Surgical sterilisation shouldn't be the cost of correcting a transgender person's birth certificate

This piece was first published by Daily Life

While the nation's eyes have been on federal parliament bickering over the marriage equality plebiscite this week, another critical LGBTI debate began in the Victorian Legislative Assembly.  
It won't mean much to most Victorians, but to an estimated 4 per cent of the population it means everything. It's certainly significant for my little boy, who's transgender. He recently told me it would mean more to him than food.

If you are transgender or gender diverse in Victoria, the current law requires you to have surgery before you are permitted to change the gender marker on your birth certificate.

The Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016 will take that requirement away. A commitment the Labor Party took to the election.

Greens MP Sam Hibbins pleaded with Liberal Victoria and the National Party to take a bipartisan approach to affirm and empower gender diverse people.

Unfortunately the opposition appear to be resistant to a step forward. Liberal members' speeches reflected a surprising lack of knowledge about the transgender experience.

The member for Ripon, Louise Staley, proclaimed her outright denial of transgender identity, describing transgender women as "men" who are "engaging in a radical form of mansplaining". There was even some confusion as to how single sex schools, sporting clubs and gyms would cope.

Transgender people exist. They are already attending schools, sporting clubs and gyms. Monash Hospital Gender Services have seen an increase in demand every year and this has been reflected in the referrals to the Royal Children's Hospital Gender Service. Martin Foley, Minister for Equality, put it best when he pointed out that there would be transgender children in every single constituency in Victoria.

Single sex schools around Australia are already supporting transgender children. That's what supportive schools do. Sporting clubs and gyms are doing just fine.

Many transgender and gender diverse people never undergo surgery to affirm their gender. And they shouldn't have to. Genitals do not determine a person's gender and it is no one else's business what is in a person's underwear.

The case for forced sterilisation in order to change the gender marker on a birth certificate is a deeply disturbing. The only option open to transgender men in Australia to comply with this law is a full hysterectomy.

As Andrew Eklund, from The Shed says, "How does having a full hysterectomy make me a man? Does that mean every woman who has had a full hysterectomy is now a man?"

Children are not permitted to undergo gender-reaffirming surgery until 18 years of age. Children like my son change the things they can control. They change their name, pronouns and personal appearance. These things become vital to transgender and gender diverse children who have so little control over everything else. They revel in being able to express themselves in a way that reflects their gender.

Imagine living your entire life with everyone thinking you are a certain gender because there is an M or F written on a piece of paper. It's like life says: "Yes, go ahead, be acknowledged for who you are by your family, friends, school and community," but bureaucracy says: "Unless you go under the knife we will not acknowledge you."

My son is young, he has many years ahead of him where one letter on one document will shadow almost everything he does. He lives as a boy, and will grow to live life as a man, and there will be many times where he has to verify his identity. I worry he may slowly retreat from those situations where he needs to present his birth certificate, the risk of showing it too great. His options to live a full life closing in on him.

A wide array of firsts that should be celebrated become a confronting challenge when your identity document betrays you - the rites of passage open to his peers - a first job, learner's permit, university enrolment. He could forever be confronted by the magnitude and power that one letter has.

Research tells us that transgender and gender diverse children have much better mental health outcomes if they are supported. While we as families and the the wider community can support transgender and gender diverse children to feel comfortable and supported as their true gender, it is also the responsibility of those in government to do the same.

Sam Hibbins asked the opposition to "Do the work that is necessary to get yourselves in a position to support this Bill." That's why we elect you. Not to bring ignorance or prejudice to the table, but to take the time to become educated on the issues that have real impacts on other people's lives.

The proposed reforms would improve the lives of trans and gender diverse people. They will ensure that no one is forced to undergo invasive, unnecessary and expensive surgeries.

To have their birth certificate reflect their true identity would empower young transgender people to fully participate in all the educational, social, sporting and job opportunities our society has to offer.

Most importantly it would give them a sense of validation that would help them feel whole.

Jo Hirst is the author of The Gender Fairy.