Illinois Sued Over Refusal to Correct Birth Certificates

Well this is incredibly ridiculous, really upsetting . . . and wholly unsurprising.

Two transgender women are suing the state of Illinois, which is refusing to change/correct their birth certificates to accurately reflect their gender identities.

Why won’t the state change them?  Karissa Rothkopf and Victoria Kirk haven’t met the state’s standards for gender reaffirmation surgery, which apparently include having the surgery performed by a doctor licensed in the United States.  Their surgeries were both performed in Thailand.

Their lawsuit, filed by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the denials a violation of state law and asked a judge to order that their birth certificates be changed.

“It could create significant problems for me in the future,” Kirk said Tuesday at a news conference. “A document that says I am male puts me at risk of embarrassment, harassment and possibly even physical violence.”

The two women said they chose to undergo procedures in Thailand because they felt the one-step surgery offered there would be medically safer. Both women have been able to change the gender on their driver’s licenses, passports and Social Security cards.

In addition to the apparent concern over safety, for many trans individuals seeking surgery there’s the additional issue of cost.  Most health insurance plans to not cover gender reaffirmation surgery (or other medical costs, such as hormones).  And with U.S. health care costs so high, many other countries can offer the surgery (or surgeries) at a significantly lower price, even with travel expenses tacked on top.  Because, you know, we don’t all have tens of thousands of dollars sitting in the bank.

But personally, I’m even more concerned that there are laws in place stating that one has to have invasive surgery, which not all trans people even want, in order to be legally considered the gender that you live, present and identify as.  What a ridiculous, pointless, expensive and discriminatory exercise in cis-privilege.  Clearly, the law needs to be changed in more way than one.

Good luck, Karissa and Victoria.  We’re pulling for you.

via Questioning Transphobia

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63 comments for “Illinois Sued Over Refusal to Correct Birth Certificates

  1. William
    January 29, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Ahh, good ‘ol Illinois: where the politicians are crooked, the town councils are rubber stamps, the taxes are high, the gun laws are strict, and the only thing worse than the oppression from the Chicago Machine is the oppression from Jesus freaks down south.

    I really hate this state sometimes.

  2. J
    January 29, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    What a nonsense law! What does the state expect them to do – go back and do it again?

  3. Rhonda
    January 29, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    I do wonder about the way to explain how someone who is male on their birth certificate could ever be pregnant or how someone who is female on their birth certificate still has male genitalia and how is it that they could still feel that they now present the gender they are on the inside while still toting around genitalia they were born with on the outside?
    If you have female genitalia and identify as female why shouldn’t your birth certificate reflect that just because it was a Thai doctor who performed the surgery? Thats not a good reason to withold the new birth certificate.

  4. January 29, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    I do wonder about the way to explain how someone who is male on their birth certificate could ever be pregnant or how someone who is female on their birth certificate still has male genitalia and how is it that they could still feel that they now present the gender they are on the inside while still toting around genitalia they were born with on the outside?

    I don’t know, Rhonda, maybe not everyone bases their gender identity solely on what they’ve got between their legs? Maybe you need to step outside the gender binary created by cisgender people, which privileges them (in my case, “us”) and only them? Or maybe, if you don’t want to do that, you should just not share your comments in a space like this one, which is intended to be a safe place for people of all gender identities.

    This post is not for Trans 101. I thought that would be self-evident, but it’s apparently not. It’s also not a place where transphobic comments of any kind will be allowed. Now you know.

  5. Kristen (The J one)
    January 29, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    I saw this over at QT a few days ago. It’s infuriating. The more I learn about these issues the more gobsmacked I am that people think this shit is okay. Seriously…we’re talking about simply human decency here. It’s like we need a fucking remedial course in it sometimes.

  6. Amanda
    January 29, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    what are they supposed to do? why don’t they just get examined by a u.s. doctor to prove their correct sex?

  7. GallingGalla
    January 29, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    I do wonder about the way to explain how someone who is male on their birth certificate could ever be pregnant or how someone who is female on their birth certificate still has male genitalia

    Easy, Rhonda. “Some men get pregnant. Some men have vaginas. Some women have penises.”

    Got it? See how simple it is? Deal.

    Also, ever heard of google? I’m tired of justifying my life to those who won’t bother spending a couple of hours googling the web and learning the basics wrt gender identity and would rather slop their cis privilege all over my body and this blog.

  8. January 30, 2009 at 12:22 am

    GallingGalla: *ding* What’s funny sad is that there’s a link to QT *RIGHT*THERE* and yet they can’t be bothered to stop and learn a little bit before typing the same stupid stuff out as everyone else. Grr. Arg.

    I hope only the best for Karissa and Victoria. I’m sorry that you’ve even had to do this.

  9. January 30, 2009 at 12:32 am

    Amanda asked:

    why dont they just get examined by a u.s. doctor to prove their correct sex?

    The problem being challenged in this lawsuit is due to the intersection of 2 unnecessarily restrictive provisions of Illinois law. First, only the doctor who actually performs the operation can certify that a person has undergone surgery sufficient to constitute a change of gender/sex for purposes of changing her/his Illinois birth certificate. Thus, you can’t go to a different doctor to perform an exam and provide the necessary certificate. Second, the statute limits the “physicians” or “doctors” (I forget which term is actually used in the statute) who can provide the necessary certificate to only those licensed to practice medicine in the U.S. Consequently, if your surgeon is not licensed in the States, s/he cannot provide the certificate necessary to change your Illinois birth certificate. The result is that, under the current Illinois law, if your surgeon was not licensed in the U.S., you can never change your Illinois birth certificate. (BTW, my understanding is that Dr. Brassard in Montreal is licensed in the U.S., so his patients can change their Illinois birth certificates, even though their surgery is not performed in the U.S.) California deals with this issue by allowing any U.S. licensed doctor to provide the necessary certificate, whether or not s/he performed the surgery her/himself, as Amanda suggested.

