Keep the Government Out of Trans People’s Pants

Centre for Gender Advocacy Lawsuit Brings Much Needed Changes to Civil Code

  • Graphic Graeme Shorten Adams

As the semester winds down, the library isn’t the only place bustling with activity in a clumsy mad-dash to the finish line—the Centre for Gender Advocacy also has been hard at work.

The Centre is preparing to file a lawsuit in conjunction with the Clinique Juridique Juripop against the provincial government in the hopes of invalidating Article 71 of the Quebec Civil Code, which requires of individuals seeking to legally change their gender to be over the age of 18, be a Canadian citizen and have undergone surgical modification to remove reproductive organs—in other words, forced sterilization.

The Centre has a handful of changes it hopes to see made to the current bill, including removing the requirement for gender reassignment surgery and lowering the age of consent for medical treatment to 14, for both citizens and non-citizens alike.

Each of these current conditions assuredly deserves to be discussed in much greater length than I am granted in my prescribed word count, but the most significant problems I see here are the ones of mandatory surgery and sterilization.

For trans people who see sterilization as a desired state for their bodies and have both financial and medical access to these surgeries, this requirement is not an issue. For trans people who do not fall into this category, this requirement is an unethical medical practice of prodigious proportions.

There are many reasons for this option to be seen as undesirable; they might be personal, financial, medical, reproductive or religious. Making the final decision to go under the knife is not to be taken lightly, and no major surgery is free of potentially harmful consequences.

Serious risks and complications exist with such a surgery, including the danger of infection of the surgical site, allergic reactions to anesthetics, permanent nerve damage—in surgeries that alter genitals, this translates into loss of sexual sensation—and blood clots. There is no shortage of reasons to be wary of surgery of this nature.

You might be saying to yourself, “But that’s fine, a person doesn’t have to undergo these medical procedures. They don’t have to get their documents legally changed.”

Sure, these requirements are not explicitly forcing a person to undergo surgery in order to live as their preferred gender, but they are subtle in their coercion. The surgical requirement exerts a dangerous pretense that all trans people desire surgical modification of their bodies, when that is not necessarily the case.

I know of trans individuals who didn’t see surgical modification of their genitals or reproductive organs as a necessary stage of their transition; it was enough for them to change their hair, clothes and sometimes the hormonal composition of their bodies.

However, the bureaucratic necessity of surgery to change their documents ultimately persuaded them to go through with the procedure.

My problem with this scenario is that a person is unnecessarily exposed to the risks of major surgery requiring general anesthesia, which is unethical both on a humanistic and medical level.

Not only does it infringe on the bodily well-being of the individual who does not explicitly desire surgery, it has other implications as well. The individual has to take time off work, which translates into a loss of income and productivity.

The medical resources, including the surgeon’s time, the availability of the operating room, the medical supplies and equipment, would have been more effectively used to serve a trans person who deems surgery as an integral part of their transitional process, rather than someone who only has the surgery as a way of being legally recognized as trans.

To be clear, I do not view trans-related surgeries as a “waste” of medical resources. When desired by a trans person—independent of coercion or external factors—these surgeries not only increase the quality of the person’s life but also save lives.

Such surgeries aid in aligning an individual’s bodily appearance with their identity, and the more the gap is closed between these cognitive dissonances, the lesser the chance that the trans person will be at risk of depression or suicide.

According to the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey, 3.5 per cent of Canadians attempt suicide in their lifetime. Within the trans population, that number escalates to an alarming 43 per cent, based on a 2011 Ontario survey by Trans PULSE. A surgery that can literally save lives makes the need to increase accessibility a priority.

Policy does not eradicate social bigotries; laws recognizing trans people as equal citizens do not actively prevent the unequivocal proportions in which trans people are murdered, sexually assaulted and denied housing and employment.

That being said, a legal gender marker that matches a trans person’s gender presentation is an important component in preserving their corporeal safety.

The form and shape of a person’s genitals should only concern two groups of people: their lovers and their doctors. The government has no business hitting below the belt.

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