Comment: Norrie’s fight for recognition

Sydney resident Norrie wants to be legally recognised as neither male nor female, and the issue is being explored in the High Court.

If there's one thing that never ceases to amaze me about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community within Australia, it's that there always seems to be some event that's causing drama going on somewhere on a nearly daily basis.

Take the recent High Court of Australia hearing into the case between Norrie May Welby and the NSW Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, for example, which is going to have a lasting influence on both the Transgender and Intersex (people with both male and female body characteristics at birth) communities in Australia for years to come.

In response to a ground-breaking ruling on both sex and gender identity which was made by the NSW Court of Appeal last year, the NSW Registrar took Norrie, an androgynous post-operative Transsexual, to the High Court in order to prevent Norrie from listing hir sex as “androgynous” on hir revised birth certificate.

Now to be honest, most people couldn't care less about whether there's an “F” or an “M” on their birth certificates, just as long as what's on there is accurate.  However within both the Transgender and Intersex communities, both of these symbols can be a source of satisfaction, torment, power, soul-destruction, contentment or controversy amongst others, depending on the perspectives and personalities of the individuals involved. This is particularly evident amongst androgynous-identifying members of these two communities, who often utilise gender-neutral pronouns such as “zhe”, “hir” and “shi” when talking about themselves.

Now in a recent interview with FBi Radio for International Womens Day, Norrie, who medically transitioned from male to female in 1989 and has informally utilised a singular name since 2009, made a series of comments in relation to hir views on the role and importance of gender within our everyday lives. While focusing primarily on the intricacies of both femininity and masculinity in modern society, Norrie made a number of generalisations about both male, female and intersex identifying individuals, which I think could cause a considerable level of controversy as we get closer to the High Court's ruling on her case.

“I guess I got a bit trapped in it (gender) when I transitioned and had sex change surgery... And was policing my behaviour so that I wasn't perceived as androgynous, so there was nothing ambiguous about me, and so that no one would ever know that I was a man. That was the horriblest gender trap that I was ever in.... Being a Transsexual with the primary mission to disguise that I'm Transsexual.”

Now while I can fully comprehend and relate to Norrie's feelings of discomfort and discontent in relation to our birth genders, I can't help but feel like hitting my head up against a brick-wall in regards to her assertion that the notion of specific gender identities is a form of entrapment in and of itself.

You see, as both a young Trans-woman and media professional who personally views her gender dysphoria and subsequent transition as a gift, I've come to recognise the fact that my gender is just one small part of who I am as a person, even though it's still a rather crucial aspect of my identity.  Consequentially, while everything that I do, see, smell, touch, say and think positively screams that I'm a girl, my gender diversity hasn't become the domineering influence that it so often has in many other Trans and Intersex people's lives.

Needless to say, I think that Norrie's individual case could have serious consequences for the wider LGBTI community going forward, if a serious level of precautions aren't undertaken to prevent abuses of any changes in laws that might come about as a result of the High Court potentially ruling in Norrie's favour.  While Trans-people such as myself need to undergo numerous medical tests and psychological reviews in order to ensure that we are doing what's personally right for us, it is doubtful that similar tests would occur for people in Norrie's position.

Now for a number of both Transgender and Intersex people, the mere suggestion of seeking both medical and psychological assistance is more than enough to provoke a sense of outrage, given how some people view them as being gatekeepers and barriers to them being themselves.  While most rational people would recognise that this isn't the case, it is a view that the High Court needs to be aware of while they deliberate the outcome of this case.

Furthermore, while Norrie and hir supporters have refused to acknowledge or address the concerns of other members of the Transgender and Intersex communities over her actions such as A Gender Agenda and Organisation Intersex International, the High Court will need to consider them, given the impact that any ruling will have on these two communities.

Hopefully whatever ruling that they decide to make respects the rights and humanity of all parties concerned, including Norrie.

Kate Doak is a freelance radio and cross-media journalist.