    Cara, I agree with you on the broader point that SRS should not be required to change one’s ID to match the gender in which we live, but, as you note, that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

  10. ariadne
    January 30, 2009 at 12:39 am

    maybe the real question is why gender is on the certificates at all.

  11. denelian
    January 30, 2009 at 1:43 am

    i once read this incredible short story, i don’t remember the name (i was 9 or 10) and the premise was that there was a pill that allowed one to change their gender, pretty much at will – and not just male/female, but a couple of other genders; there was a combo hermaphodite and and asexual one and a couple that, while sorta defined in context we have no words for. as my first intro to the idea of transgender (this WAS over 20 years ago) it was beautiful. i spent a good few years waiting for this pill, because i thought that if it ever happened, then surely everyone would stop being assholes about gender.

    yes, i realize that biology doesn’t work that way. but wouldn’t a reality where gender could be picked every day rock? i’m pretty sure that in a world like that, gender wouldn’t be this binary male=good female=weak thing.

    that had almost nothing to do with this news, which is beyond ludicrious. do they, either or jointly, have a legal fund to which i can donate?

    as for Rhonda, i think she just didn’t express herself well; i don’t think she was meaning what came out. if you look at her last paragraph, she is saying that she feels that these women HAVE undergone the surgery, and that their birth certs should reflect that.

    i agree though, that what’s between your legs is not the totality of gender. this reflects more on the inflexibility of our buracracies and legal system – they need a TOTAL overhall.

  12. piny
    January 30, 2009 at 2:24 am

    Thailand isn’t just cheaper. Its industry has been around for a while, and has at times offered clients more standardization and more respect. This all happened in part because domestic doctors took forfuckingever to treat transsexuality as valid. People went abroad; physicians found a niche. Now some Thai surgeons are sought out for their skill and innovation. And there is no translation issue here: the same procedures, training, and standard of care, all as transparent as any bureaucracy could want.

    Cheaper can mean safer, too: the money you save on the fee can be spent on aftercare or additional recuperation time. In a just system, you wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to recover from major surgery, but you should at least have the right to make decisions based on their best medical interests.

    GG and Cara have already devoted a lot more attention to Rhonda’s comment than seems necessary, but….

    Rhonda’s argument is a really good counterexamplar illustraion. There is no premium on keeping these records in such a way as to ignore the reality of transition, or arguing that these women have not actually had bottom surgery (does IL consider them pre-op?). It exposes them to harm. It isn’t helpful to the state, either: if anything, trans-invisible categories create lacunae in records systems.

    The real reason–one that becomes clear as soon as people like Rhonda start talking–is that transpeople are held to a different standard so that they can be punished for being trans. Americans get other kinds of medical treatment abroad all the time. This is a way to make transition more difficult, because trans genders must not be encouraged, because they’re just wrong.

  13. Ens
    January 30, 2009 at 3:52 am

    Why do birth certificates list gender anyway?

    People do get re-issued birth certificates with changed names, although even that’s a stressful process. I know my uncle spent the last couple years getting his birth certificate that he’d never looked at fixed to say “Richard” instead of “Ricky”, despite never having been named Ricky (my grandparents were, you know, there at the time and are pretty sure about this).

  14. Nik
    January 30, 2009 at 4:11 am

    I see that the law in this case appears to be rather byzantine, and the rationale behind it is not immediately apparent.

    Nonetheless, since they were able to change all of their active documentation – that reflects their identity as it is now – I confess that I don’t see why they would have the right or desire to modify an archival record to make it inaccurate.

    They are currently legal women, no argument; but they were born legally male, and it was recorded as such; one might question the wisdom of gender dichotomy in legal parlance, though it isn’t necessarily at issue here. If your biological father absconds, you can’t then have your father’s name altered on your birth certificate to reflect the fact that another man was your paternal father growing up. You can’t go back and alter your baby photos to make your blanket pink.

    I understand that in this case, the difference between their birth certificates and normal documentation might cause them problems and this might drive them to resolve it; but other than that it seems like wishful thinking to me.

  15. January 30, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Nik – actually, birth certificates are changed for adoptions all the time. I know it’s kind of reasonable-sounding to think that it’s just a snapshot of exactly what happened at the time of birth, but it’s not. People who change their names (for whatever reason) get them changed on their birth certificate too.

    If the birth certificate didn’t have important legal standing, if it was JUST a record, then people wouldn’t have to go back to change it all the time for various reasons. However, the birth certificate is considered the “keystone” identification document for many purposes in this country, so that it can be difficult to get other types of identification or do certain things if all the information doesn’t line up neatly. I know someone who couldn’t get a passport for six years because her birth certificate had a different name, due to stuff going on with her parents. This is why correcting the record to reflect current reality is necessary, and why ALL departments of records have various procedures to help people change them.

    If you want to argue for the department of records keeping the original record safe in their files, fine by me. In fact, I think they do that. But there’s a difference between “birth certificate” and “original birth certificate” ; the latter is usually sealed and not used for everyday bureaucratic purposes.

    This is totally besides the point, anyway. The Illinois department of records probably changes many trans people’s birth certificates every year; it’s just that they have found a new way to throw a wrench in and discriminate against SOME of them and not others. It’s hilarious, and totally ungrounded in fact, to see commenters on other sites going on about how surgeons in Thailand probably don’t know what they’re doing and can’t be trusted. Um racist much? Thailand is the capital of the world for these kinds of procedures.

    What we really should be talking about: how messed up it is for the US government to require that people undergo a medical procedure that they refuse to pay for or acknowledge as medically necessary despite a dozen court findings in order to do things like get a passport with the right gender on it, so their citizens won’t be endangered if they run into transphobic border guards in another country. It’s classist, and biased against trans men as well.

