“Change can never be ‘complete’”: the legal right to self-identification and incongruous bodies

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Northumbria University Library
(c) The autthor (CC BY 4.0)
At the time of writing, New Zealand's government is considering select committee recommendations to simplify the process for changing the sex recorded on a birth certificate (Governance and Administration Committee 2018). This article argues that the inconsistent requirements for binary and non-binary transgender people to amend their documentation indicates a scepticism of the legitimacy of non-binary identities. The current process for transgender people seeking to change their sex marker is onerous and often expensive (Noonan and Liddicoat 2008). Attaining an "indeterminate" marker on a birth certificate is so difficult as to be functionally impossible. Crown Law have suggested that “social factors” (how a person’s gender is perceived by others) would be considered by the courts when deciding on the veracity of their stated gender identity, indicating that being identifiable as a binary-gendered person is a contributor to achieving legal recognition of one’s gender. The proposal presumes that recording an "official" gender is natural and necessary. Legal recognition of non-binary people signals an expanded understanding of recognisable gender identities, but requires situating oneself within a bureaucratic framework. In light of the new process being proposed, I argue that if passed this Bill implicitly raises the question of why identity documents must have a sex marker on them at all.
This journal provides immediate open access to its content on the principle that making research freely available to the public supports a greater global exchange of knowledge. Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.
Easterbrook-Smith G. (2020). “Change can never be ‘complete’”: the legal right to self-identification and incongruous bodies. International Journal of Gender, Sexuality and Law. 1. 1. (pp. 134-158).