Sex Reclassification for Trans and Gender Nonconforming People: From the Medicalized Body to the Privatized Self
Sex reclassification is a core issue of gender nonconforming legal engagements. Access to proper identification documents for trans and nonbinary people relates to lower levels of exposure to anti-trans violence, discrimination, and suicidality. In the first decades of the 21st century, the majority of global jurisdictions have seen some kind of reform with respect to sex reclassification. Nonbinary classifications, such as the X marker, are also becoming available for those who wish not to be classified as either M or F. Across the globe, five major policy streams can be found: total ban on reclassification, that is, having no law or policy in place that allows for reclassification; reproduction-related prerequisite, that is, requiring applicants to undergo sterilization or genital-related surgery; other medical intervention-based schemes, that is, requiring applicants to provide proof that they have modified their body using some kind of gender-related medical technology; corroboration requirements, that is, requiring that a third party, usually a medical professional, corroborates the identity of the applicant; and the emerging “gold standard,” gender self-determination, that is, laws and policies requiring only an expression of a desire or need to be reclassified.
These streams of policy provide varying levels of access to proper identification documents and place different burdens on applicants, some requiring bodily modifications while others rely on autonomous will. Yet all these policies still demand an alignment between the internal truth of the body and external facts, resonating with the logic of birth assignment of sex itself—that is, the idea that the allocation of differentiated legal status of M or F reflects an immutable truth about legal subjects. Current laws and policies fail to address harms caused to gender nonconforming people by state mechanisms themselves. They only provide remedies ex post facto. In the early 21st century, all countries assign a differentiated legal status of either M or F at birth based solely, in almost all cases, on external genitals of newborns. This differentiated legal status is recorded on the birth certificate and becomes a part of one’s legal identity for life. This allocation of status reflects the idea that external genitals of newborns are proof of their owners’ future roles as men or women, that is, an idea that there is a pre-legal alignment between certain bodily configurations, social role, and gender performance. This mundane administrative mechanism not only justifies different treatment for men and women but also marks trans and nonbinary people as others. In order to better address the harm caused by systems of gendered distribution of resources and opportunities, there is a need to go beyond sex reclassification to question birth assignment itself.