My journey to getting a 'sex not specified' legal document
- Published: 08 March 2010
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Norrie was once ‘may well be’, but is now definitely ‘not specified’. Norrie tells The Scavenger hir story of androgyny and journey to being issued what is believed to be the world's first 'sex not specified' legal document equivalent to a birth certificate by the NSW government.
Once upon a time, our religion and race was recorded in our legal identification, but society has moved on. Once upon a time, a woman's courtesy title had to show whether she was the property of her father or her husband, but society has moved on.
We tend to see the social rules we inherit as unchangeable, but they do change, as society comes to value each person equally without prejudice based on race or marital status or sexuality or sex .
There is no reason for still insisting that our legal identity must include a public statement about a very private matter, our sex.
Having gender markers as part of our legal identity is a problem for everyone facing gender discrimination, and anyone who does not fit the standard options of male or female.
Not everyone does, you know, with one in a thousand people being born with an intersex condition, and other people of sex or gender diversity, such as transsexuals in transition, or bigendered people who may identify as either male or female or both, according to the situation or time of day.
While many transsexuals may prefer to identify as whichever of the two standard sex options they see as appropriate, many other people of sex or gender diversity, and also many non-transgendered women, would prefer to not have sex listed as part of their legal identity.
It may be problematic or embarrassing or simply allow for sex based discrimination, which we've had enough of.
Whether I am seen as a man or as a woman or both or neither is different for many people. I don't see myself as absolutely one or the other; although I may use the ladies loos for convenience, I use the men's change rooms at the pool if I am with gay male friends.
I was once a boy, before being first chemically then physically castrated, and had my penis fashioned into vagina over twenty years ago. But I haven't taken hormones for about 20 years, preferring my body and brain to be as they are naturally without being dependent on externally supplied hormones or plastic implants, happy to be androgynous and to be seen as such. I bond with female friends as a female, I bond with gay friends as a fellow queen.
Guys hung up on gender difference don't have much to do with me, and guys who are less hung up may occasionally hook up with me!
For many people, one of the benefits of growing old is becoming more comfortable with yourself and not suffering so much from a relentless comparison with some usually gendered standard of beauty or strength or whatever.
For me, that has meant accepting myself as I am, and rejecting the idea of fitting other people's gender stereotypes, or even the idea that I have to identify as a man or as a woman.
Those concepts, man or woman, just don't fit me, they are not my actual reality, and, if applied to me, they are fiction. At 48 years of age, I'm less inclined to just humour other people's delusions about gender and try and conform to one of their expected options.
If I need to show identity documents, I certainly don't want details that are false, for this will only cause trouble when officials realise I don't match my documents.
If my passport, for example, states that I am female, I may be detained when travelling if the local jurisdiction classes me based on the gender assigned at birth, or if my physically noticeable masculine aspects (for example, my Adam's apple, or my broad chest) are noticed.
If the passport states male, again there is a dissonance with my physical form, castration having had a feminising effect, and I am usually moving and talking in a feminine manner.
Stating my sex as male or as female makes the statement false, which is not acceptable for legal identity documentation, and puts me in danger of detention and assault.
The simplest solution is simply to not have any sex identification on my legal documentation, and so I asked the NSW Register of Births Deaths and Marriages to issue me with a Recognition of Details certificate that didn't state my sex as male or female.
After supplying them with appropriate medical documentation of my reproductive sex being neuter and my anatomy being not specifically male or female, and after they first told me it couldn't possibly be done and then took some time to consider the matter and consult their authorities, they issued me with a certificate stating my sex as “Not Specified”.
I've never felt completely male or female, except for a brief period in early transition, when I first identified as a transsexual because I thought there were only two gender options and male was wrong and female felt better.
Apart from those few brief years where I shared the delusions of transsexual medicine, in which so many doctors are convinced everyone has a core identity either male or female, I have always been androgynous.
When I was a little boy, which wasn't very often... no, really, I didn't think of myself often as a boy, instead having fantasies about being a jungle girl, or a good witch or a female genie like in the TV shows then screening in my early formative years in the 1960s, making up adventures in my head as I walked to and from primary school.
