Thursday • 2016.03.31
Transgender: Get “Female” Canadian Passport With “Male” Birth Certificate and NO Medical Documentation, Here’s How
Today I am the proud holder of a fully valid, non-provisional, five-year Canadian Passport, bearing my actual gender (female) as opposed to the gender I was assigned from birth without my consent (male).
The kicker: I got it without showing medical documentation, no doctor’s or psychiatrist’s letter, even though my birth certificate still says “male” on it… Something that both Passport Canada’s posted rules and common knowledge in the trans community agree shouldn’t have been possible.
However, through a combination of insistence, persistence, and pressing circumstances (urgent last minute business trip), nature found a way.
In fact, there’s direct evidence to suggest that the fantastic staff at Passport Canada’s 74 Victoria Street office in Toronto might have invented a whole new form and procedure right on the spot, just so they could approve my application (more on this below). And while having that gender-affirming federal ID in my hands was certainly a wonderful head-rush, it later dawned on me the true significance of this; This incident may represent an important precedent that other trans people can build on, or at the very least, get their own passports in the correct gender who otherwise couldn’t.
First, some background on my documents:
1. I was assigned male at birth, I have a “male” birth certificate and have not been able to change it because Ontario requires medical documentation of a gender identity “disorder” diagnosis from a doctor— Something I refuse to provide the government on philosophical grounds.
2. I keep my surgical status private (which includes keeping it a secret from the government). I am determined to change the gender on each of my ID documents without showing medical documentation (or, leaving it unchanged in protest). I also aim to actually transform those problematic bureaucratic systems, through activism, so that everyone will be able to change their gender designation without showing medical documentation. To that end, I have done my share of shit disturbing.
3. I do have a “female” Ontario Photo ID (the equivalent of a Driver’s License). Normally, Service Ontario enforces the same discriminatory medical documentation requirement for this card and the driver’s license as they do for changing the birth certificate sex; However, I was given an “F” on my Ontario Photo Card without having to show medical documents, because the Service Ontario employee made a mistake not checking my other ID closely enough to see that it was “male.” Unfortunately, this only happened to me due to a good-luck combination of “passing” privilege and random chance, so this wouldn’t work for everyone… But I am confident that this new Passport process they followed on my application probably does not depend on having this card (or a driver’s license) already changed.
4. My last passport expired in 2013. I have applied several times since then trying for a “female” passport without providing medical documentation, only to be rejected every time. Until now.
Here’s what I did.
After sitting with my numeric ticket waiting for my number to be called (definitely bring a book), I handed the Passport Canada person my complete, and properly-filled-out Regular Adult Passport Application. It was stapled, except the first page, because I had brought two copies of the first page. “What’s this?” he asked me.
“Well I did two different versions of it, because I didn’t know if you’re going to give me male or female, but I need to take this work trip (in two days) and I can’t afford not to get the passport either way.” As I’ve said before, I would rather just live with a “male” passport this time than risk getting borked in yet another fight over gender designation, and potentially missing my trip. I wanted to make things as smooth as possible, so I was willing to apply as “male…” This time.
“I have two IDs, my Ontario Photo Card (brought as my required proof of name, address, signature, and photo) and my birth certificate (brought as my required proof of citizenship).” He confirmed I had brought acceptable ID for a passport application. “This one says ‘female,'” I said, “…and this one’s not changed yet. So what can we do here?” I asked.
“Well we go by what’s on the birth certificate,” he replied.
“Yeah, that’s the one that doesn’t say what I want on it, though.” He asked me which gender I wanted to try for. Counter-Guy was really nice. I told him “female” (of course, and resisting the sudden urge to adjust my bra), but I reiterated that my trip was in two days and I didn’t want to risk a problem. Fortunately, Passport Canada offers urgent express turnaround on passports for a $110 fee if you have proof of an upcoming travel date (such as bus tickets or a flight itinerary). Still, two days is not a lot of time for a bureaucratic snafu. He told me we can try for female, and communicate on the phone if it caused too much of a problem.
I was also told that because of the gender change, I could only get a “provisional” two-year passport instead of the standard five years (having non-matching gender on one’s ID is treated as if it is inherently suspicious or untrustworthy). Of course, the price would be the same (a passport application is $120). I had heard of this 2-year provisional passport practice before, although I believed it dated back to the policy when surgery was actually required. The two-year limit irked me, but I didn’t have much of a choice so I shrugged it off.