    Spain is setting a good example — they’re letting trans people change any necessary documentation regardless of whether they’ve had surgery or not. The world has not ended and reality has not collapsed in Spain. People are not running through the streets terrified that they can no longer understand gender. Everything’s totally fine, and trans people in Spain have identification that doesn’t put them at risk for discrimination, harassment or violence! Gosh golly!

  16. January 30, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Might cause problems? No, Nik, it just does.

    For instance, traveling, you can get a “no-match” between passport and records, leaving you in the tender hands of Homeland Security.

    Or all kinds of things really. Any time there’s a mis-match (based upon a cis-sexist assumption that everyone has a cissexual history), a trans person is vulnerable, even assumed to be deceptive.

    I can understand these women wanting to tie that up, believe me, even as I think it’s ludicrous that trans people in the US are required to have expensive and painful surgery (that apparently may not be recognised anyway) in order to have the same institutional coherence that cis people take for granted.

  17. January 30, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Ah, you put that much better than I did, Holly!

  18. William
    January 30, 2009 at 10:24 am

    I do wonder about the way to explain how someone who is male on their birth certificate could ever be pregnant or how someone who is female on their birth certificate still has male genitalia and how is it that they could still feel that they now present the gender they are on the inside while still toting around genitalia they were born with on the outside?

    Its actually pretty simple how this should all work, and this case is a good illustration of why. For a long time everyone thought of gender as binary, biological (determined by genitals or chromosomes), tied to sexuality, and static. Its become apparent now that gender exists on a spectrum, is primarily an issue of identification, has virtually nothing to do with sexuality, and is fluid. The bottom line is that having genders on any legal document only serves to do one thing: enforce gender roles. It creates a hurdle to people who’s gender has changed (or was never recorded correctly) and completely shuts out people who do not fit into one of two neat little check boxes on a form. More importantly, a public recording of gender serves no legitimate purpose. It can only exist to oppress.

    So the way someone can walk around feeling one gender while “having the equipment of another” is none of the states damned business. And, frankly, none of yours. Theres nothing to explain, no compelling interest for anything to be explained (other than curiosity and public voyeurism), and no reasonable responsibility to exchange. If you (or anyone else) is somehow confused or uncomfortable, thats your problem and yours alone.

  19. Shae
    January 30, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Before my comment, I’d like to explain that I support full rights for transgendered people, including freedom from discrimination (job / housing / etc), freedom from violence, the right to be called the gender they identify with, to dress how they want, use the restroom they feel is appropriate, marry who they want and so forth.

    That said, I think it’s strange that birth certificates can and should be changed, for gender change, name change or anything else. As someone else apparently commented, it seems the birth certificate should be the record at birth. Perhaps it is those laws insisting that birth certificates match the current state of things that need reformed.

    For one thing, a gender change isn’t really a black-and-white event. Sex change surgeries depend on the doctor and the patient’s wishes, and can include or not include various aspects even down to changing the genetalia. And as someone else pointed out, if someone doesn’t want surgery they shouldn’t have to have it to identify as their chosen gender.

    That said, of course these women shouldn’t be discriminated against for having their surgery outside the country. I just think the whole system is broken. Why can’t the birth certificate remain as-is, or contain an amendment, and people be allowed to obtain a passport, get a job or do whatever they need to do without explaining to everyone in sight the type, extent and location of bodily modifications they’ve undergone. No one cares if you’ve had a tonsillectomy and no one should care about this either.

  20. January 30, 2009 at 10:45 am

    I’ve got a policy question. How much total demand is there for genital SRS procedures altogether? I couldn’t give even a rough population percentage for all transfolks, but of that, only some percentage want any surgery at all, let alone bottom surgery. So, in terms of healthcare costs, how many surgeries are we talking about, max? Anybody know?

  21. January 30, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Shae, well the thing about an amendment is it contains a history. My deed poll name change has that, and I’ve had numerous arguments with institutions that use the old name, even *after* seeing that. For many cis people, knowledge that someone is trans invalidates their gender and identity.

    So most of the time, you just don’t want people to know, and why should you? In a world where it didn’t make a difference, sure no big deal. But in the real world, documents that make outness obligatory for trans people no that’s not gonna work.

  22. eastsidekate
    January 30, 2009 at 10:59 am

    It gets even stranger…. As I understand it, the Illinois State Legislature adopted the US-licensed surgeon law in response to a transsexual man who married a woman. When the marriage fell apart, and they went through divorce proceedings, the woman pointed out that her husband hadn’t had surgery as such, and therefore argued against divorce (in favor of nullifying the marriage).

    In other words, this is Illinois’ way of protecting the institution of divorce from teh queers.

  23. cbrachyrhynchos
    January 30, 2009 at 11:28 am

    The problem is that “birth certificates” legally are no longer documents of the historical fact of your birth. They are records that document a certain class of U.S. citizenship. What makes it worse is that the legal process of vetting authenticity of citizenship documents requires having the same legal name on multiple documents. So its not enough to have a social security number and code, you also have to show, in many cases, a birth certificate matching the same name.

  24. cbrachyrhynchos
    January 30, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Whoops, to make it clear. The different classes exist only in what forms of documentation you need to show in order to get employment or government benefits. I don’t mean to imply that naturalized or adopted citizens are less “American” than citizens by virtue of birth.

  25. Kristen (The J one)
    January 30, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    For many cis people, knowledge that someone is trans invalidates their gender and identity.

    Also, I would assume (from only limited experience, so please correct me on this if I misunderstand) that some transgendered persons do not want to be identified as “trans” woman or “trans” man, but rather as a woman or as a man and have felt that way their entire lives. In that context the original birth certificate is incorrect. While the OBGYN may have seen penis, vagina or other and assumed a gender/sex, they assumed incorrectly. The person was at birth the self-identified female or male child regardless of which genitalia they were born with. To insist otherwise is to create even more dissonance between the person they are (and always were) and the person society wants them to be.

