by MARIAN PITTS
Have you ever asked yourself why institutions continue to demand that we identify ourselves as male or female on every form? What difference does gender make to my bank account, to the tax office, or to the many other bureaucracies we deal with in daily life?
While it may only be a minor irritation for me to have to specify that I’m female, for many others it’s a constant confrontation of who they are and how they identify. But now there’s hope for change.
Many of you would have read about the case of Norrie versus NSW Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths this week. Norrie was born male, undertook gender reassignment surgery, but subsequently felt that neither gender matched his feelings.
Yesterday, the high court ruled that New South Wales must allow Norrie to legally identify as having a non-specific gender. What’s telling is that in its ruling, the court pointed out that yet again the law is behind scientific facts:
For the most part, the sex of the individuals concerned is irrelevant to legal relations.
The obvious exception to this is the Marriage Act, which, in Australia, was modified in 2004 to specify that marriage is not between two people, but a man and a woman.
This anomaly led to bizarre circumstances for Jan Morris (formerly James Morris) a renowned UK author. As Jan tells in her account of her gender transition (Conundrum), James was married to Elizabeth.
When James transitioned to become Jan, he had to divorce Elizabeth because two women couldn’t be married. Nonetheless, they stayed together as a couple and entered into a civil partnership when that became an option in the UK in 2008.
Most people working in this field have argued that the male/female dichotomy is spurious. They point out that there’s a continuum of biological features that are used to distinguish between male and female (more or less reliably), but that there’s a significant number of people (commonly called inter-sex) for whom differentiation is not straightforward.
What’s more, there are many people who don’t identify with the sex to which they were assigned at birth (transgender) at all. And even within “transgender”, there are some who clearly identify with their re-assigned binary, while others insist on the gender “trans” in its own right.