By Jillian Page
LGBT Perspectives editor
QUEBEC — Sometimes transgenderism confuses the heck out of me — both as a journalist and as an LGBT advocate. And I know I’m not the only one who is unclear on some of the concepts.
Take a recent report out of Nova Scotia as an example. This week, several media outlets ran the same Canadian Press report announcing that trans people are now permitted to change the designation on their birth certificates with “a self-declaration and a letter of support from professionals such as a nurse practitioner, physician or social worker.”
But what designation exactly are trans people allowed to change on said certificates?
That’s where the confusion in the media lies, it seems.
The majority of the media reports say trans people in Nova Scotia are now allowed to change their “sex” designation.
But the CBC rewrote the lede of the Canadian Press article to say that trans people can now “identify their preferred gender on their birth certificates.” The CBC even went with the word “gender” in its headline while CTV and others went with “sex designation.
See the difference? Who’s right, and who’s wrong?
Well, technically, they are all right.
Trans people are now allowed to change the sex designation on their birth certificates, because that is the only option available on those particular forms: “Sex: F.” Not: “Gender: F.”
But CBC went to great lengths — i.e. changed the CP article — to point out that trans people are, in fact, allowed to “identify their preferred gender on their birth certificates.” In other words, trans people do not have to physically change their sex to identify as their preferred gender . . .
Hmm. if journalists are confused about all of this, what about the general population who might be reading these articles?
Well, as at least one reader commenting on the CBC article points out, there is a difference between sex and gender.
Monash University’s site puts it this way:
“Sex refers to biological differences; chromosomes, hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs.”
“Gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine.”
So, it used to be that a person could legally change sex designation if he or she made biological changes. For example, a MtF person had to do as much as possible to make her body biologically female through HRT and sexual reassignment surgery, along with psychological counselling.
It was pretty straightforward.
Today, it’s not so straightforward. People can change their birth certificates to reflect their preferred gender — even if no biological changes have been made. But what is actually being changed on the certificate is the sex designation.
Hence the confusion over terminology in the media, and in society in general.
I suspect that society will have to rethink birth certificates altogether. Some have even suggested dropping sex designation from those forms, but that is unlikely to happen. And besides, many trans people desperately want a “Sex: F” designation on their birth certificates — I doubt they would support a certificate with no sex designation at all.
For now, though, we will continue to live in a world in which the line between “sex designation” and “preferred gender identity” is blurred, and where they will mean the same thing at times, and not the same thing at other times. And where journalists may get it wrong sometimes.
“Let harmlessness be the keynote of your life.” — Alice Bailey