  26. denelian
    January 30, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    actually, it can be even worse.
    i have (had? i had to stop hanging out with her for other reasons) a friend who was born classic hermaphrodite (both penis and vagina type, although the specifics aren’t clear because i thought asking was rude, and to my knowledge no one is actually born with both FULL sets, but she has some combo and is able to have PIV sex with guys) on her Birth Cert it says “male”, but puberty brought her breasts and hips – there is absolutely NO way to guess she has a penis without actually looking (or, guess, feeling). her parents were very cool for 35 years ago, and refused any gender surgeries while she was an infant, and let her essentially pick her own gender, and she almost always presented as female. but her Birth Cert has ALWAYS said “male”, while she has ALWAYS been “female”. it’s caused her NO end of trouble.

  27. Dana
    January 30, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    I have been working for a while on my own beliefs about gender and physical sex vis-a-vis transgender issues just because I like to know myself and what I believe about stuff and to relate to the world in a coherent way. This isn’t so much a ciswoman’s pronouncements about this, that, and the other, as it is raising what I think are valid concerns.

    First and foremost, are you serious? I agree Illinois should change these two women’s birth certificates. I do NOT agree with you that anybody is any old physical sex they say they are. But I see a difference between physical sex and emotional/mental/social gender. To me, gender is a culture’s definition of how a person of a given physical sex should look, dress, and behave. One belongs on a birth certificate; the other does not. Gender is not a biological reality, and cultural mores change. In fact, for example, the Western world probably has the widest range for female gender expression of any culture the world has ever seen. Or one of the widest. I’m waiting for us to have a wide range for male gender expression as well, including guys being willing to wear skirts without ridicule. (I’ve seen a very little of that already, among Neopagan men. Not kilts–skirts.)

    But I want rules about who is a guy and who is a woman regardless–and, even, who considers themselves permanently in-between (known as “berdache” or “two-spirit” in some cultures). I just want to know. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life offending people and being constantly corrected because I use the wrong pronouns. This is not laziness. Call it social lubrication. We simply don’t have the time or energy to be constantly walking on eggshells around one another and we already have to do that to some degree thanks to being nominally multicultural. Why invent drama where there was none previously?

    Nobody asks to be abused and I don’t want to see abuse happen. I do not favor it. I favor equality. But to me the original point of any equality movement was that people deserve to be treated with equal respect even WITH their differences, not that we should pretend differences don’t exist.

    I don’t know. I feel like I can’t even talk about this stuff and it’s pissing me off, and not just about gender issues. I’m like, hello? We live in a society together. Every society except this one, apparently, or at least in the ideal liberal world, has rules that say “we do this” and “we do not do that” and “person in X situation looks like this” and “person in Y situation looks like that,” and if it’s an indigenous community the liberals feel all trendy about letting them do what they want and calling that their culture, but if we try to figure things out here like that, it’s intolerant. You know, we cannot have 300 million different little cultures in this country, because a culture is not a one-wo/man/trans show. It’s a group effort. So where’s the group effort? Your shit is all us vs. them, just like it is with the conservatives.

    And you’re even willing to sacrifice innocent people to the cause, if you’re among the folks who were cheering that trans guy on when he got pregnant and carried to term. A girl, who was exposed to T in utero. That kind of shit is OK with you. I’m pro-choice, but I’m not pro-abuse–if you’re going to carry to term then don’t do stupid shit to the baby before it even gets here. I wouldn’t make what he did illegal, but I disapprove of it. I have literally lost feminist “friends” over that one. But that’s what you’re about. Who cares who you have to hurt–and we won’t know what damage, if any, was done to that baby for years and years, if we ever know; hormonal damage can be subtle but devastating–as long as you get to say you’re the same as the people who oppressed you, who cares? And that wasn’t even the original point! It’s not about sameness!

    Mmkay, I guess I have said enough. Sorry. But damn.

  28. Dana
    January 30, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Oh, and, I know it is an important issue that not every transperson who wants reassignment can afford it. FYI, not that I’m important, but in my perfect world we’d have socialized medicine and it would cover reassignment. Period. There’s no reason someone should have to suffer if it can be prevented or alleviated.

    But I don’t want “anything goes.” Then I don’t know how to act and I spend all my time on the defensive. I know it’s not getting beaten up or denied a job or killed but it’s still a valid concern and it is not going to go away. You might as well face it and deal with it sensitively and maturely because you are going to keep hearing this no matter how long the TG movement has to continue due to genuinely unequal treatment.

    Because, again, group effort. We ARE all in this together, but that means we have to forge a future that everyone can live with, not just the minority.

  29. January 30, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Wow Dana, you are really ignorant. Maybe you should educate yourself before talking about stuff you obviously have no knowledge of.
    Like you know, Thomas was off T for a while before he got pregnant. Just a single example of many.

  30. Puppycat
    January 30, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Trans men, including the guy who was in the news media, have to go off T to even get pregnant. And cis women who get pregnant have different levels of T anyway, that the baby gets exposed to. I seriously doubt that guy was exposing the kid to unusual amounts of T. You know, since he was off his hormones especially.

  31. Puppycat
    January 30, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Sorry I guess drakyn beat me to it.

  32. January 30, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Another reason why gender is irrelevant on documents such as these: many people do not identify as either male or female, but often somewhere in-between, or something else entirely. How do you classify them on a birth certificate? It’s just flawed, in general.

  33. January 30, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Also, I’ve been in places where you state your pronouns at your introduction.
    So, when you go to say “Hi, I’m So-and-so” you also say, “and I use X pronouns”.
    If you don’t know a person, you either ask for their pronouns, or, if speaking about a third person who isn’t there, use gender neutral pronouns.
    Seriously, its not that big a deal, society will not crumble.

