Editorial: Trans Rights Are Moving Too Slow For Comfort

Graphic Madeleine Gendreau.

Slowly, bit-by-bit, trans rights are improving in Quebec. The recent decision by Royal West Academy to allow student Bry Bitar to switch from a “boy’s” uniform to a “girl’s” uniform—the gender they more closely identify with—hopefully implies that Quebec society is moving in a positive direction in recognizing the fluidity of gender.

Politically, however, we are only moving at a snail’s pace.

The heavily bureaucratic process involved in legally changing one’s gender is a daunting task. First, you must provide documented proof that you have used another name prefix (Mr. rather than Mrs., for example) for at least five years. This can include things like bills, letters from schools, receipts and
IDs. You must also maintain a Quebec residence status, making it difficult for people living in Quebec without official residency status to make a legal change. On top of all this, you must also pay several hundred dollars in processing fees for the documentation.

You must also prove that you have undergone the necessary medical operations involved in sexual reassignment surgery. This means undergoing hormone treatments and receiving either a hysterectomy or vaginoplasty. These operations are both dangerous and expensive and leave little middle ground for trans people who identify as neither male nor female or simply do not feel compelled to undergo risky surgery to change the way they’re identified on a piece of paper.

In 2013, the Quebec government proposed amendments to the Civil Code that would reform the process for changing one’s sexual identity. However, these changes fall short of achieving any meaningful progress. They include that people applying for recognition of their sexual identity must prove that they have lived under their sexual identity for at least two years, find a “witness” to attest to their sexual identity, provide “confirmation” from a physician, psychologist, psychiatrist or sexologist that their claim is valid and take a legally binding oath attesting to their sexual identity.

These amendments fail to address the problems faced by trans people in legally changing their sexual identity. How is a person supposed to prove they have lived at all times in a certain gender over two years? Why is it assumed by the government that physicians and doctors are trained to understand and evaluate trans people? Would trans people unable to provide proof of the stringent criteria be criminally prosecuted for “lying” under oath?

The sterile treatment of gender as something that is either “this” or “that” highlights how archaic and outdated our government remains when it comes to dealing with trans rights.

Gender is not a choice, it is not a role; it can’t always be placed into neat categories for the ease of organizing bureaucratic filing cabinets. Too often trans people are seen as “failed” gender projects of their “actual” male or female form. We need to accept how someone identifies at face value, beyond simple dualisms, rather than making them jump through legislative hoops and costly medical procedures as a form of proof.

Our government’s hesitance is unexplainable, beyond the fact that they may be intimidated by the “uncharted waters” of trans rights. If that’s the case they should look to governments who are leading the way, such as Argentina. Recent Argentine legislature has moved to include sex reassignment procedures into their public health program. They’ve also eliminated the unnecessary requirement of legal and medical approval for a citizen to change their gender or name on legal documents. They simply request the change, without having to supply “proof” of their desired gender identifier to the state.

People, not the state, should have the right to choose for themselves what gender they identify with. Gender should not be determined on the basis of whether someone “looks” this way or that, or whether they have signed a postcard with a certain prefix or a letter of attestation from a psychiatrist.

Quebec should be moving towards extinguishing the barriers that exist, not reinforcing them.

But while proponents of trans rights help open the eyes of the most ignorant, individuals need to actively seek out the work of the numerous trans activists bravely expressing their thoughts to the fearful world. The popular Facebook page “Darkmatter,” run by two trans people of colour who speak out against the lack of trans inclusiveness in society, sum up the message best:

“Trans feminine people should be able to narrate our bodies on our own terms. If we say that we are women, then we are. If we say that we are femme, then we are. If we say that we have a pussy, a vagina, a clit, or anything else—then we do. That’s it.”