Many of the things denied me were permitted to girls, and I wanted to play with dolls, skip and dance, and wear ribbons in my hair.
It did not occur to me I shouldn't have fantasies about being a girl because I was actually a boy, just as it didn't occur to me I shouldn't have fantasies about being Supergirl because I was not actually Kryptonese. I wrapped my school tie around my head in private and pretended I had long hair.
But not all of my play characters were female. Out of six favourites, one was a boy, who could fly with the aid of a superhero costume. When I went through puberty I tried to adopt a story that was more acceptable to the gender-divided adult world, and my female characters were distilled into one character, who was actually the boy hero who had been changed by a witch, and after she defeated the witch, she was a he again.
That didn't last long, and soon the two characters, male and female, coexisted in my head, and had adventures together.
At university freedom of expression was encouraged, so I became more flamboyant, mixing frilly girl's blouses with tight boys jeans, and having a very androgynous presentation.
When I joined the public service after uni, I faced serious discrimination for being androgynous, and had a nervous breakdown.
At this time, I was also doing drag shows in a gay hotel, receiving adulation for my femininity, rather than the disapprobation this received by those in the public service who sought to sack me for sissiness, and resolved to resolve my gender ambiguity by taking transsexual medicine and surgery.
Two years after swapping my penis for a vagina, I decided to go off hormones, so that I could experience my “natural” self, my body and mind without externally supplied hormones.
I also wanted to get in touch with those aspects of myself that had been labelled unladylike, such as the desire to climb trees. I devoured feminist therapeutic texts, liberated myself from sexist stereotypes, and discovered my uncensored unafraid self to be thoroughly androgynous.
I began writing and critiquing the sexist assumptions inherent in transsexual medicine, and identified as psychologically hermaphrodite.
That was nearly two decades ago, and I have become very comfortable being androgynous rather than female or male, and less tolerant of pretending to have a normative gender so as not to disturb others' preconceptions.
When I censor my being to please others, this causes violence to my soul. I have cut my penis and balls off; The cutting stops there; I don't want to cut another part of myself off to avoid conflict.
Allowing the cutting to continue, putting a normative gender on every form that only gives two options, is death by a thousand cuts to my soul.
Speaking out as an androgynous human, I have found much support, both from those who value diversity and humanity, and from those who also like to express themselves in androgynous or gender-bending ways.
There is a growing social scene (at least in the inner city of big cities) accepting and supporting of people of sex or gender diversity.
Queer conferences starting with Queer Collaborations in the early nineties encouraged me to run workshops breaking down polarised gender and embracing sex and gender diversity. Being on the board of the Gender Centre and working for the Sex Workers Outreach Project's Transgender Project made me aware that I wasn't the only person diagnosed transsexual who was happier blurring the gender lines rather than always conforming to only one gender.
There seemed no sense in having such a changeable and transient quality as gender nailed down as a permanent mark on identity documents.
SAGE (Sex and Gender Education) Australia, a group lobbying against all discrimination against people for being sex or gender diverse, has been supportive of my being androgynous and seeking to have my reality recognised or at least not contradicted by the legal structures of society. It is part of the international movement of people seeking to remove unfair discrimination from social structures.
There may be many who have never thought of there being possibilities other than being male or female, there may be many who think their rules for gender and sexuality come from some tribal god whose traditions must be defended with violence, but there are also many who support the right of each human to express themselves honestly, who would allow children to be who they are, without disciplining them to conform to gender stereotypes, and who can deal with me as an adult without having to be sure what form my genitals are or what history they have or what I do with them in private.
I am grateful that at least the state of New South Wales is able to deal with me on such an adult basis, without needing to specify my sex as male or female, and to issue me with legal identification with sex not specified.
It surprised me to be told I am the first to get such documentation, but I know I won't be the last.
Norrie (who is known under the artistic signature: norrie mAy-welby) is a sex and gender diverse activist based in Sydney, Australia. Visit Norrie’s website here.
READ THE NEWS STORY ABOUT NORRIE BEING ISSUED WITH A 'SEX NOT SPECIFIED' DOCUMENT HERE.
Photo: Sambath Lim