  34. January 30, 2009 at 7:24 pm


    The simple answer to what seems to be the heart of your dilemma is that records used for purpose of identification should not have anything to do with physical sex — they should have to do with “public gender” because they’re about identifying individuals in public, official settings like borders, hiring and employment, taxes, driving a car, etc. Those purposes have nothing to do with the very private matter of what’s between people’s legs. This is why it’s possible in many states to change your driver’s license gender marker, to correspond to the gender you are using publicly — whatever that may mean for you.

    Another argument would be that “public gender” is and should be an unstable category, so shouldn’t be used on identity documents at all. I think we’re a ways off from that being viable.

    The other dilemma here, as has been mentioned like seven times in this thread already, is “what belongs on a birth certificate.” Birth certificates, as cbrach pointed out, have morphed from being a record of birth into an identification document, and as such they have to be changed when necessary, and they must reflect gender, not sex. That’s just the practical fact of the matter, and it’s not incompatible with the need for departments of records to keep records. They still keep the original birth certificate and a record of changes; it’s just not public or available to anyone except the department and people who have the right to retrieve that record. The “practical birth certificate” on the other hand, has to be seen by any number of other agencies and institutions, because of what birth certifcates have become.

    I would support either of those arguments, as far as your concern about identification documents goes.

    As for this:

    But I want rules about who is a guy and who is a woman regardless–and, even, who considers themselves permanently in-between (known as “berdache” or “two-spirit” in some cultures). I just want to know. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life offending people and being constantly corrected because I use the wrong pronouns. This is not laziness. Call it social lubrication. We simply don’t have the time or energy to be constantly walking on eggshells around one another and we already have to do that to some degree thanks to being nominally multicultural. Why invent drama where there was none previously?

    I never have a problem with this kind of thing, and neither do a lot of other people. Why do you think you run into so much trouble? Is it because you make assumptions about people? Do you find it troublesome or anxiety-causing if you don’t know someone’s gender? Is there really any way to remove that without putting people into strict boxes, essentially making them broadcast their gender with “clear signals?” You’re always going to have someone who you don’t know about. The same is true of other social categories — race, religion, sexual orientation — do you want to be able to “tell” all these things about someone automatically? Why is it important that you be able to with gender? Do you find it disturbing when you can’t tell a little child or baby’s gender? Do you want parents to tell you, and how do you feel if they don’t?

    I’m not asking any of this to put you on the defensive. I’m sincerely interested in exploring, in figuring out together why this stuff feels problematic, and what to do about it.

    I’ll tell you what my community is like. In my community, which consists of many hundreds or thousands of people who all understand these guidelines at least roughly, even if they’re not explicitly stated, we don’t automatically assume that someone is male or female, or what pronouns they use. If someone seems to be clearly broadcasting “masculine” or “feminine” gender expression, very much along society’s conventional lines, then we might make a guess that this person identifies as a man or a woman, and uses those pronouns. (If they’re engaged in a performance or wearing a costume, we know it’s much less certain.)

    Some of us are more willing to act on our hunches than others and use someone’s pronouns based on those broad “clumps of expression” and sometimes we’re wrong. It’s not a big deal to be wrong, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or have committed a terrible sin. It means you made an informed guess based on a bunch of cues, and then someone corrected you. You correct yourself about that person’s gender and move on. People can switch genders, sometimes more than once, and it’s important that we all get used to that flexibility so we don’t disrespect trans people’s gender.

    People who really don’t want to guess and potentially be wrong just ask. Either you ask the person in question, or if you feel like that’s too awkward, you ask someone else who knows them. “How does so-and-so identify? Do you know what pronouns so-and-so uses?” or less explicitly “I was talking to so-and-so and they (sorry, don’t know what pronoun so-and-so uses?) said you wanted to talk to me.” This is public information, not anything Or, just use “they” or people’s names all the time. I know people that do this and it’s no big deal. Personally, I don’t use pronouns much at all in colloquial conversation, perhaps because the other language I’m fluent in doesn’t really use third-person pronouns, mostly just first-person ones. They’re not necessary for talking if you don’t want to use them.

    So you see, there are plenty of options that don’t mean you’re always “walking on eggshells” or insulting people. If either of those were the case, the local, national, and international communities that I’m referring to here would have imploded long ago under the psycho-social stress. You don’t even have to modify the way you talk that much if you don’t want to; you can always ask about how people identify, or correct yourself.

    All of this is not much to ask if you want to respect people’s genders. If that’s not important to you, you can disrespect people — but you can’t really insist that people change so that standards of respect will change, right?

    A girl, who was exposed to T in utero. That kind of shit is OK with you. I’m pro-choice, but I’m not pro-abuse–if you’re going to carry to term then don’t do stupid shit to the baby before it even gets here. I wouldn’t make what he did illegal, but I disapprove of it. I have literally lost feminist “friends” over that one.

    Please, please check your facts before you lose friends over something like this. You sound like you were operating on incomplete information and innuendo. Furthermore, suggesting that Susan Beatie was abused — despite the fact that the small number of doctors who treat pregnant trans folks have been doing this for years, know how to deal with trans men’s pregnancy, are aware of the risks, and know how to lower and monitor testosterone levels to keep a baby safe — would be slanderous if you weren’t so obviously short on your research. There are plenty of healthy kids of trans men who went off testosterone out there. They’re just not in the media; Thomas Beattie was far from the first. I know some of these kids. Their dads did not have dangerous levels of testosterone in utero, and years later the kids are doing fine. Media portrayals of trans people’s lives and families as some kind of dangerous, unknown “no-go-zone” is a pretty sketchy and sensationalistic tactic that gets used over, and over, and over. I’m tired of it.

  35. January 30, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Wow. I honestly would have deleted Dana’s comments if I got to them sooner and they hadn’t been responded to already. Thanks, Holly, for being so level-headed about them when you really shouldn’t have to be.

