Further Thoughts About Birth Certificates and Gender

I posted yesterday about how exciting it is that people in Vermont can change the gender/sex marker on their birth certificates without needing surgery. And while that’s really great news for a lot of people, a friend reminded me that it doesn’t help everyone (not even all transfolks with Vermont birth certificates). So I’ve been feeling guilty all day and realized that I should post further about it today.

This new law will only help people (with Vermont birth certificates) who want to change the gender/sex marker on their birth certificate to male or female — man or woman? I’m not actually certain what they say — regardless, to something within the binary. Anyone who wants a different gender/sex designation on their birth certificate, or doesn’t want one at all, or wants more than one, is still out of luck. I should not have phrased it as a victory for all trans people in Vermont because that ignores the lives and experiences of anyone who wants other than male or female on their birth certificate.

Personally, I’m a little frustrated by the fact that gender/sex is necessary for the birth certificate. I also, clearly, can’t quite decide whether to use the term ‘gender’ or ‘sex,’ largely because society as a whole doesn’t typically differentiate between the two and thus often uses the words interchangeably. That, in turn, makes my writing sloppy because even though I know gender and sex aren’t the same thing, I’m using them in the same way now, just to refer to whatever the law means.

But seriously, I rather wish we could just do away with having sex and/or gender listed on birth certificates. Or, of course, allowing it to be whatever people want it to be, but I feel like that would be even more complicated that just not having anything. I haven’t exactly thought this through completely, but I’m not really seeing an overwhelmingly important reason for birth certificates to have a sex or gender listed.

Even though surgery isn’t necessary, it still requires finding — and paying — a doctor who is willing to write a letter stating that one has “changed genders.” Doctors are expensive, and finding one who is willing and able to write the appropriate letter could be difficult.

I am still thrilled about Vermont’s new law. However, it’s not perfect, and I don’t want to give the impression that I think it is. Still, it’s nice to occasionally see something trans-related in the news that is positive! It’s good to know that some kind of progress is being made somewhere.

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