Ever since I transitioned from male to female the Passport Office has been acting strangely.  When I wanted to change my passport I had to produce evidence that I had really changed my name, that I had really had irreversible genital surgery and that I was no longer married.

Then I was eligible for a passport that said “F” where it used to say “M”, but it still arrived with a testy note telling me this was all so that I could travel without embarrassment and that if I tried to use my passport to marry a male I would be liable to a fine of $5000.00 or six months in prison, or both.  So it wasn’t intended to identify me as a woman but simply to allow me to pass myself off as a woman.

For a time the Passport Office would issue a temporary passport in a person’s target gender, but only if they were travelling in order to have the mandatory irreversible surgery required before documentation could be amended.

Then Border Security, under Lord Downer of Baghdad, rescinded even this tiny concession and stated that everyone had to travel on passports that matched their birth assignment, or on a Document of Identity, which showed no gender and was therefore  liable to attract undue attention.  Nor did a Document of Identity guarantee re-entry into Australia.

Grace Abrams took the Passport Office to the Supreme Court because she was denied a female passport unless she was willing to divorce her wife.  She wasn’t, and she won her case.

Stefanie Imbruglio, on her way to have gender affirmation surgery in Thailand, travelled on a passport that showed her gender as male and encountered discrimination and harassment from various gatekeeper authorities.  She took them on in the courts after she returned and won her case.

Recently Marcelle (who prefers not to give her surname) gained a female passport without surgery as a pre-requisite, since her profession requires her to travel and she will not travel on the highly questionable Document of Identity.  It took seven months of negotiation but after going to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal she won her case.

When another transgendered woman tried to use Marcelle’s case as a precedent she was refused because the AAT decision was “a settlement on mutually agreed terms”, not binding on other cases.

The United States State Department has recently issued a directive to the effect that if people are certified transgendered by an attending medical physician, then they can be issued with new passports reflecting their new gender, regardless of their progress.

Also the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs has ruled that transgenders who are veterans are to be known by their new names, treated with respect and will have their hormonal treatments and mental health-care provided, as well as pre- and post-operative care (but not the operations themselves).

This is significant progress.

Why can’t our authorities note that in almost every case, sooner or later, they lose, simply from the weight of common sense.

Passports should reflect who a person is, not who they used to be.

By Katherine Cummings, Information and Resources Worker at the NSW Gender Centre

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