    I also apologize to anyone who saw Angela’s transphobic comment that was left here for about 2 minutes before it was deleted. She’s been nothing but a pain in the ass since she first got here, anyway, and that was definitely the final straw. She’s now banned.

  36. Bagelsan
    January 30, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Dana: you know those letters you write while you’re angry and then never send because it would be totally assholish? That was one of those letters. Except substitute “an idiot” for “angry”… (And I know she’s been pretty thoroughly addressed already, but I wanted to chime in as well.)

    Back on topic, would it be acceptable to mark “born x sex” on the birth certificate, and then make it easily amended to include “x gender” once that is decided? And then from then on the birth certificate would show whatever gender it was amended to? That would maintain the record of the birth without complicating the person’s actual life. (‘Cause I’m a big fan of recording everything accurately, and it seems most accurate to me to record multiple timepoints in order to reflect both past and present realities.) This would require a certain amount of understanding from society at large, though; I’m worried that currently *any* indication of a deviation from the cis norm is grounds for harassment, even from the few people who might have access to the original record.

  37. Bagelsan
    January 30, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Aaand Holly got there first. :p

  38. eastsidekate
    January 30, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    That’s it. Holly, will you be my internet gf? :p
    Seriously, though… that was a remarkably well-worded, sensitive, and down-right useful response to someone who may have actually benefitted from it.

  39. Kristen (The J one)
    January 30, 2009 at 10:09 pm


    You’re a better person than I…she had me at “tough kittens.”

  40. January 31, 2009 at 12:37 am

    Bagelsan, I already answered that a ways back, it’s really not remotely viable. If you have a document used for identification that shows explicitly a trans person’s gender history, it will be used against them.

    The persistence of that question from a number of people in this thread makes me wonder what is at stake there. Is it *just* about being a stickler for records, or is what bothers people the notion that there would be no legal trace of a trans person’s history? That we would institutionally be just like you.

    What does “accuracy” mean, in this context? *Whose* reality frame is being invoked here? What is really being preserved here–“reality,” or the primacy of cis-sexuality as originary?

  41. Kristin
    January 31, 2009 at 12:38 am

    “In fact, for example, the Western world probably has the widest range for female gender expression of any culture the world has ever seen.”


    See, you all are much nicer than me. I’d have just mocked Dana.

  42. Jon H
    January 31, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Maybe there should be a field for XX or XY, that would stay the same (if it might be useful info forensically?) and a sex/gender field that would be more easily changeable.

  43. January 31, 2009 at 1:24 am

    Is it *just* about being a stickler for records, or is what bothers people the notion that there would be no legal trace of a trans person’s history? That we would institutionally be just like you.

    This, Queen Emily. This right here is one of the questions in need of asking on this issue.
    Pay attention, y’all.

  44. January 31, 2009 at 1:57 am

    No one really knows Thomas.
    Pretty much the only stats I know of for the number of trans* folks are old and are made of fail because they were based off of how many people got genital surgery in a year (which, among other things, really underestimates how many trans* men there are since our bottom surgery was not as advanced as the women’s and its very expensive).
    But yeah, it wouldn’t really be that much for insurance/national health care.
    You have a number of people who don’t want surgeries, a number of people who aren’t yet ready for surgeries, people who have already had all the surgeries they want, etc.

    Emily, LL, I’d also like an answer to that question…

  45. CBrachyrhynchos
    January 31, 2009 at 2:58 am

    Yeah. A birth certificate hasn’t been just a record of the facts of my birth in my memory, especially since I legally altered my birth certificate. The people who ask for my birth certificate don’t care that I was born in Monroe County, IN on a certain date in the early 70s with certain parents on record. They want to know if I can:
    * be legally employed
    * carry a driver’s license
    * receive certain federal benefits
    * be given permission by the Department of State to travel outside of U.S. territorial boundaries

    Certainly there are alternatives to presenting my wallet-sized, laminated facsimile of my birth certificate as proof of citizenship. I can use a passport and, in some cases, a social security card. But those require a birth certificate to obtain as well. There are other forms of documentation, but as I’m not Native American, an adoptee, a child of American citizens living abroad, or a person who went through the naturalization process, I don’t have any of those documents.

  46. Kristen J.
    January 31, 2009 at 3:08 am

    “cis-sexuality as originary”

    I would guess that this is the issue more than anything. The concept that being trans is “changing” rather than being. When we were discussing it over dinner the SO’s initial reaction was “you can’t change it because that was what was true at the time.” Until he heard those words come out of his mouth and he realized how cisnormative they sounded.

  47. piny
    January 31, 2009 at 3:21 am

    I think Emily has it right. Assigned gender is not universally accurate; it’s accurate for cissexual people, and creates no incongruity for them. This standard for intact records seems to me to rest on the need for intact genders. I don’t think there’s much benefit to trans transparency. The “original” marker is not an especially useful piece of information, and it is tied to a lot of very sensitive, private information.

    The IL legislature is in effect making the same demand Dana did: “We want rules.” They’re trying to protect an important set of boundaries. That’s why it makes sense to tell a couple of trans women that their vaginas are not in proper order.

    Legislators have fixated on surgery for a few reasons. It’s external, so it removes the need to account for transitioning people. It’s medical, so it legitimizes interference and discrimination as sciencey. It’s burdensome, so it removes the need to recognize many transpeople at all. It’s dichotomous, so it removes the need to recognize “trans” as an idea. Finally, it’s an extrapolation of the basis for cis gender assignment, so it negates parity for trans genders.

    The use of surgery has created all kinds of social, financial, and medical problems for the transpeople–they remain even if you pretend that all transpeople want surgery and work to obtain it. But the use of another line between “not transitioned” and “transitioned” doesn’t necessarily solve all of the issues of standardization. So long as we have a system that starts at the primacy and permanent validity of assigned gender, we’ll have a hierarchy that privileges cissexual gender.

