December 12, 2018

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Opinion

Time for gender-neutral birth certificates

POSTMEDIA NEWS FILES</p><p>Gender-neutral birth certificates make some cisgender people uncomfortable, but could provide transgender and non-binary people a window for gender exploration.</p>

POSTMEDIA NEWS FILES

Gender-neutral birth certificates make some cisgender people uncomfortable, but could provide transgender and non-binary people a window for gender exploration.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/7/2017 (503 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

According to a poll for Angus Reid Institute, a majority of Canadians (58 per cent) “are uncomfortable with, or are opposed to, gender-neutral birth certificates.” That makes me the minority.

And, being a minority, my voice matters more.

Now, hear me out.

In November 2016, I gave birth to my first child. Right before heading into an unplanned and somewhat urgent Caesarean section, my partner and I requested that nothing be said by anyone in the operating room about our child’s genitals as a way of announcing their entrance into the world.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/7/2017 (503 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

According to a poll for Angus Reid Institute, a majority of Canadians (58 per cent) "are uncomfortable with, or are opposed to, gender-neutral birth certificates." That makes me the minority.

And, being a minority, my voice matters more.

Now, hear me out.

In November 2016, I gave birth to my first child. Right before heading into an unplanned and somewhat urgent Caesarean section, my partner and I requested that nothing be said by anyone in the operating room about our child’s genitals as a way of announcing their entrance into the world.

What did we want to know if we didn’t want "it is a boy" or "it is a girl" to be exclaimed on the basis of their genitalia? We asked that our medical team, including a midwife, let us know that the baby was safe and healthy, and that our newborn be placed on my chest as soon as possible so we could begin our nursing bond.

It was not until much later in our hospital stay that my partner and I found out the sex designation of our child by medical personnel. It never occurred to us to ask, to check or to care. When our friends came to visit us in hospital, no one asked about sex of our baby. Everyone just snuggled our little one, and asked about my recovery and our sleep deprivation. My favourite among them brought lattes and food from Stella’s.

It was not until we had to fill out our Vital Statistics form that we thought about the sex and gender of our child.

For those confused about the difference, sex is the medical designation of male, female or intersex based on anatomy and/or chromosomes, and gender is a socially constructed concept of "man" and "woman," and the idea that masculinity and femininity should correspond to sex designation.

Yes, these two terms are often used interchangeably, but no, they are not the same thing.

We know our family is not the norm. I am a cisgender queer woman (cisgender being a gender identity that corresponds to sex designation) and my partner is a transgender non-binary person. We made a baby with the help of a friend’s sperm. Our child is surrounded by queer and trans aunties and uncles, but also one singular and very special pirate. Our birth family is (mostly) supportive, and our chosen family is solid.

My partner socially and medically transitioned from "female to male" in the late 2000s. If you ask them, and I have, "male" fits a bit better than "female," but more like a new cotton shirt that went through the dryer instead of a shirt size that is too small upon purchase. Neither actually fit properly, and neither make you feel great about yourself. Instead of being misrecognized as "female" (read: woman) because of the sex marker on their birth certificate, health card, driver’s licence and passport, they are now misrecognized as "male" (read: man).

Gender misrecognition is not just uncomfortable for non-binary trans people such as my partner; it can be life-threatening. While being transgender, or gender or sex non-conforming in general, does not necessarily mean you will have mental health issues, living in a world that does not recognize your gender identity is harmful, to say the least. According to research collected by Egale Canada, LGBTTQ* youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. In Manitoba and northwestern Ontario, 28 per cent of transgender and two-spirit people have attempted suicide at least once. At least once.

When I think about the possibility of gender-neutral birth certificates for our child, I think about what it means for my partner to be bound to an "F" or "M" marker on their documentation, what it means to keep a file with their birth name and prior sex designation in our home office just in case, and about their level of anxiety when we have to renew our passports, or in the case of having to adopt our child, obtain a criminal record and abuse registry check. I think about how much it has cost them financially and in terms of their mental health to have these documents changed, and what kind of toll is taken on them every time they are misgendered because neither "M" nor "F" makes sense to who they are.

When I think about the possibility of gender-neutral birth certificates for our child, I think about the suicide rates for LGBTTQ* youth. Our child may very well feel comfortable with "M" or "F" on their documentation. But, we won’t know until our little one tells us who they are, how they identify and what feels good for them. I would rather give our child an open window for gender exploration than find out that a "M" or "F" marker on their birth certificate made them feel like that door was closed.

So, when a general poll was taken in which cisgender respondents were asked about the importance of gender-neutral birth certificates, I got upset, and I think rightly so. What right do cisgender people have to claim that their comfort is more important than trans and intersex people’s lives? Why are we even asking them (me)?

Even if a minority of people are saying that gender-neutral birth certificates are necessary, why are we not listening? Their voices matter more.

Corinne L. Mason is an associate professor of gender and women’s studies at Brandon University.

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