New York City Gets It Wrong on Gender and Birth Certificates

After so nearly getting it right, the New York City Board of Health decided to withdraw its proposal to let people adjust the gender on their birth certificates even if they don’t get surgery to alter their genitals.

And they so nearly got it right. Until yesterday it looked like they were going to go through with the proposal, their proposal which would have let individuals who were living as the gender other than that which they were assigned at birth to make a correction on their birth certificates. Only those who actually surgically “correct” their gender are currently eligible to do this.

If you have had gender reassignment surgery, you can now actually change the gender indicated on your birth certificate instead simply deleting your old one, as was the case until yesterday. That’s an improvement, but not nearly as signficant an improvement as it would have been to allow such changes for those who opt not to have surgery, or who can’t afford it yet.

Why should surgery matter? It’s a preposterous requirement. If I am living, and passing, as a man, and I intend to do so for the rest of my life, why should I not be allowed to alter my birth certificate?

“Health officials said patients at hospitals asked how doctors would determine who would be assigned to the bed next to them. And among law enforcement officials, there were concerns about whether prisoners with altered birth certificates could be housed with female prisoners — even if they still had male anatomies.”

So, the mere possession of a penis is threatening to woman-identified people in hospital beds or prison cells? While “threat” is not mentioned in the New York Times article, it is the only fear or concern that I can imagine be behind this objection.

And yet, the possession of a penis on its own is no threat. The socialization about what one should do with one’s penis — now there is a potential source of threat. But presumably those who identify as girls or women did not receive or internalize that socialization, at least not in a way that made them feel “like men.” So they are not men, in effect, and are not threats. (Disclosure: I don’t believe that socialization makes men necessarily threatening. I believe that overly identifying with masculine gender role as presented in the US is, potentially, dangerous.)

In addition, birth certificate inspection is not generally a part of the admission process for hospitals or prisons.

I don’t understand how we can get so close to a smart progressive policy and then back away from it like this. It’s tremendously disappointing. It’s way more disappointing than it would have been if, after public hearings and careful consideration they had proposed not to make the change in the first place. Here they actually, as a Board of Health, put the proposal together. And now they withdraw it because of concerns that have no basis in data or rational thinking, but only refer to fear and gender stereotypes.

We were so close.

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