  48. piny
    January 31, 2009 at 3:47 am

    But yeah, it wouldn’t really be that much for insurance/national health care.

    And why should we not offer medical services because lots of people need them badly? No one says we should ignore people with breast cancer or heart disease because they’re common problems that require extensive care that costs money. In fact, that’s the opposite of every public-health argument ever.

    The spectre of transsexuals descending en masse to swamp any employer or area that offers inclusive coverage is transphobic, but its underlying premise is really transphobic.

  49. eastsidekate
    January 31, 2009 at 10:01 am

    It’s medical, so it legitimizes interference and discrimination as sciencey.

    And also what queen Emily said.

    Seriously, there’s a long history of marginalizing queers on the basis of “science” that “proves” that we’re less legitimate than straight people. The only problems are:
    1) Science doesn’t actually show that we’re faulty versions of straight people.
    2) So what if #1 is true? Should faulty versions of people be kicked to the curb? I don’t think so.

  50. GallingGalla
    January 31, 2009 at 10:26 am

    To those commenters who claim that the birth cert records a historical moment in time, can you not see how cissexist that is? Can you not see how that “history” is always presented through a cis lens?

    My birth cert says “M”. From the moment it was issued, it was incorrect, because it was based on mistakes made by a cissexist society. I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A WOMAN. I have not “changed sex”. I have a right to correct that historical record.

    Oh, and Jon H, wrt to your lovely suggestion of recording XX or XY, try googling “intersex” before you come out with such an uninformed suggestion. The fact that my chromosomes happen to be XY does not change the reality that I am a woman and always have been. You’re just using XX/XY as a handy stand-in for looking at the bits between my legs.

    The fact that we insist on recording a gender at all, and then insisting that it never ever changes, is a foundation of cissexism.

    The just solution is to stop recording gender / sex on identity documents (birth cert, driver’s license, passport, etc). Until that happy day happens, as a minimum people need to be able to correct their identity documents if and when needed without going through these freakin’ hoops and barriers. My identity documents (not just birth cert) will always state “M” because I will never be able to afford SRS, hence I will always be at risk of losing my job (gender no-match letters, anyone?), will likely never be able to safely travel outside the US, and will always be at risk of abuse from law enforcement from something as simple as being pulled over for a traffic violation. Is that right? Dana, Jon H, and others commenting along the same lines, are you ok with that? Yes or no?

    You know what, I wish y’all would be blunt and honest, and to paraphrase Renee of Womanist Musings, go ahead, say “she-male”, cause then I’d at least know who I’m dealing with without having to wade through all this faux-progressive concern trolling.

  51. unhurt
    January 31, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    the way someone can walk around feeling one gender while “having the equipment of another” is none of the states damned business. And, frankly, none of yours. Theres nothing to explain, no compelling interest for anything to be explained (other than curiosity and public voyeurism), and no reasonable responsibility to exchange. If you (or anyone else) is somehow confused or uncomfortable, thats your problem and yours alone.

    this is really nice summation of why some things are not, in fact, up for discussion.

  52. Arkady
    January 31, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    “Maybe there should be a field for XX or XY, that would stay the same (if it might be useful info forensically?) and a sex/gender field that would be more easily changeable.”

    Even just on the biology side of things it’s way more complicated than that. The crucial bit of the Y chromosome is a gene called ‘sry’ that kicks off a developmental cascade in the embryo that turns it male. If it’s inactivated you get silent Y, i.e. women who are XY. On the flip side, if that gene breaks off and attaches to an X chromosome you get XX males. Then you start getting into the weirder ones, Turner’s (single X chromosome, results in miscarriage 98% of the time, those who make it to term are phenotypically female and have a lot of health problems), Klinefelter’s (XXY, male with reduced secondary sexual characteristics and developmental and cognitive problems), Triple X (female, normal due to inactivation of the extra chromosome), XYY (similar to Klinefelter’s but with less severity), XXYY, and the list goes on…

    And that’s just the sex chromosomes, the developmental conditions that can give rise to hermaphrodism are even more complex (and not covered by my undergraduate courses in genetics and reproductive physiology ;-) ). Once you get past the biological complexity and realise that we’re also highly social creatures for whom gender is about far more than ‘OMG LETS MAKE TEH BAYBEEZ!” you begin to realise just why we have such a complex spectrum of gender and human sexuality.

    (as an aside, it’s nice to be able to talk about interesting biology for a change. I’ve spent all week writing about tiny structure changes in one virus protein. Joys of grad-student life…)

    I think I agree with GallingGalla above, it seems silly in many ways to have to include a fixed gender in legal documents. From a legal point of view, and ignoring the stupid current rules defining marriage as between a legal man and woman, what possible non-medical situation would really require that information?

  53. January 31, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Arkady, you beat me to it. We’d have to give a genetic screening to every infant to put an accurate sex chromosome marking on their birth certificate, yet somehow I don’t think that’s what would happen. Instead they’d just look at the dangly bits.

    Entertainingly enough, I’m on a chat right now with a friend who has Turner’s Syndrome. Not so many health problems, though. She wasn’t diagnosed until she was 18, when the complete lack of puberty finally made them start looking. Graduated from a Seven Sisters school in three years as a Math major – she’s just tiny and infertile, otherwise quite healthy.

  54. February 1, 2009 at 2:42 am

    That’s it. Holly, will you be my internet gf? :p

    Well, eastsidekate, you should know that I practice interamory, which is kind of like polyamory for internet gfs, but without all the bickering. If you’re down with that, then you can be one of my internet gfs. We are all moving to a heavily fortified compound in InterNewMexico in about three years. Your responsibility will be… let’s see. Dessert and After-Dinner Morale Activity #1.

