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
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Mr Montgomery is far from alone in fighting Australia’s outdated transition laws.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.