In most liberal democracies being transgender is not considered a mental disorder. For example, in Aotearoa New Zealand we are able to self identify as M, F, or X (Male, Female, or indeterminate/unspecified) and have driver’s licence, passport etc issued accordingly, and our anti-discrimination law provides the full protection regardless of how we self identify.
So I was somewhat surprised today to discover that a country that I’ve always considered to be liberal and tolerant still officially classifies being transgender as a mental disorder. That country is Finland
An email came across my desk from Amnesty International NZ which included the following:
He was just a child when he was first told he had to be sterilised.
Sakris Kupila has never identified as a woman, the gender marker assigned to him at birth. Yet the 21-year-old medical student must endure daily embarrassment because his identity documents say he is female. In Finland, the law requires that he be diagnosed with a “mental disorder” and sterilised before he can legally change his gender identity, a violation of his human rights.
For Sakris, the choice is clear. He opposes this cruel and humiliating treatment and is bravely defending the rights of transgender people by fighting to end the law. Despite the threats and hostility, Sakris won’t stop until the fight is over.
A quick search of the Internet seems to support that email. There even appears to be restrictions on “gender appropriate” names. However many of the same Web sites, also state that reconstructive surgery is also required in NZ. This is not accurate: medical treatment, (no mention of surgery) is required only if you wish to apply to the Family Court to have your gender changed on your birth certificate. And the Family Court seems to be taking an incrementally liberal view of what medical treatment actually entails. Accepting what one finds on the internet is fraught with dangers
Birth certificates are a public record in the same way as marriage certificates, death certificates and name change records. Personally I don’t see a need to change the gender recorded on a birth certificate if one chooses to identify differently, as that was what one’s gender was perceived to be at the time of birth, but I appreciate others will hold opposing views. Perhaps when gender is no longer considered binary, and one is free to move along a spectrum without judgement then legal requirement to place everyone into often poorly fitting boxes will disappear.
One immediate solution to the issue of gender identity would be to not record a gender on birth certificates. Personally, I’d be in favour of that. In this day and age why is it needed? What purpose does it serve? Perhaps someone can enlighten me on why gender needs to be recorded but not eye colour or a finger print or a dna print for example.
As an aside, I’m curious about what ‘gender appropriate’ names are. Is there some official list of male and female names? What happens when someone wants to invent a new name or wants to use a foreign name? What’s wrong with being able to choose any name one wants? Admittedly, in Aotearoa New Zealand there are restrictions: names must consist of the letters A through Z and must not contain numerals or punctuation (with the exception of the hyphen). So while I can’t register V8 I could register V-eight. I can’t register 愛莉, but I could register Airi. If I felt so inclined, I could register late for breakfast, or Judy Is Beautiful, or even I am an arse-hole.