  55. denelian
    February 2, 2009 at 1:36 am

    i just had a thought. i do not know if it is good or bad.


    the thing is, everything is currently assigned by gender. gender will NOT be removed from birth certificates until the marriage issue is resolved – that is, until any (adult) can marry any other (adult). at which point, most of the REASON for the gender record is pretty much freaking gone.

    how nice will it be to grow up in a world where you aren’t told, from BEFORE YOU ARE FREAKING BORN, that you are whichever and gender and thus MUST act like it? i mean, on this my parents were great, and never ever told me that i couldn’t do anything just because i was a girl – i was REQUIRED to get straight As (really, i got grounded for B+s), i was REQUIRED to be better than everyone else in my class, male or female. but there were still OTHER gender expectations. my mother’s life plan for me (before we found out that pregnancy would kill me) was Ph.D, marriage, two kids, then a great career as i raised the kids – my career would necessarily be something flexabil… she envisioned me doing genetic research at a lab where i worked only while the kids were in school. it never occured to her that i would not want this – i was female, i MUST want to be a mother (the thought of being a mother gives me hives). what if could have grown up without that, or the sexual abuse of my stepfather, or without all the guys i had class with resenting me, not because i was smarter (or at least scored higher) but because i was a GIRL and a GIRL did better than they?

    if we get marriage fixed – if we can get the heternormativity of it erased – then we really CAN have that world. THAT is the world i want.

  56. GallingGalla
    February 2, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Denelian, you’re on the right track, but there’s more at issue than just marriage. Gender is enforced whenever ID is required. For example, marriage rights or no marriage rights, I will not be able to travel outside the US as long as I have to have surgery to change the gender on my passport. I can change the name now, but that means I’ll have a female name and a male gender marker, which the TSA loves to use as an excuse to harass, detain, and abuse trans people. Cos we’re deceivers and all that, dontcha know. That name / gender mismatch can also cost me jobs and credit.

    Until that gender marker is removed from all forms of ID, these hassles will continue for all gender-nonconforming people (not just trans).

  57. denelian
    February 3, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    i’m sorry; i wasn’t trying to say that marriages was the ONLY problem with automatic gendering. i was trying to say that we CANNOT or maybe that we WILL NOT get rid of gender markers so long as marriage is defined in this stupid bullshit “one-man-one-woman” way.
    but that once we get rid of gendered marriage we have one LESS reason to REQUIRE that everyone be identified by gender.

    am i making sense?

  58. GallingGalla
    February 3, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    denelian: Yup.

  59. February 3, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Piny, thanks for the Thailand info, I’ve always wondered. Different countries are favored for different medical procedures, and there are usually good reasons.

  60. February 16, 2009 at 3:51 am

    This process has taught me a lot.

    I have seen the many positives in people, and I have experienced more negatives than I cared to accept would be possible.

    Prior to now, I believed the issue that is before us was the end of the whole transition and I could just blend back into life afterward (change my name again if necessary) and raise my children. What I have recently learned is a secondary issue of “Legal Gender” that is now being determined by the courts.

    I didn’t go to Thailand to be the person that took this issue on. In my case (specific to the Birth certificate) – I showed up on one of the Gender Mismatch reports from Homeland security and my employer insisted on seeing my birth certificate. The medical care in Thailand is incredible, and since most of my life is public venue now, I was not a candidate for Inversion (what is done here in the United States developed in 1958)

    The procedures in Thailand moved away from the Inversion approach about 15 years ago. They continue to improve, and it was the best possible MEDICAL decision on my part.

    The other option here in the states would have been to take a section of my colon and use that section as part of my vaginal canal. Why would anyone want to risk scaring that could cause bowel obstruction, scaring, and a lifetime of possible complications when there was a safer procedure… For a rule that said the surgeon (and surgery) doesn’t count because it wasn’t by a US licensed Physician.

    For almost a year I wasn’t considered truly “anything” by insurance so a whole lot of normal everyday medical care was denied as not being male or female… I didn’t count.

    Things like the birth certificate have far reaching consequences. BTW ~ look up what’s been happening with “Legal Gender” now that really takes the cake.



  61. Jakob
    April 7, 2009 at 6:25 am

    There is one other sick, sad part to this story. I hope these two ladies win their case, but just getting the new gender on their birth certificates isn’t going to help much. In IL, for name and/or gender changes, they merely cross out the old information and type in the new information. So, these poor women are still going to have their original names and genders CLEARLY EVIDENT on a new copy of their certificates, should they win this case.

    Therefore, they’re still going to face possible harrassment issues.

    There are several states that will issue a completely new birth certificate (such as GA), but IL currently does not. I think these women need to make sure to request that IL issue them completely new birth certificates (as well as allowing other trans patients to get new certificates) so as to avoid the discrimination and abuse they know will happen with their current situation.

  62. justme
    April 24, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    The good news is that on February 10th this year, State Senator Heather Steans introduced a bill into the Illinois Senate (SB1354) to amend the Vital Records Act to allow foreign-licensed physicians to have performed the surgery, and also to allow physicians other than the original surgeon to examine the person and submit an affidavit that the person’s sex designation should be changed as a result of prior surgery. It’s still working its way through the Senate though.

    The Administrative Code as of 1991 had said that the original birth certificate was not to be amended in cases of sex change surgery, but that a new one should be issued instead, with the old one being sealed. I assume this must have been changed at some point, or what the Registrar’s office is doing with merely crossing out the old info and adding the new would be strictly against the Code, but I haven’t been able to find any such change to the Code online. Does anyone know where I can find this? Probably in a back issue of the Illinois Register, but any idea of about when it occurred? It’s archived online, but as PDF files and not easily searchable across issues. Also, does anyone know where I can learn about the process for changing the Code, and whether any attempt is being made to undo this change?

  63. Christine
    July 12, 2009 at 11:14 am

    WA is so much better.. they were polite over the phone and gladly took a name change order from Texas and my letter from Dr. Chettawut. I’m even legally married in Texas now. Thank g-d i was born in WA.

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