Round up the lawyers! A trans person wants a correct birth certificate

From the Sydney Morning Herald, a trans man in Sydney named Conor Montgomery is trying to get his birth certificate changed.  So why is this newsworthy?

Conor Montgomery, 50, was born a female in Australia but took male hormones, had a double mastectomy and a chest reconstruction 2½ years ago to become a man.*

His passport says he is male but the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages will not convert his birth certificate because he has not had genital surgery.

Now, normally I think the obligatory media mentioning of hormonal and surgical status of a trans person is irrelevant and objectifying, but it’s for once it’s actually relevant here.  Like most other states in Australia, New South Wales requires trans people wishing to have the correct documents to undergo genital surgery, namely SRS or Gender Affirmation Surgery. For those that are unfamiliar with the arcane institutionalised machinery that is Australia’s management of trans people, this requires

1.  the physical ability to have the surgery

2.  the ability to pay for said surgery or

3.  the ability to negotiate Melbourne’s notoriously awful Monash Gender Clinic, who may well refuse you treatment anyway should you not mean their ableist, fatphobic and gender-normative standards

Mr Montgomery’s doctors, however, advise him that this surgery is potentially life-threatening and advise against it.  What this means, of course, is that he’s stuck in an impossibly ambiguous legal situation, with a male passport and female birth certificate.

Mr Montgomery is far from alone in fighting Australia’s outdated transition laws.  In Western Australia the case won in September last year by two trans men to have their documents changed is still dragging out in appeals.  The Western Australian case in particular demonstrates the kind of antipathy that Australian governments have towards their transsexual populations–it wasn’t enough to lose, rather than accept the loss or even God forbid bring in a new gender recognition regime that doesn’t require expensive, painful, sometimes risky surgery,* they had to appeal and do this thing once again.  Yeah, that’s a great use of public resources.

As both cases have made clear, the New South Wales and West Australian governments are terrified of trans men getting pregnant, of having Australian Thomas Beatties.  Hence the drive towards the mandatory sterilisation that is SRS.  Couple that with the law against already married trans people changing their documents, and you see how much institutional effort is being made to “protect” the legal categories of male and female, and heterosexual coupling and parenthood from the transsexual “contamination” (not to mention, gay marriages).

Clearly, state laws need to change, and the genital surgery requirement to change documents should be abolished to make way for other more humane and sensible requirements as in the UK, where medical and psych evidence, two years living in your sex and an declaration that you won’t change back suffice.  Trans people shouldn’t require surgery and singleness to have the correct documents, shouldn’t be put at risk of very real discrimination in order to reinforce some abstract ideas about what men and women “are” and what their bodies can do.

*   SRS gets a lot of scaremongering so I want to point out that it’s not inherently dangerous.  All surgery comes with some risks.  Trans people who wish to access SRS can and should be able to, it’s the mandatory compulsion to under Australian law that I object to.



Categories: Miscellaneous

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7 replies

  1. Very nice job laying out the issues – I keep on needing the reminder that they are so freaked out about the idea of a man giving birth.

  2. Ahhh, that explains their fascination with this man’s genitals.

  3. Oh, cis people are *always* fascinated with trans people’s genitals Mindy. This time there’s just more lawyers involved.

  4. I’d never thought about the implications of the fact that the SRS requirement forces the sterilisation of the person. The throwback to eugenic principles is really disturbing, and if it is intentional, also misguided.

  5. I don’t understand the eugenics argument. Well I do, but I think it’s pointless, as most of the people I have met who have transitioned in one direction or the other either already have children, or have siblings with children. So it’s not like those ‘dangerous genetics’ are going to be removed from the gene pool by undergoing surgery that may be risky for them.
    There seems to be such a lot of fear of the differences that human beings have that ‘defending the purity’ of the gene pool (however it is conceived) just seems like an incredibly pointless exercise. Surely the greater the diversity, the greater the possibility a richer experience all round?

  6. Well, to be fair, SRS isn’t the only way transition sterilises trans people. Hormone treatments permanently sterilise trans women a long time before that, but gatekeepers don’t exactly give you a warning on that one. No trans woman of my acquaintance was warned, even though we were all young. Indeed, my endocrinologist was quite annoyed I wanted to put sperm aside.
    So what I’m saying is, trans women aren’t exempt from this concern, but it operates in different ways to trans men. Afaik testosterone only freezes the guys’ reproductive potential, they don’t remove them once and for all. So that’s why there’s an extra bureaucratic effort and anxiety about trans men, trans women are already taken care of.
    And of course, both are institutionally designated by the same guidelines about genitalia, so we all end up in the same place – sterilised, single and preferably childless.. but with the “right” genitals to match that little letter on the birth certificate.

  7. It is my understanding that you _might_ as a trans man get your reproductive function back, but that it is far from always, Interesting I was warned about the effects of T and asked if I wanted to bank eggs.

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