Feminists in Support of Birth Certificate Reform in Victoria

We the undersigned stand in support of the Victorian Government’s proposal to amend the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996, to allow transgender and gender non-conforming people to change the sex recorded on their birth certificates without being forced to undergo medical or surgical intervention. This amendment will provide transgender and gender non-conforming people in our community with access to legal affirmation of their identities without being required to undergo coercive sterilisation as a requirement to legally change their sex and gender identity documents.

As feminists we have long fought for people to be freed from the violence that the strict policing of gender and sex promotes, and any law that fundamentally equates one’s body parts with one’s identity and possibilities in life only furthers that violence. We recognise that it is not just cisgender women who face gendered violence and discrimination, but that the transgender and gender diverse community face disproportionate discrimination across all facets of their lives including healthcare, employment, housing, and other aspects of daily life. Trans femmes and trans women and girls in particular also experience misogyny and any attempts to claim otherwise are simply excluding one part of our feminist community. 

Some feminist opponents to the proposed reforms have also alleged that these changes will place cisgender women at increased risk of sexual and other gender-based violence. There is no evidence from other jurisdictions where similar legislative reform has been introduced that this is likely to occur. It is important to recognise that such arguments are often underpinned by the inaccurate, transphobic notion that transgender women are sexual predators, while ignoring the extent to which transgender and gender diverse people disproportionately experience sexual and other violence. As feminists we understand that it is vitally important we work together to end gendered violence and discrimination in all its forms. We support the safety, well-being, and flourishing of all members of our community. 

As feminists we have also long fought for bodily autonomy and reproductive rights and control over our own bodies. The current requirement to undergo surgery prior to changing one’s recorded identity on a birth certificate causes sterilisation. Supporting this birth certificate reform is essential to our position that what we do with our bodies – when we reproduce, and when we don’t – is our own choice to make. 

We note that there have been a number of people advocating against these changes, who also describe themselves as feminists. We reject the tenets of their argument that are at odds with transgender and gender non-conforming people’s experiences, and with current academic research. These advocates maintain an essentialist view that fundamentally collapses sex and gender, such that one’s body parts are seen to determine one’s gender, whether that be understood as “biological” determinism (physiological effects determine how you are gendered) or “social” determinism (your body determines how you are socialised in your gender, which remains fixed for life). These views are out of date, and dangerous, only serving to reinforce an oversimplified view of gender and sex in a world where there is a huge spectrum of bodies, social contexts, cultures, and individual experiences that cannot map neatly onto such a binary picture. For these reasons we reject the idea that one’s official identity must be based on one’s assigned sex at birth. 

In recognising that gender identity is more complex than a neat binary, we also reject the demand made by some advocates that persons must have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, have lived in their chosen “acquired gender” for at least two years, and have a stated commitment to live in their “acquired gender” for the rest of their life. Such requirements not only further the medicalisation and pathologisation of trans and gender diverse persons, they also reinforce restrictive and arbitrary boxes for defining “gender” – the very boxes we have been fighting as feminists to undo for decades. 

We welcome these changes and stand side by side with the trans and gender diverse community in the struggle for gender justice.