At this point I was skeptical, but cautiously optimistic. I was under the impression (correctly, as it would later turn out) that he was supposed to have required a doctor’s note to ask for this type of passport, but he processed my application through anyway, and assured me they would call if there were any problems (spoiler alert: there were). And he told me I could pick it up the next day myself, or send someone else to get it for me.
I thought that was great news, because I’d already missed half a day of work by this point, and to have my partner grab it for me would be very convenient.
We finished, and he handed me back my birth certificate. “Are you sure you don’t want to just keep it? It’s caused me a lot of problems,” I joked (kidding, not kidding).
The next morning I woke up to my phone ringing from a “Private Number.” Groggily, I answered the call that turned out to be from a different Passport Canada supervisor or manager. Phone-guy (I’ve decided not to publish any names on this) told me everything went easily and perfectly, and I could pick up my passport right away.
Just kidding! He told me we had “a gender problem” because of my “birth certificate not matching.” This is the song of my people.
Then he asked me something that he absolutely should not have asked me. “Have you completed the sex-reassignment surgery?”
Without missing a beat, I told him “That’s none of your business.” Was that rude? Anyway, I think I used a rude tone of voice. It’s a side-effect of the seething rage that arises when I’m asked about my genitals when the topic of discussion is supposed to be my gender.
Passport Canada is no longer allowed to require proof of surgery as part of the process of changing gender designation, following a human rights ruling in 2012. That he would even ask me this (frankly, offensive and foolish) question seems to indicate that not everyone over at Passport Canada ever got the memo.
We then had a brief discussion about the fact that medical documentation would not be forthcoming, and I told him I would rather settle for having “male” on the passport than risk not getting it in time for my trip (ie. I needed it that same day). He said that would depend entirely on when “the decision from Ottawa on your application comes back.” So, news flash, apparently trasngender passport applications go “up the chain” to Ottawa, where they are individually decided by (what I am forced to assume is) a cabal of robed figures casting runes by firelight.
His parting shot was interesting too: I would need to go back to the office in person so that I could fill out another form, the notorious PPTC-152, and then wait for the Ottawa decision. By signing PPTC-152, I am forced to agree not to hold Canada liable when they later deny consular assistance if my transgender passport somehow lands me in trouble in some other country. It’s charming to know Canada has our backs, eh.
So anyway, hanging up the phone, my cynicism and intuition both told me the same thing: That I might have a fight on my hands later that day. So I emailed work to let them know I wasn’t coming in, and I waited an hour for my partner to come over so I wouldn’t have to go to the passport office alone.
When I went in, I had to wait about twenty minutes for Phone-guy to come out. As I filled out the PPTC-152, I said to him “You know, you can’t just call people up and ask about their parts, man. It’s not right. There was a ruling… Can’t do it…” I trailed off.
Then, kind of frustrated I guess, he grumpily declares “Well, it’s not how I wanted to spend my day, either.” Hmm. I suppose transgender passports must be a real pain-in-the-ass to process. Isn’t that ironic. Maybe they should change the rules to make it easier on their employees.
So, that’s done by about 1:30 PM, and he says I need to wait for his phone call later in the day and come back once “Ottawa decides.”
Interestingly, he mentioned this ominous “Ottawa decision” three or four separate times. He acted like it was really, really important that I know the decision on my passport was being made in Ottawa. I wondered why: Is it really the usual process that Ottawa decides all trans applications, or was this a special case for some reason? Could it be because my application was “urgent express” with a proof-of-travel date?
Was he perhaps hedging his bets to avoid the possibility of personal blame, if it didn’t come through in time?
I even indulged myself a little bit, and idly fantasized that perhaps they’d googled my blog, and decided they really wanted to handle the “trans thing” carefully in my case, so that it wouldn’t turn into a colossal viral shit show like it did the last time I tangled with Transport Canada (including an actual shouting match in the House of Commons and a special House committee vote, one of the high points of my life so far). I know it’s not a very modest notion, but “because they know who I am” is the explanation I find most pleasing to imagine is true.
Anyway, the place is set to close at 4:30, and my partner and I (hiding out in a nearby pub) still have no word approaching 4 o’clock. So I decide to go back in.
A different manager comes up to help me this time. She was very nice. Overall, I have to say the treatment I received from all the Passport Canada employees was very good (other than the flustered grumpy Phone-guy who asked me about my sex junk). And the bureaucratic nonsense really isn’t the fault of these front-line people, so I can’t hold it against them.
