Imagine having to out yourself as transgender every time you had to show a birth certificate – every school, every job, every time you encountered a bureaucracy. That is the current situation for many people around Australia, who live in a no-man’s land between their gender presentation and the law.
In South Australia this week, Premier Jay Weatherill announced that a new bill will be introduced to parliament to make it easier for transgender people to change their registered gender, a move that will significantly ease the difficulty of gender transition. Currently, in every state and territory of Australia, barring the ACT, transgender people must undergo sexual reassignment surgery (SRS), be unmarried and over the age of 18 to apply for a new birth certificate. Following a similar law in the ACT in 2014, the proposed new South Australian law will allow transgender people to change their documents with only a letter from a medical professional declaring that they have received appropriate clinical treatment.
What is wrong with the current requirements for sex marker change? Firstly, SRS is rarely if ever covered by Medicare, and with endemic rates of under employment in the transgender community, many transgender people cannot afford expensive surgery. This limits gender recognition to only the most privileged trans people. Some may not even wish to have surgery but still require recognition from the state. In any case, legally mandating surgery in the service of disciplining aberrant trans bodies into prevailing cisgender (that is, not transgender) norms seems unfair and unjust.
Not until every state has followed the lead of South Australia and the ACT on this issue will transgender people finally get some justice - and the ability to control when and where they out themselves.
Further, transgender children under the age of 18 have had difficulties with being treated as the correct gender by schools, who are still often more in thrall of bureaucratic technicalities than the lived realities of transgender lives. There is a growing population of transgender children who cannot wait until the age of 18 to be treated as the correct sex. Currently in Australia, transgender children need to go to the Family Court to receive hormonal treatment, a process which can cost up to $30,000. SRS is not even legally possible before the age of 18. Clearly, there needs to be provision made for young transgender people to have their genders recognised before they reach adulthood.
Finally, married transgender people may need to get divorced in order to access the correct documents - a fact that will continue until Australia passes marriage equality for same-sex couples. With an uncertain future on that score, it seems a long way off before marriage is irrelevant to transgender rights. In the meantime, the governmental fear of creating married same-sex couples forces trans people into an impossible position in choosing between their marriage and their gender.
In the meantime, the governmental fear of creating married same-sex couples forces trans people into an impossible position in choosing between their marriage and their gender.
It is a great step by South Australia in moving towards transgender acceptance, however more needs to be done nationally. While some Federal document requirements (passport, Medicare) require only a letter, transgender people still have to navigate a formidable array of GPs, psychiatrists, specialists, surgeons and government departments in order to receive gender recognition from their respective birth states. Not until every state has followed the lead of South Australia and the ACT on this issue will transgender people finally get some justice - and the ability to control when and where they out themselves.
Image from Timo Luege (Flickr).