Sunday • 2013.06.16
Source: Ontario Registrar has Rejected More than Half of Sex-Designation Requests, Including Mine—and they Shredded my Birth Certificate!
Trans* people who were born in Ontario can apply to the Registrar General’s Office (part of the Ontario Ministry of Government Services) to have the Sex designation on their Birth Certificate changed to reflect their Gender Identity. At least, they can try.
Information from within the Registrar General’s office, which I have obtained from a reliable source, reveals that of the first 213 applications received since the surgical requirement was officially dropped (between October 5th 2012 and May 24th 3013), only 96 have been approved. 117, more than half, have been rejected.
Most were returned due to “outstanding requirements.” So what are the requirements, really, and why are so many applicants having trouble meeting them?
For one thing, a Doctor’s note is still a requirement, it says so on the cover page of the form. But, ambiguously, after stating this requirement, the forms then follow with a section called “alternate evidence” which suggests that it might not be an absolute requirement… Although unhelpfully, they are not at all specific with examples for what will suffice (and have even been known to reject applications for no good reason at all).
One option for alternative evidence is: “a document or certificate issued by a jurisdiction in which the applicant was domiciled or ordinarily resident that, in the opinion of the Registrar General, confirms that the applicant’s gender identity does not accord with the sex designation on the applicant’s birth registration and it is appropriate that the sex designation be changed.”
So I applied, and although I do possess a doctor’s note, I chose not to provide it on the grounds that the requirement is discriminatory. Any dealings with my doctor are none of the government’s business and are private, unless I consent to disclose them (eg. by writing about them in a blog).
Instead of submitting to the oppressive government requirement to prove I’ve allowed my gender identity to be pathologized, I chose instead to test the ambiguous “alternative evidence” provision; I included the original copy of my Change of Name certificate. In a letter addressed to MPP Harinder Takhar (the Registrar General), which I attached to my application, I explained:
- To satisfy the requirement for documentation in support of this application, specifically the second option afforded under part 4 of the Statutory Declaration form, which reads “a document or certificate issued by a jurisdiction in which I was domiciled or ordinarily resident,” I have submitted my original legal change of name certificate. It was issued by the Ontario Office of the Registrar General, and bears your signature. Please return this certificate to me upon completion of my request.
- Said change of name certificate evidences that, in September of 2010, I changed my name from one which expressed (and is traditionally associated with) a male identity, to a new name which expresses (and is traditionally associated with) a female identity.
- I have not provided your office any medical or psychological documentation relating to my gender identity, because I believe the enforcement of any such requirement constitutes an act of invidious discrimination directed against individuals whose gender identity does not correspond with their physiological birth sex, since individuals outside this category are not required to seek diagnosis by medical or psychological professionals in order to have their gender identities legally recognized. I, therefore, hold that any such requirement as part of Ontario’s Application for a Change of Sex Designation on a Birth Registration process is in violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which was amended in 2012 to include explicit protection for Ontarians on the grounds of Gender Identity and Gender Expression.
Now, first let me recognize that this approach would not work for everyone, and acknowledge that it’s problematic for a couple of reasons… For one, it wouldn’t work for anyone who hadn’t had a name change (and not everyone can access a name change, or wants to). Second, it wouldn’t work for anyone using a more ambiguously gendered name, or for anyone whose name is not culturally familiar to the staff at the RG’s office. However, my intent here was to test the alternative evidence provisions, and to experience first-hand the treatment that an application receives when it goes through without a doctor’s note.
I submitted the application on February 22nd. I received a letter dated May 3rd stating that they acknowledged receipt of my application and that it was still being considered.
Finally, I received a package, with a cover letter dated May 10th, from Ms. Sandra Leonetti, Deputy Registrar General.
I was disappointed, but not surprised, to find that my application to have a birth certificate that accurately reflects my identity was rejected. However, they didn’t just reject my application, they went a step further and shredded my birth certificate without sending me a new one.
“Your original birth certificate has not been included, as birth certificates are destroyed as a security measure when they are received by this office. However, another birth certificate will be issued to you at no cost, if you complete the enclosed application and return it (…)”
The included application form was a standard “Request for Birth Certificate.” As a direct consequence of bureaucratic government barriers that go with gender transition, I have already had to fill out this exact application on two previous occasions. Completing this application again now would require me to find a guarantor, and to identify myself as a man, just to get back to where I was before I applied; stuck with a birth certificate with the wrong sex designation. Like hell I will.
The Difference Between Sex and Gender, Except when they’re Legally the Same
All we Trans* people, even those who’ve gone through surgery, will forever live with certain aspects of our biology which track to the circumstances of two gametes forming one zygote (fertilization at conception). Nothing, short of gene therapies and nanotech (which hasn’t quite been invented yet), can ever change the chromosomes in the nuclei of our cells. So in that respect, I will always be biologically male. I’m not arguing that I’m not biologically male, and I will even stipulate to the presence of a penis at the time of my birth. As such, my sex was recorded as “male.”
