Sarah Leamon: Trans rights advanced after B.C. baby's health card doesn't identify gender

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      British Columbia just became home to another first: the first province to issue a health card to a newborn baby without a gender marker.

      The baby, named Searyl Atli Doty, was born eight months ago. The baby was not born at a hospital, and therefore did not undergo an exam by a medical official to inspect the genitals in order to determine sex. 

      Searyl’s health card may be the very first of its kind. It is marked with “U,” which stands for “undetermined” or “unassigned,” rather than “M” or “F.”

      Searyl’s parents have said that they made this unconventional decision because they want the best for their child. They want Searyl to grow up and discover gender on their own, without having it predetermined by arbitrary medical examinations. They believe that including gender markers on medical records and government documents would hinder their child’s ability to freely self-identify in the future. 

      This position seems to be born out of at least one of the newborns’ parents own personal experiences. 

      Kori Doty, a nonbinary trans person, knows the trauma that can be caused by forcing individuals into binary gender roles all too well. In an interview with CBC, Doty said “when I was born, doctors looked at my genitals and made assumptions about who I would be, and those assignments followed me and followed by identification throughout my life.”

      Doty believes that gender assignment based on biological sex at birth can have a lasting, negative impact on a person's life where that assignment is incorrect. This is something that Doty wishes to avoid for Searyl. 

      Doty’s position on this issue is not surprising for anyone who has ever taken the time to listen to trans people's voices. Trans people have pointed out the problems with institutional requirements to identify as one sex or the other time and time again. They have described this as an unnecessary and profound source of trauma—and with polls suggesting that as many as 40 percent of trans people have attempted suicide in their lives, we simply have to believe them.

      Listening to their struggles, one can’t help but wonder what it’s all for. 

      What is the big government obsession with sex? Why is it so important for our institutions to know what’s in our pants? In a progressive country like Canada, where gay marriage is legal and gender discrimination is not, we have to wonder why we still insist on having our citizens check a box identifying either “male” or “female.”

      And that’s why a health card without a gender marker is actually a really big deal. This is seemingly a world first, and a huge step in the right direction for trans rights.

      But the fight against gender markers is long from over.

      Searyl’s health card arrived without comment or rationale from the Ministry of Health. It was seemingly only granted in this unconventional manner in order to allow the newborn access to health care without delay—and not because the government is doing away with the archaic practice of forced gender determination. 

      Searyl’s parents recognize this. They know they have many more struggles ahead. 

      For now, they are fighting with government officials to keep gender identifiers off the birth certificate. At this point, the government has denied granting the infant a birth certificate for the sole reason that no gender identifier has been selected. 

      The Dotys have applied for a judicial review of this decision—but reaching any solid conclusion on this matter is likely to take months, if not years. 

      In spite of setbacks, though, this small victory is still just that—a victory for trans rights. 

      And it comes at an important time for all trans people. 

      After all, many countries, aside from our own, are contemplating the importance of trans issues and questioning the basis for binary gender identification on government documents. Some, like Australia and India, are already working toward creating a third designation for gender on passports and government issued ID cards. And although change is often slow moving, the future of trans rights appears to be more open than ever.

      For now, though, it is exciting to see Canada join in the ranks in this small victory, and begin tackling this important human rights question head on—right here in our very own province.

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