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Mandatory sterilization & trans men in Australia

The fight over reproductive rights keeps dragging on in the United States, but in Australia, hot-button issues like abortion and contraception are rarely a subject for public debate. In Australia, instead, a new front in the fight has opened for a new group – transgendered men. Two recent test cases in New South Wales and Western Australia have seen three trans men fight for the right to be legally male without being sterilized.

In both states, transgendered people of both sexes are allowed to change the sex on their birth certificates after they have had genital surgery (commonly known as SRS, Sexual Reassignment Surgery). Further evidence from GPs, endocrinologists, and psychiatrists are also required. This status quo has meant the compulsory sterilization of all transgendered people wishing to change their documents.

Estrogen permanently sterilizes transgendered women fairly early in the hormonal transition process. However while it is being taken, testosterone freezes but does not permanently remove the ability of a trans man to conceive a child. It is only SRS which permanently sterilizes a trans man.

Any trans man who remains on his hormones, therefore, is unable to bear a child, however, as with the high profile case of Thomas Beattie in the US, if he stops taking his hormones for an extended amount of time he will become potentially fertile. It is this possibility that alarms lawmakers, for as George Tannin SC said in the West Australian government’s appeal last November:

“The ability to bear children is plainly not a gender characteristic of a male. The retention of such an ability must necessarily result in the applicant not possessing the gender characteristics of a male.”

Bear in mind that the men in both cases have already had double masectomies to remove their breasts. For Conor Montgomery, the man pursuing the lawsuit in New South Wales, another surgery would be potentially life-threatening. Even though the likelihood of any trans person stopping their hormones is remote, what is at stake, legally, is the distant possibility of trans men conceiving. In other words, NSW and WA wish to remove trans men’s capacity to bear children.

Unsurprisingly, the men in both cases have decided that their mandatory sterilization should not be required to change their birth certificates. As Conor Montgomery told the Sydney Morning Herald, “we are a small percentage of the population, but I think it’s inhumane to force anyone into sterilization. Does it make me more of a man? I don’t think it does.”

This movement amongst trans men to change their documents without undergoing surgery has broader applications for Australian transgendered people in those states. The current system requires pre or non SRS trans people on hormones to retain the wrong legal sex, effectively outing them as transgendered every time they present a driver’s license, birth certificate, and so on—a requirement which has implications from health care to employment.

In Western Australia, transgendered people are not protected by anti-discrimination laws, and in New South Wales, only “recognized” (that is, post-operative, document changed) trans people have legal protection. So while the State’s criteria is based on genital normalization, trans people in their everyday lives are negotiating the world with documents that do not match their gender presentation, and hence are at risk of discrimination and even potential violence.

So the fight for reproductive justice for trans men is, in effect, a fight for more than the right to bear children. It is a fight for the right to bear children and live safely as a men, to not have their rights and security held hostage to institutional demands to normalize their genitals. If successful, it could potentially help both trans men and women change their documents without the need for expensive, painful and very occasionally risky surgery.

In Western Australia, the two trans men are fighting a clearly reticent government, having fought and won once only for the government to appeal. What is clear is that Australian transgendered people are fighting for nothing less than the right for bodily integrity, and it is a battle that is far from over.

10 thoughts on “Mandatory sterilization & trans men in Australia

  1. How can you claim to be male in gender when you are happy to have a vagina? It’s nonsense.
    Likewise with these wannabe ‘trans’ women who are happy to have a penis. YOU ARE NOT FEMALE IF YOU HAVE A DICK! Stop kidding yourself.

    Guilt ridden pretend transsexuals have really messed it up for true transsexual people. Give it a rest, You are probably just gay, DEAL WITH IT.

  2. Are you for real? Attitudes like yours cause more harm to trans people of all kinds than anyone who chooses not to have surgery.

    I kind of wish all y’all who keep going on with the gender policing would put up and start paying for surgeries for those who can’t afford it, or shut up about everyone else’s genitals.

  3. Hear hear, Lisa.

    It’s hardly a black and white situation for naturally occurring sex characteristics with the various forms of intersex out there, so why should trans be held to some untenable dichotomy?

  4. I should also mention reproductive freedom. Technologically speaking, today, trans women cannot get pregnant and trans men cannot produce sperm. If trans people want to have children, we’re stuck with using what we’ve got, or adoption – and don’t even suggest adoption is the only viable option.

    Trans people do deserve reproductive freedom. We deserve to have the ability to determine what’s done with reproductive organs, and not have their removal mandated by the state. Or even, as in Japan (IIRC), mandating that trans women have no stored sperm.

    Right now, regardless of barriers to reproductive justice and freedom for cis people, trans people are essentially living in the dark ages. We’re told that we shouldn’t even want to have our own children, because that automatically marks us as a gender we’re not. And it’s personally sickening to me to see other trans people participate in this cissexist perspective on what trans people should be forced to do just to have appropriate documentation.

    And I say this as someone for whom surgery was the best possible choice.

  5. Also, Eric, I believe that this attitude is what prompted treating intersex births as a medical emergency demanding surgical assignment as infants or young children. Insisting that everyone must fit into exactly two boxes or suffer for it is not kind to trans people or intersex people.

  6. What’s missing from the lead article is an appreciation that ‘trans’ includes many very different types of people with disinctly different medico/legal needs. To lump them all, from cross-dresser/pan/trans-gender expression to people who experience transsexualism and some other intersex conditions is both outdated and misleading. Affirmed males and affirmed females have different issues when it comes to Sex Affirmation Treatment too. It is not just a legal/documentary issue.

