Gender-free birth certificates are clumsy, there's a better way

For people asking only to be accepted for who they are, seeing initiatives that recognise gender diversity bashed for no greater reason than to score political points must be shockingly hard.

In the US, the primary producer and exporter of the noxious gender-culture wars, debate over definitions of "male" and "female" (and who can use them) has grown so rabid, the president, Donald Trump, has sensed there is sufficient political capital in a move that would “define transgender out of existence”.

In the US, President Donald Trump has proposed assigning gender based on genitals at birth. In Tasmania, there is a proposal to remove gender from birth certificates altogether.

In the US, President Donald Trump has proposed assigning gender based on genitals at birth. In Tasmania, there is a proposal to remove gender from birth certificates altogether.Credit:Lea Cstontos (Stocksy)

Under the proposal, gender would be assigned based on the appearance of the newborn genitals.

In the same week the New York Times broke news of Trump's inflammatory proposal, there was a move in Tasmania to remove gender from birth certificates altogether.

As the Tasmanian government altered marriage laws to allow transgender people to change their birth certificate without needing to divorce their partner, the Greens, supported by Labor, said gender should be included on a birth certificate only if it was ordered by a magistrate, or required under the laws of another state of the Commonwealth.

A child over 16 would need to declare their gender by statutory declaration to get it listed on the certificate, and, for those under 16, a stat dec would be required from a parent or guardian, including the express views of the child.

This blanket banning of any mention of gender when you have a new baby might seem extreme to new parents who have had little to no involvement with, or understanding of, the recent political trench warfare around who gets to call themselves what. Many would have no idea of the meaning attached to gender definitions by the community affected by either/or labelling.

That the Tasmanian proposal barely rated a mention (though, granted it came in a week when two hot young royals visited the region) is a credit to the more mature debate around gender identity we have been able to manage in Australia – apart from the highly politicised attacks on the controversial Safe Schools program in Victoria.

What is perhaps most surprising about the Tasmanian debate is that a practical, and likely more politically palatable, solution was not brought up in the "to specify or not to specify" gender debate.

In September, the City of New York came up with what would appear to be an ideal middle path, adding the option of gender “X” to “M” and “F” on birth certificates.

Aimed at those who do not identify as either male or female, it allows people a non-binary option. New York City Council speaker Corey Johnson noted "gender is a spectrum for many folks… not a fixed thing".

"When you don't have something as basic as and essential as a birth certificate that identifies you as who you are, it's a problem."

This is the same point made by Transforming Tasmania spokeswoman Martine Delaney last week; she noted how a mother had sent her a copy of the birth certificate of a transgender girl applying for casual work.

"Her birth certificate outs her as being born male and having a former male name. It serves no purpose and it simply causes problems."

Parents in that mother's position must feel powerless to support their young person in their valid attempts to live every part of their life according to their identity. It is an extra hurdle no one needs.

But the proposal to simply take any reference to gender off birth certificates is a failure to incorporate everyone, because it removes something from everyone else. It seems unduly polarising, even clumsy.

You can't order a person to see themselves as one gender or another, but you also can't order parents and kids to disassociate themselves from relating to their at-birth gender identity (as a male or a female) and embracing that, either.

The backlash to any large-scale proposal to take gender off documents altogether would hardly be worth the win, would it?

Given Australians are, apart from the political opportunists, an open-minded bunch with an increasingly sophisticated understanding that gender is not immutable for everyone, you wonder why there has not yet been more discussion about adding a third category on birth certificates.

Just ask any parent who has walked alongside a child with a fluid gender identity how much difference a non-specific option would make to that person's mental health and wellbeing. In a world that loves people to fit into boxes, everyone having a recognised one could make a big difference; we all have the same right to a sense of belonging and to embrace and express who we are.

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