Christin Milloy:

Rise up and seize equality

Ontario Claims Health Cards Dropped Gender—They Didn’t. Read This Before You Renew


In a surprise announcement in June 2016, the Ontario Liberal government stated they were immediately removing gender markers on all newly-issued provincial “OHIP” health cards: Welcome news for trans people and feminists in Ontario.

An OHIP card is required to access healthcare, and like all documents with gender markers, they had caused many problems for Trans people in the past. Dropping gender completely from the OHIP system would be a great thing, but unfortunately, it turns out that’s not what they’ve actually done.

Solve for 'F.' (FreeImages.com/Jeff Prieb)

Solve for ‘F.’
(FreeImages.com/Jeff Prieb)

I found this out the hard way when I had a sudden need to renew my health card last year.

Though my confidence was bolstered by the announcement, my optimism was cautious after so many bad past experiences. So imagine my tempered surprise, when… I hit a gender road-block in the renewal process at ServiceOntario.

I was initially told that they couldn’t issue me a new (non-gendered!) OHIP card, because the gender on my female ID did not match the old OHIP record on the computer, which still read ‘male.’

Wait. So ServiceOntario workers still see a gender marker on the computer system? For every OHIP client? “Oh yeah,” she told me. “It’s not on the card, but we still track it.” And, she told me, although my (now increasingly hypothetical) new OHIP card would “definitely” be gender-free, the record was still secretly ‘male’ as far as the system is concerned (and this is the punchline), therefore not a match for the all-‘female’ ID I presented to them.

Really guys? Really?

I was politely asked to sit down and wait, because for whatever reason, they literally did not know how to process me (and that reminds me, definitely bring a book when you go to ServiceOntario). Eventually I got called back over and was told that the customer service rep was going off shift. Someone in management had taken over and would be dealing with me. In my experience with bureaucracy, calling management is a not-uncommon reaction to a trans person attempting to renew documents, or really access any basic level of service at all. I think it’s probably equal parts ignorance of procedure and “come look at the freakshow.” On the plus-side, they’re getting a lot more polite these days.

For clarity, I brought ServiceOntario all the correct documents. In a nutshell, one to prove citizenship (my ‘female’ passport), one to prove residence (a non-gendered bank statement) and one with both my name and signature (my ‘female’ Ontario photo-card, equivalent to a driver’s license).

So I went back to the waiting-chair to do my pretend-knitting (seriously, bring a book), and the management person finally called me back over. She remarked on my two female IDs, versus the male computer record.

“Generally we like when these all match. I can update it in the computer, do you have your female birth certificate?” No, I explained, I didn’t bring my (still male-gendered) birth certificate, because the other three documents are sufficient to satisfy the requirements for renewing OHIP.

“Why don’t you have an updated birth certificate?” Because I won’t share private medical information with the government to justify my gender. (And they won’t yet allow updates to the birth certificate without it, believe me, I’ve tried.)

“How did you get your Photo card without an updated birth certificate?” That’s a long story.

“But how did you get your Passport?” That’s a long story too.

Here’s a question, why do you require my birth certificate to update the (supposedly irrelevant) gender on my OHIP record, when my female driver’s license and/or passport are both right here? Especially when the OHIP card won’t even have a gender on it? “It’s our policy,” she says. Mmhmm.

She then suggested the possibility of issuing me the renewed OHIP card, without updating the gender on the computer record (so the new non-gendered OHIP card would still be secretly male).

Given that I had a semi-urgent need to see a doctor, perhaps the sensible thing to do here may have been to say “fine, whatever,” and just take the card. However, I have a tendency to weigh my principles a little bit higher than what most people would consider to be common sense. Plus by this point, I was pretty frustrated by my new awareness that they even still track gender in their computers, and consequently edging into shit-disturber territory. So I went for option ‘B:’ I very casually asked her whether it would be legal for her to issue me a card against a male record, when the only ID I’ve presented her with identifies me as a female person.

I wish, so intensely, that it would have been socially acceptable to have photographed the look on her face as she mulled this over, but to have done so would have been rude and inappropriate. Read on her face: We programmers call it a “soft-lock;” She was caught in a loop of confusion over her own organization’s bureaucratic nonsense. Outwardly poker-faced, I internally reveled in this rare experience of witnessing a cis bureaucrat experiencing, if even just for a moment, some semblance of the confusing, aggravating frustration caused by legally codified sex and gender markers. “Hang on a bit longer, I’m going to go consult…”

I don’t know who she called, I don’t know what they said. I just sat down again and re-ran an episode of Deep Space Nine in my head (I can’t stress this enough, bring a book: There wasn’t even a signal for NetFlix).

Eventually she returned and said that, somehow, she had miraculously obtained clearance to change my record to read ‘female,’ in order to issue me a replacement OHIP card that won’t even have a gender printed on it.

All told, it took two people (plus unspecified other staff on consult) a total of two hours and forty-seven minutes to locate the ‘F’ key on their keyboard— Surely some kind of record. At the very least, they beat out their counterparts at ServiceCanada, who’d previously taken more than a day and a half to render a decision on whether putting ‘F’ on my passport would constitute a threat to reality as we know it. (Now if I can just get my birth certificate updated, the seventh seal will unlock and my dark master’s rule shall transcend the realms of man).

Okay, let’s talk about impact. It’s true that this was nothing more than an obnoxious and inconvenient waste of my time and energy, but it could have been a lot worse for someone in slightly different life circumstances than me (and make no mistake, most trans people are in much more difficult circumstances than I am). Renewing OHIP is supposed to take fifteen minutes, plus or minus the line (which you can bypass by booking an appointment in advance). But when all was said and done, I had missed about three and a half hours of work that day, including transportation. I’m very lucky to be a salaried worker at a pretty great company. And although none of the people I work with are trans (to my knowledge), my cool and compassionate coworkers commonly comprehend and commiserate in my banter based on bravely battling boring bureaucratic bullshit.

For me, those three-and-a-half hours of lost work time are not the end of the world… But what if those hours had meant less hourly wages this week, to pay for food for my family? What if I was poor? What if this was my trans child’s OHIP card, instead of my own?

ServiceOntario is only open 9 to 5 on weekdays, with few select locations also open for a short time on Saturdays. I’m worried about other trans people, somewhere in Ontario, dealing with more gender-drama— Over their supposedly non-gendered OHIP card— Having to face the impossible choice between leaving ServiceOntario without it (and therefore, forgoing health care, their own or their child’s, at least temporarily), versus losing their job for being absent for hours? Not cool, guys. Not cool.

Trans people are human beings. You guys at ServiceOntario need to get your shit together and get Sex and Gender out of your computers, once and for all. Your bureaucratic gender hurdles are not just pointless, ridiculous and frustrating; They are also negligently hateful and legitimately dangerous, and if they hurt someone, I will fight you.

Note: The government’s 2016 announcement also stated Ontario would soon introduce a third gender option (‘X’) on driver’s licenses. While this might seem like an improvement at first, the Gender-Free ID Coalition opposes optional “X” designations because they’re actually a really bad solution for supporting non-binary Trans people. For more information, visit http://gfid.ca

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Christin Milloy