Revisionist History

I support transgender rights, even though I myself have never understood the conviction that one was born the wrong sex and this is a mistake which should be altered surgically.  But I think this article carries those rights “a chromosome too far”, as it were:

U.S. transgenders welcome an easier path to altering birth papers

The idea is that for transgender people, there is some bureacratic, legal, and psychological distress if their birth certificate says they were born one sex but their personal identity and/or drivers license etc. say another. Therefore, the argument goes, this distress should be eliminated by allowing them to retroactively edit their birth documents to reflect their new sex.

I say, no.  No good ever comes of revisionist history.  Should my wife go back and alter her birth certificate to show the new name she received when we got married? (she has, in fact, run into bureacratic difficulty when her birth name and married name don’t match, and she did not have access to the documentation proving she was married).  Should I have the hospital alter my birth records to show my current height and weight, since I’m clearly not the same person I was when I was born?

You want to establish a new life as a new you and present as a person of the opposite sex? Great, go forth and do so, with or without the surgical changes to accompany that.  Change your name, force the courts to allow the new sex on your drivers license, use whichever bathroom you want. But don’t go screwing around with history. That will serve only to bollix up genealogical studies, census counts, and other historical research long after your bones are turned to dust. It will also smooth the way for more convincing identity theft.

I don’t have any reason to disbelieve the assertion that birth document / current document mismatches create difficulty.  So the solution is not to rewrite the past, but to fix the present. Enact laws that make it just as easy to have your current documents accepted with your new sex as it is for married people to have their current documents accepted with their new names.  An employer or lawyer won’t accept the documentation, even when you have medical certificates proving that you have transitioned?  That’s where the problem lies and what we have to fix.

Leave the past alone. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!

Thoughts? Discuss amongst yourselves.


About Ralph

Male. Straight. Married.
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5 Responses to Revisionist History

  1. Jonathan says:

    Rather than revisionist history, I’d regard it as the simple correction of a faulty document; one that causes people pain, even if it’s merely a matter of knowing that it exists in its bureaucratic eternity.

    But really – and sorry – this bit stuck out most for me: “I myself have never understood the conviction that one was born the wrong sex and this is a mistake which should be altered surgically”. Perhaps just stop there?

  2. Ralph says:

    I can see your point, Jonathan, but I value historical accuracy more than pleasant untruths. At the time those documents were written, they were not faulty; they accurately reflected the biological truth.

    There are documents from my past which do not portray me in the way I wish to be remembered — school records, police reports. I am not the person I was then. I’m smarter, more mature, have more self-control, and I take the law seriously. So those records do not portray me accurately, and I’d just as soon forget they ever existed… but they are historical fact, and show my growth as a person over the years. I would rather live with the unpleasant truth than pretend it never happened.

    Perhaps it’s not an accurate comparison; perhaps the pain of knowing that deep within the bureaucratic machine exists evidence that one was not originally acknowledged as the person one is now, is a more oppressive pain than I can identify with.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Say rather that they accurately reflected what a doctor thought to be the truth, after a cursory examination. Then someone wrote it on a form, and there it is in perpetuity. But sex isn’t quite as simple as “that’s a girl” (or boy). Leaving trans aside for a moment, there are plenty of instances (e.g. of intersex) where doctors got the sex wrong, where the biological “truth” wasn’t seen until later, in puberty for instance.

    Can (some forms of) trans be regarded in the same way? I dunno. Biological evidence is scanty and inconclusive, but some does exist. Enough perhaps for “reasonable doubt”; i.e. to question whether birth certificates are necessarily the historically accurate documents they might otherwise seem. In which case, they’re not sacrosanct, and might as well be changed appropriately as not.

  4. BroadBlogs says:

    I get a number of transsexual students in my classes, which is interesting when I teach that gender is a social construction — if it’s a social construction, how can you feel like you were born in the wrong body? And it typically takes a lot of discussion to make my point clear enough so that my students actually agree with me. So at the risk of misleading and a few words I will write here, This is what I think:

    Sex is biological, but gender is a social construction (what society makes out of our biological sex) and that can vary greatly from culture to culture. In some cultures men wear dresses and skirts, makeup and jewelry, are kind and nurturing toward their children. In other cultures, not so much, or not at all.

    Most of us conform and feel comfortable labeling ourselves consistent with how gender is constructed in our society. But some people feel that, in some significant way, their gender assignment is at odds with their biological sex. So much so that they feel alienated from the assigned gender and their bodies.

    I personally see the problem as a society that constructs gender in a way reifies it — makes it more real than it is — and more narrow than it needs to be, and confining it to 2 genders — you feel like you fit, or you don’t. I feel that society needs to change. But given that we have what we have, the only way a transgender person can feel they’re living authentically is to live a trans experience. So if surgery helps with mental health, It’s fine by me.

  5. Ralph says:

    Excellent insight, as always.

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