A trans man’s fight for legal recognition
- Published: 18 April 2010
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Conor Montgomery has lived as a man for the past two and half years, but the Australian government is refusing to change his birth certificate unless he has life-threatening surgery. This is his story of liberation and fight for social justice.
This journey really started for me from a young age, but my mother recollects that when I was three she told my father, ‘There is something different about this child.’ I was taken to a local hospital in Sydney to see a psychiatrist – the first of many.
I always believed I was male but you learn that it’s not socially acceptable to make these statements so I learned to bury it. But I never shook the feeling that I did not fit.
I came out as a lesbian in 1977. I never felt like a lesbian but thought this must be where I fit. Those early days were difficult as I always had a weird feeling that I didn’t identify and that I was living a lie.
Believing in a socialist agenda, I joined the Communist party in 1979. Coming from a working-class background, I found the lesbian separatist feminist movement very middle class and no one had any class consciousness. The catchphrase ‘We are all the same’ didn’t sit right with me.
My greatest gift was I could sing. And I could sing like Janis Joplin, so I landed In the music scene, although I was criticised for singing ‘men’s music’ in the women’s scene, because I could mimic my hero Jimmy Barnes. Deep down, I was a ‘working class man’ or ‘queer’.
But having that gift enabled me to exist and participate. I have some wonderful friends from those days and I have no shame with my lesbian past and nor do I want to dismiss my lesbian past – I’m just not a lesbian, but I fit now as a trans man.
I decided finally to transition two and a half years ago because I met a woman who identifies as a femme. She was interested in butches and encouraged my masculinity. Then I read Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg and totally Identified with the character Jess: the more masculine I was becoming the happier I felt.
I then met a trans guy and was totally envious of his masculinity. For me at that time, all old memories started to surface of the boy I had been and the confusion in my life through puberty and the hatred of my body when it finally betrayed me. I started to remember how I buried everything, told myself to forget it because I’d never be able to live as the man I was and to accept I must just be a dyke.
Transition for me has been the most exciting and exhausting and liberating time in my life. I’ve been on male hormones nearly years, which is great now but in the beginning was awful. I went to one doctor who seemed to not be interested in my health, but was very hungry to take the dollars for a seven-minute consultation. I now go to an excellent public to have a blood test every three months and a medical.
What’s different for me now is I don’t want to die anymore. I’ve stopped smoking and am now on my way to losing weight and being as healthy as I can be. I have also had a double mastectomy and chest reconstruction surgery and once again I am very critical of the attitude of the doctors and the issue of the surgeries not being able to be accessed by Medicare.
My life today is very different from my life before transition. Old friends have commented they have never known me to be so confident or looking so healthy and everyone is shocked I’ve given up smoking.
Earlier this month I lodged a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission against the New South Wales and Federal Attorneys-General for refusing to change my birth certificate.
My claim is that The NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriage has discriminated against me under the 1984 Sex Discrimination Act in that I did not have a stereotypically male sex. I also claim it breached Articles 1 and 2 of United Nation’s Charter of Human Rights in that the Registry is preventing me from socially defining myself and is restricting my freedom because of my sex.
My claim against the Federal Attorney General is that, because I have a female birth certificate and a male passport, I am legally unable to marry anyone at all, because both are cardinal documents, so if I did marry, the marriage could be declared illegal.
I’m very passionate about trans liberation, which is why this fight for my birth certificate is so important. You see for me it’s a signal it’s all finished: the documents are the last piece of the jigsaw.
People need to understand that early transition is exhausting and emotional with all your thoughts occupied with saving for surgery, having surgery, recovering from surgery, so for the Australian government to put these unnecessary hurdles in place in an already very difficult and emotionally charged time is just so cruel and unnecessary.
This barbaric legislation must be changed but it needs to be changed for everyone and in every state. This fight isn’t just about me; I want it to have a positive result for all trans people. I do hear chatter of some trans people who have had their birth certificates changed by manipulating the system, and while I’m all for manipulating the system, I think unity and a united, organised campaign is a much more effective way to go.
In addition to the right to change our birth certificates I believe we should also be able to access free surgeries, hormones and document changes on demand. I’m a member of the Socialist Alliance and that is our trans policy, which was written by me in consultation with some other trans activists in Sydney and Canberra.
This has been one of the most amazing times in my life to work with amazing activists such as Dr Tracie O’Keefe from Sex and Gender Education (SAGE) and Norrie May-Welby, but I believe we must encourage young activists and give them the courage to stand up and fight the system.
It is always talking to the young that inspires me. A young guy I spoke to recently reminded me of why birth certificate change is important for young people: it’s their primary ID to enter bars and the like – things that at 50 don’t affect me any longer.
I’d like to finish this article with a quote from a young trans woman,on why she was part of our political collective: “I just don’t want to apologise anymore.”
So let’s all not apologise anymore.
Conor Montgomery is a trans man living in Sydney, Australia. He is active in the Socialist Alliance as well as Community Action Against Homophobia and its campaign for marriage equality for all.