She tells me we still have no answer yet. Uh oh… I guess that means I’m going to miss my trip, said a small, sad voice in my head. …No, you’re fucking not, replied a louder, prouder, and more forceful voice in my head. That’s the one I usually listen to.
“What can we do about it?” I asked, polite but firm.
“We close at 4:30 (in 20 minutes),” she said, a little bit too “shruggy” for my liking.
“Okay, I’ll wait,” I said. She said she’d go see what she could do.
Then she did something amazing, and I really hope she doesn’t get in trouble for it. Well she can’t, I suppose, since the “decision” came from “Ottawa.” But anyway, she comes back before too long and says “You need to sign one other form, and we’ll fax it, and get an answer from Ottawa.”
Another form? What form could she mean? I know how this transgender passport application process is supposed to work, basically inside and out (apparently better than some of their own employees, not for nothing). There’s not supposed to be any other form.
“It’s a form (to explain) why you’re not providing medical documentation.”
WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!? There is no such form. I mean, there sure-as-hell should be, there absolutely needs to be, but there isn’t.
Or maybe there is, as of today.
She brings me a piece of letter paper, with some words printed on it. The font is Courier; It says “Untitled” at the top, and “Page 1” at the bottom. No Joke: She brought me something they had obviously just typed out and printed in Microsoft Windows Notepad.
I, [current full name of applicant], born on [DD/MM/YYYY] in [city, state/province, country] do solemly declare that:
1. I am unable to provide a document issued by the Citizenship program, a Canadian province or territory (e.g. an amended birth or citizenship certificate or a certificate of a change of sex) indicating my gender identity for the following reason(s): [blank]
2. I request a change of designation from [Male/Female] to [Male/Female] on the Canadian travel document to be issued to me;
3. I identify with the gender that accords with the requested change in sex designation;
4. I am living full time in the gender that accords with the requested change in sex designation;
5. I am currently unable [emphasis mine] to provide a medical letter confirming I am living under the requested gender.
For the blank after “unable to provide (a birth certificate) …for the following reason(s),” I wrote “Ontario requires medical documentation to amend the birth certificate.”
I bristled at the last item, though… You see, it’s illegal to lie on a passport application, after all, so I very carefully set about considering the definition of the word “unable.” I’ll lay it out: I am not in actuality “unable” to provide a doctor’s letter, in the sense that he wrote one for me “in case I ever needed it,” and that it lives in my filing cabinet. I am, however, completely and utterly “unable” to provide it to Passport Canada, in the sense that my very deeply held principles and philosophical beliefs guide me such that we should all be legally entitled to equal treatment under the law without a doctor’s note.
So I signed the form.
The form that now exists, as far as the matter of law and regulation are concerned (even if it’s in a very raw form), and the form by which “Ottawa” has now set the precedent of allowing a trans person in Canada to change their passport gender without providing medical documentation.
And I got my passport. At 5:15 PM, forty-five minutes after the Passport Office’s closing time (sorry, awesome staff!), I walked out the door with a fresh, valid, gender-appropriate passport. And now, hopefully, you can too. You can copy the text from above, or alternatively, in the coming days, I will copy the form they made for me out into a nice easy-to-use format and make it available here as a PDF download. Hopefully trans people can henceforth provide this instead of the doctor’s note, and have it approved “by Ottawa.”
So, let’s review. Obviously this isn’t perfect… Some of the language on this form is highly problematic; Gender-fluid people would technically have to lie to use this form (“living full time in…” depending on your definition of how identification with a gender intersects with fluid dress practices).
The new form, while letting one escape the medical documentation requirement, still pays lip service to the notion that such documentation should or normally would be required, which remains troublesome because it shouldn’t be required at all. Also, as per usual, non-binary people remain totally fucked over (at least, for now).
Also, it bears acknowledging that the wheels may have been greased to some degree by the fact that I had paid $110 for the “urgent express” passport service, that the deadline was short, and that the stated purpose of my travel was for business. Maybe transgender people with legitimate business travel needs are a rare animal (go figure). But hopefully, everyone else will get equal treatment as I did… And if you don’t, remember my inbox is always open.
Even still, if this declaration form turns out to be “a thing,” then it’s a huge step in the right direction and will help lead us further away from obligatory pathologizing of gender identity in the provision of government services to trans people.
And if, for whatever reason, this doesn’t end up “working out,” we should all ask, loudly, why I got special treatment if nobody else does.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that my previous passport expired in 2008, around when I transitioned. That was a mistake; the expiry year has been corrected to 2013.