder how this case fits in around that?

  12. @lauredhel I guess Sweden’s got a reputation for general progressiveness, but policies for trans people suck just about anywhere.
    @WildlyP The Sex Files report was fairly good, considering. It was very documents focused, suggesting that laws be relaxed to fit self-identification better (which was a good move). Most controversially, it suggested having a third sex legal category, which raised a fairly predictable outcry amongst conservatives. ZOMG third sex! They’s turning us trans! Soon a bear will be able to marry a sandwich! etc etc
    Full report here: http://www.hreoc.gov.au/genderdiversity/SFR_2009_Web.pdf

  13. @Queen Emily Yeah, I had gathered that much about it; that it was about self-identification, documentation and a third category that will, if the right are to be believed, open marriages to fried foods everywhere ;-P. I was more wondering how this case intersected with those concerns; that is, whether it looked like the HREOC recommendations were going to be taken up at all in the near future (legislatively, that is), and how this case might then be being used to allow counter-arguments to be made in advance of legislative changes being tabled in parliament… Particularly since the case seems to be about the denial of self-identification through the essentialist association of potential pregnancy with womanhood and vice-versa (which is problematic for all trans people, I’d have thought?).

  14. Oh, and thanks for the link 🙂

  15. Yes, absolutely the identification of potential pregnancy with womanhood is problematic for all kinds of reasons. Bio-reductionism insulting to all women, I’d think, not just trans women.
    Given the already accomplished task of trans women’s sterility, the State moves onto other criteria.. The corollary for trans women (as you know) has been less about potential pregnancy and more for the capacity of the post SRS vagina to accommodate a penis. That’s right y’all, the other deciding factor for womanhood is the capacity to have penetrative vaginal sex with a straight bloke.
    Mmyep.

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