The whole core of the argument here is whether a “Sex” designation should be changed according to a person’s Gender identity, regardless to the physical state of their body, and if so, why? And who gets to decide when it’s appropriate?
The conventional wisdom goes that since biological sex (and not gender) is what is recorded legally on a Birth Certificate, and since biological sex does not change arbitrarily just because you feel like a girl (or whatever), that your birth certificate should not be changed either. I mean, that’s fair, right, because the same rules apply equally to everyone! Right!? This is how a number of (cis) detractors have responded to my advocacy for equal access to ID, by patiently explaining to me the “difference between sex and gender.”
Wow. So what you’re saying is, my gender identity is not dependent on my legal or biological sex? What a revelation, it’s as though a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I guess I shouldn’t care what it says on my birth certificate… Except the real world isn’t that simple.
In a perfect world, the record of the biological sex assessed at the time of my birth would be a meaningless statistical record of historical fact, unchangeable and irrelevant to my daily life (like birth weight, or birth hospital). It would be harmless trivia, and I wouldn’t have any problem with it, if it was not also used synonymously with an identification of gender, throughout life.
See, a birth certificate is a required gateway to any other sort of ID. One must provide a Birth Certificate to access a Driver’s License, a Passport, and any number of other documents and services. And the sex designation follows you around like an inescapable shadow.
When a police officer, or a customs agent, checks the designation on your Driver’s card or your Passport or in some computer database, they’re doing it because they need to identify you as either a Man or a Woman. It’s not because there’s some procedural reason they need to know if you had a penis or vagina at birth.
The fact that these documents and databases, codifying gender for purposes of identification, rely on the “Sex” designation which ultimately traces to your birth certificate, is purely an artefact of an outdated cissexist system which has “always worked.” Cis people don’t have a problem with it, and so many question why the system needs to be changed. But it does. Here is why.
These markers, regardless that they are called “Sex” and recorded based on sex, are used to identify your gender. Having no accessible way to have those markers be changed according to gender identity creates huge barriers for Trans* people. These barriers are unique; cis people never face them, and that is why it is discrimination. Letting us change the “sex” designation more easily is a necessary stopgap measure, but it doesn’t fix the entire problem. For one thing, people with non-binary identities are left out in the cold.
Ultimately, Sex and Gender need to be dropped from ID entirely, and I believe that eliminating the gatekeeper stranglehold on the process is a necessary step on the path to reaching that end goal.
The More Things Change, the More they Discriminate the Same
Prior to October 5th 2012, any Trans* person seeking this change of legal designation was required to prove that they had undergone “transsexual surgery.” The only acceptable proof? Signed forms and letters from doctors, and a surgeon, attesting they performed work to transform our unacceptable transgender bodies into socially acceptable gender-congruent bodies. It was either that, or you didn’t get your ID.
In our society, physical sex can only be determined by a doctor, highly trained to differentiate Slot A from Tab B in a clinical game of “penis or no penis.” That was the argument (though I may be paraphrasing) against allowing changes of sex without proof of surgery which was used by opponents in the XY case.
Luckily the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal recognized how the legal sex designations are actually used, as a gender identifier, and determined that withholding the closest gender-appropriate binary legal sex designation from any person is discriminatory. Their April 2012 ruling afforded the Registrar General 180 days to remove them; they announced the new policy changes 173 days later.
At first, the RG’s office didn’t know what to do about it. If they weren’t allowed to use surgery as a requirement, what should the new requirements be? They solicited recommendations from various groups who they perceived to be stakeholders in whether or not Trans* people should get to have their gender identities legally respected on equal terms with everyone else.
Two such groups consulted were CAMH, and the Trans Lobby Group (of which I was a member, prior to the group’s disbanding earlier this year).
Among the recommendations in our submission were “that a guarantor other than a medical practitioner be able (to) verify an individual’s request for change of sex,” and “the amending criterion be no different from name change criterion for the general public.” We also recommended that the process be the same for youth as it is for adults, or failing that, that if an adult guarantor would be required, that non-guardians be allowed to serve in that role (eg. in cases of trans* youth with uncooperative parents).
I don’t have access to a copy of CAMH’s submission, but it’s a good bet they recommended the Registrar General’s office maintain the gatekeeper involvement stranglehold, and to completely exclude trans youth from access to the service, because as I wrote in October, that’s precisely what the RG’s office has done.
It’s now clear that where the Registrar General is concerned, it is indeed an absolute requirement to provide Doctor/Psychiatrist note proving one has had one’s gender identity diagnosed in order to receive the service. It’s the bureaucratic equivalent of “pics, or it didn’t happen.” In capitulating to the OHRT’s ruling that surgical requirement is discriminatory, they have obeyed the letter of the ruling but they have violated its spirit and have spit once again in the faces of Trans* people everywhere.
The Bottom Line
By enforcing these requirements, the Ontario Ministry of Government Services is saying in no uncertain terms that anyone who is not cis needs a doctor to confirm that their gender identity is legitimate. I will fight this, tooth and nail, because it is just as infuriatingly discriminatory as the surgical requirement was.
Stay tuned, I have more news coming on this issue very soon.