Gender is simple, right? “Male and female created He them”… End of story.
Anthropologists have known for years that in the real world it isn’t and never has been quite so cut and dried. Those who explore our chromosomes know that even at that basic level the story is not quite what the Bible tells us. Rather, male, female and various intersexes created He them…
Recently the ABC’s Gen Y show Hungry Beast investigated the issues here and here.
As many as 1 in 1000 intersex babies are born with ambiguous genitalia and subject to genital remodelling surgeries where the surgeon arbitrarily assigns them as a boy or a girl. For 1 in 3 people the doctors choose the wrong one.
There are no long-term follow ups for people who’ve had these surgeries, and very little data is available on the true extent of how their lives are affected. Both the Intersex Organisation of Australia (OII) and the Intersex Society of North America confirm extremely high levels of trauma and dissatisfaction among intersex people who’ve been subject to childhood surgeries. Their medical records are routinely concealed or destroyed by medical professionals, and many are never told the truth about their bodies.
This combined with widespread general ignorance about intersex within the medical profession are two of the most urgent issues intersex people face today.
SOME FURTHER READING
“Fixing sex” by Katrina Karkazis, Duke University Press (2008)
See also Intersex in Australia.
The degree to which gender is social construction as distinct from gender as biology has been the study of anthropologists and social scientists. It is quite clear that gender expectations are quite variable.
Our bureaucracies, and even web sites which ask you to specify M or F have not reflected reality.
South Sydney’s norrie has become something of a lightning rod for these issues, and not just recently. Indeed, norrie has quite consciously volunteered lightning rod duty. See my post The incomparable norrie. As norrie says on Facebook, the issue has become viral now world-wide.
And there has been a development.
THE case of the state’s first genderless citizen has forced the equivalent of a bureaucratic sex change on the government.
It has revoked an official document issued last month to an androgynous Sydneysider called Norrie whose sex was listed as genderless.
Sydney’s most famous gender-ender made the news from London to Beijing last week when the Herald revealed that the government had for the first time issued a registered details certificate and a change of name certificate saying ”sex: not specified”.
But Norrie received a phone call on Tuesday from the Births, Deaths and Marriages registrar Greg Curry, who said he had legal advice the document was invalid.
In Parliament yesterday, the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, said the media coverage had prompted many inquiries. Mr Curry and the director-general of the Attorney-General’s Department, Laurie Glanfield, sought advice from the Solicitor-General.
The registry refused to release the full advice, but said it concluded the registrar did not have the power to issue certificates with the sex recorded as anything other than male or female.
The 48-year-old from Redfern has since received a replacement change of name certificate that says ”sex: not stated” – which a spokeswoman said was standard for such documents – and offering a fee refund of about $100.
Norrie, who recently jettisoned the surname ”May-Welby”, felt ”violated” by the bureaucratic reassignment and filed a discrimination claim yesterday with the Human Rights Commission.
”I think it’s really funny that these bean-counters think there’s a difference between ‘not specified’ and ‘not stated’. We are beyond Monty Python now,” Norrie said yesterday.
The issue came to a head because the government, which recently amended the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act to allow for sex changes in foreign-born citizens, did not consider that anyone might want their sex to be unrecorded.
Norrie was registered as male at birth, began hormone treatment at 23 and had surgery to become a woman – but has since ceased taking hormones and identifies as neither sex.
The Greens are now calling for reforms to allow sexless documentation for adults, which was a recommendation in a Human Rights Commission report last year.
Given that there may be legal proceedings down the track I must now be careful, not just for myself but for the integrity of any case norrie may make in future. But it does occur to me as an English teacher that not specified and not stated are synonymous. Not specific would have been an entirely different matter. “It has revoked an official document issued last month to an androgynous Sydneysider called Norrie whose sex was listed as genderless.” That is inaccurate, as neither version actually says “genderless”.
(At least two barristers read this blog most days. I trust I have not trespassed in the last paragraph.)
Meanwhile on climate change
Another area where what we once thought is not what we think now, and where you’ll have noticed I have taken a firmer stand in recent times based on a careful examination of the available material online and in book form. You will find I have added to my page on the subject and have had a lively exchange there with my old blogging friend Kevin from Louisiana, who is very sad about me.
I have also added a list of the Neil’s Second Decade posts on the subject, as this template (which I still love) doesn’t give a list when you hit Categories.
There is a very real discussion to be had, given climate change is pretty much as mainstream scientists say, about what might be done. One contribution worth following up there is Climate blueprint could slash emissions.
A new report says Australia could cut its emissions by 25 per cent by 2020 through measures which would cost households less than $4 a week.
ClimateWorks Australia, a partnership between Monash University and the philanthropic Myer Foundation, is launching the report today and hopes the new blueprint will kickstart the stalled climate debate.
The detailed report is broadly a hybrid of the Government and Opposition’s positions, but promises to deliver carbon reductions five times greater than the two major parties have promised.
Executive director Anna Skarbek says the cost to the community would be $185 per household per year, or roughly the price of a cup of coffee each week.
"We are not suggesting what form of a carbon price, however we have modelled the carbon price that the Treasury modelled for the Garnaut study," she said…