    For example, the law in Australia now affords full legal rights in the reassigne legal sex, because after undergoing genital reassignment surgery affirmed females end up with a physical strength that is within the normal female range. Hence, in Australia, post operative affirmed males and females are entitled to marry in their affirmed sex and Australian and Olympic sports administrations are comfortable about accepting Australian birth certificates as giving the right to affirmed females to compete as females. If a reassignent of legal sex to female was permitted without the requirement of genital surgery, it is unlikely that full equal legal rights would still be granted.

    By way of further example, the most important issue for people who experience transsexualism of all ages is affordable access to medical treatment; including genital re-assignment surgery. Documentary recognition comes a distinct second. Cross dressers and other people who have gender expression issues, rather than sexual identity issues, have no desire to alter either the sexual function or appearance of their sexually differentiated bodies.

    But none of this is to say that reform to the laws governing the reassignement of legal sex is not needed or that the discussion and considerations are simple. Provision certainly needs to be made for the special circumstances of affirmed males relating to the efficacy of certain aspects of genital surgery. Allowance needs also to be made for those for whom genital surgery, or some aspects of it, is not safely performed. Allowance needs to be made for those under 18 years of age who are receiving sex affirmation treatment and who live their affirmed sex, but who are legally prohibited from undergoing genital surgery. Finally, while the culture does not recognise the essential need for genital surgery for people who experience transsexualism and some other intersex conditions, allowance needs to be made for those financially unable to afford genital surgery as an aspect of Sex Affirmation Treatment.

    At the same time, no matter what a minority of gender reformists seek, it will be a long time before a person’s legal sexand the cultural and legal expectations about a perosn’s sexual and physical body that go with that legal sex are unimportant to Australian society and law such that reproductive capacity became irrelevent to a reassignment of legal sex.

    In my view, the next reform should keep the present generalised requirements as applicable in NSW permitting only people who experience transsexualism and other intersex conditions to have their legal sex reassigned in order to preserve the full legal rights presently resulting from that reassignment, while introducing compassionate and humane exception provisions, perhaps overseen by an expert committee/board as per the UK set up, to permit people who are diagnosed as experiencing transsexualism and other intersex conditions to have their legal sex reassigned notwithstanding that they are unable, through genuine financial, legal or medical reasons, to undergo sufficient Sex Affirmation Treatment to satisfy normal requirements as to cultural expectations of physical sex capacities.

    While I certainly agree that sterilisation, per se, should not be an essential requirement for the reassignment of legal sex, for most people who experience transsexualism and some other intersex conditions it is a natural consequence of the affirmed sexual unity they seek. To say or imply otherwise is to mislead and confuse people who experience diversity in gender expression with people who experience diversity in sexual formation – with their utterly different aspects of human difference – to the deteriment of both. Disguard words like ‘trans’ as no longer having the accuracy that the people discussed deserve.

    We deservea better researched and a more mature and considered journalism and comment on these subjects now if the legal and political reform that is really needed and possible, and that does not benefit one type of person at the expense of another, is to take place

  7. Hi Rachael.

    Thanks for your comments. Ok, to address your comments about “trans” being misleading, I accept that. However, I also accept that to use the legal term we pass by “transsexual” is *also* outdated and misleading, given how many binary and non binary ID people nowadays seek to gain access to medical treatment and legal reassignment. So, to clarify, I used “trans” to give some wiggle-room between “transsexual” and “transgender,” as well as gesture outside to people unhappy with both. In my experience, a lot of younger people in Australia identify as *neither* transsexual or transgender, but simply as trans. “Trans man” and “trans woman” are rapidly becoming dominant usages denoting binary ID people, probably on hormones whose surgical status is nobody’s business (much like cis people rarely declare *their* genital status). I know that they qualify under the greater transgender umbrella, but I think it’s obvious from context that crossdressers are relevant here at all.

    And yes, I agree that sterilisation is a natural outcome of many people’s transitions and that too must be affirmed. I could have made that clearer in the article. What I object to is the legal *necessity* of SRS – which is a very different thing.

    I disagree strongly that easy access that only transsexual and intersex people should access to legal reassignment, that is in my opinion unduly restrictive and punitive. It should instead be based on need. I’m quite happy to proceed from the tautological premise that if you seek legal reassignment, you must need reassignment. The system in the UK requires two years living in your role, without any necessary hormone or surgery treatment. That sounds fair to me, because it places the lowest burden on all trans people who want it, not just those lucky enough to afford hormones and private surgery, or run through the gauntlet that is Monash.

    Lastly, to discuss the difficulty of accessing medical treatment in Australia was well beyond the remit of this article. As for your comments about better researched journalism, do you read many Australian newspapers? It’s a miracle when they get the pronouns right, let alone don’t mention an assigned-at-birth name. I at least proceed from the position of 1. being trans 2. respecting transsexual, transgender, and genderqueer identities 3. knowing Australian law and 4. being awesome.

  8. The WA decision has merely required that individuals seeking a change in legal documentation re-balance their anatomical characteristics so they are predominately those of their target sex. SEE:


    I agree with Rachael on the issue of access to legal change of sex status.

    It is all very well to trot out all the well-worn cliches about the halt the lame and the poor (HLP). What do not get trotted out are solutions that allow them to access the only ting that will get them resolution from the incongruity between their neurobiological and anatomical sex.

    Changing documentation is not an answer to that – it is only an answer for those who want to change social gender roles and presentation – leading one to the conclusion that there is an element of exploitation in the HLP argument!

  9. Pingback: Standards For Legal Sex Changes — My Gay Tirade

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