Canberra’s transgender and intersex community are overjoyed at new laws to be passed on Thursday in the ACT Assembly, saying they will finally have official recognition in the mainstream.
“It’s mind-blowing. I could not ever imagine in my lifetime that it would ever be contemplated, let alone put in place,” Daniel George said yesterday.
“It just means the absolute world to hear a government saying yes we understand the binary system is not okay.”
The changes will allow people in the ACT to change the sex listed on their birth certificates, also introducing a new third category, "X".
Mr George was born female in Sydney, but transitioned to live as a man in his late 20s, in 1996, a change he says he could not deny.
Historically transgender people have been marginalised and discriminated against – made worse when they had to show birth certificates at banks or in job interviews.
Mr George has been assaulted twice at work.
“It brings tears to our members’ eyes. It’s a morale booster. It gives us hope. It gives us credibility. It gives us identity,” he said. “To have it publicly validated in a public mainstream setting it just suddenly gives my parents some kind of validation or hope that this is real and it wasn’t their fault.”
For Ashley Arbuckle, born and raised a boy in Wagga, it has the same emotional implications.
“Unfortunately I don’t think this legislation is going to change my family’s attitude, but it may get them thinking that my choice, and I don’t think it was a choice, was the right thing for me. That’s what I’m hoping the legislation will do is give them pause.”
Miss Arbuckle said in her late 20s, she began to realise being male was not right for her.
Six years ago in her 30s she discovered transgenderism and began to transition.
She has been turned down for rental accommodation many times, a problem not helped by a birth certificate saying she is male, a revelation people found shocking, she said.
She hasn’t had a long-term job since, a problem for many transgender people.
She, too, was overjoyed at the new laws. “It’s awesome. I never thought that something like this would happen.”
Yen Eriksen was born a girl and uses “female” where forced by official documentation but said the reality was more complicated.
Eriksen initially identified as bisexual, then lesbian, and now “gender queer”, presenting as androgynous and sometimes presumed to be a man and other times as a woman.
“It’s super progressive,” Eriksen said of the law.
“And it’s really awesome because it says to society that Canberra’s a legislative space that’s not afraid to recognise that people live outside the binary of male and female. If these are the kinds of lives that people like me are leading, then when the law and institutions catch up with you it’s a beautiful thing.”
Romana Starfield has tried to change a birth certificate in Victoria without success.
Born biologically neither fully male nor female, and raised partly as a girl and partly as a boy,
Starfield wants a birth certificate that reflects the intersex reality.
“I try to live my life as a bit in between,” Starfield said. “I don’t feel the need to live how society suggests I should live based on my appearance or my voice … The vast majority of society do fit into a box as either male or female, but a lot of us don’t. Being intersex is about biology.”
Starfield hoped the law would flow through to other parts of society so intersex people weren’t forced, as Starfield had been, to change in the male change room, or being asked to sleep in a room of men in hostels – choosing her car instead.
The Organisation for Intersex International is urging the Government to rethink the X option for children.
Australian president Morgan Carpenter said the third category was “experimental”, and while it was fine for adults to choose, children should not be given X, or “other” status.
“We think that it’s unacceptable for a child to be outed that way - what happens in regard to team sports? What happens in regard to changing rooms?” he said.
But A Gender Agenda spokesman Peter Hyndal, who expects many of the groups’ members in the Assembly on Thursday to hear the vote, said while the new law highlighted the need for schools and other parts of society to make changes, no child would have an X on their birth certificate unless their parents believed it in their best interests.