Transforming the law in Victoria – and what you can do to help

Right now, if I rummaged around the house and collected up all of my important identity documents, I could show you a passport, Medicare card, driver’s license, bank card, electoral enrolment and gas bill that all state that I am a male. My birth certificate, however, still records me as a female. I feel and look masculine, I use male toilets, and I use he/him or they/them as my pronouns. But because of the current, antiquated birth certificate laws in Victoria, in order to change the gender on my birth certificate to reflect my gender presentation, I would need to first undergo a costly and medically unnecessary surgery to my reproductive organs that would render me sterile.

This requirement effectively prevents most trans and gender-diverse Victorians from recording their affirmed gender on their official documents. This is because the people who want to have these surgeries are usually unable to access them: the cost is prohibitive, surgeries are not funded by Medicare, and there are long waiting lists due to the lack of surgeons offering gender-affirming surgery in Australia. The requirement also ignores the fact that many trans and gender-diverse people do not feel that they need these kind of surgeries to affirm who they are.

Hopefully, change is coming. On 14 July 2019, the trans and gender-diverse community and our allies rallied to show support for the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2019. If passed, the proposed law will allow trans and gender-diverse people born in Victoria to change their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity without first undergoing surgery to their reproductive organs.

A version of the Bill was first introduced in 2016 but was narrowly defeated after the Coalition and other cross-benchers voted against it, bitterly disappointing the many advocates who had fought for it for many years. The new Bill is expected to be introduced to the Victorian parliament in the coming weeks and, if passed, will allow trans and gender-diverse people born in Victoria to change their legally recorded sex to male, female, or another sex descriptor, which should allow people to record non-binary, a-gender or one of the many other terms that gender-diverse people use to describe their identities.

Having the ability change our recorded sex on our birth certificates will mean that we won’t have to ‘out’ ourselves when applying for the jobs that still require birth certificates to be provided.

Another welcome change is that trans and gender-diverse people won’t need to provide letters from a doctor or a psychologists confirming that they are receiving ‘clinically appropriate’ treatment. This requirement – which most Australian government agencies and businesses require – is patronizing at best, and deeply pathologising at worst, reflecting the existing medical gate-keeping structures that trans and gender-diverse people must pass through to in order to be diagnosed as experiencing ‘gender dysphoria’. This is still listed as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM).

This pathologisation has real-life consequences. For example, when I decided to undergo chest surgery, it was suggested to me that I take out private health insurance to cover the approximately $2000 cost of an overnight hospital stay. As someone who has long been critical of the private health insurance systems’ erosion of universal healthcare, I was pretty skeptical, but decided to check it out. I was shocked when I was told by an insurer that my surgery would be classified by all private health funds as a psychiatric admission, due to being tied to the psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria. This meant that I would need to pay the highest premium to be covered for this admission, and serve a twelve-month waiting period before the health fund would pay for my ‘psychiatric’ stay. I found this experience to be extremely stigmatising, and so I welcome any step by the Victorian government to move away from a pathologising model of understanding gender variance.

I am optimistic that the Victorian Bill will pass into law. Its introduction is a welcome relief from the angry national debate about religious exemptions to federal anti-discrimination law that’s been raging in the media since Malcolm Turnbull launched the Ruddock Review shortly after the results of the 2017 postal survey were announced. And momentum is building.

But there is no certainty of success. The Bill is expected to be supported in the lower house of parliament but will require cross-bench support in the upper house. You can help make this important reform happen by donating to a trans and gender-diverse advocacy organisation like Transgender Victoria to help fund the campaign, or by contacting the Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien to ask him to support the Bill.


Image: The Gender Spectrum Collection

Sam Elkin

Sam Elkin is a trans masc writer living on unceded Wurundjeri lands. Sam was a 2019 Wheeler Centre Next Chapter fellow, and his essays have been published in Overland, Baby Teeth Journal and Bent Street. In 2021, Sam received an Australian Society of Authors Mentorship, and is currently working on a memoir.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Thanks for this informative write-up Sam. Trans organisers in VIC are doing some really groundbreaking stuff and this piece really gives a sense of what has been, and what can be, achieved.

  2. Great write up. I am so glad you attended the even. I organized the event and an super pleased that some amazing trans advocates including Georgie Stone Anastasia Li Michelle Shepherd Amao Leota Lu Janet Rice Ki Hayward and Rebecca Robertson could join us.

    It was a wet windy cold demonstration of Trans and Gender Diverse Visibility Celebration and Advocacy.

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