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Debate: Legal recognition of sex changes

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Should individuals who have undergone a sex change receive official documents (birth certificate, passport, driving licence etc.) reflecting their new gender?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Tara Mounce. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

A transsexual (or a transgendered person as some prefer to be known) is someone who chooses to identify as a gender other than the one to which they were assigned at birth. This may involve dress and voice, hormonal therapy or gender reassignment surgery but does not necessarily include all of these treatments. The UK has recently passed a new Gender Recognition Bill which allows transsexuals and transgendered individuals to apply for an identity certificate in their acquired gender when they have received the approval of a Gender Recognition Panel. This supplements existing legislation which allowed transsexuals to apply for passports, driving licences and National Insurance numbers in their new gender.

Argument #1


Gender is a fundamental component of identity. We allow individuals to choose their name, religion and mode of dress so why shouldn’t we allow them to choose their gender?


Allowing people to choose their gender from the binary options of male and female supports the officially enshrined consensus that there are only two genders. This alienates many individuals who consider themselves neither male nor female or part male and part female. Surely to allow true self-definition we should do away with categories altogether?

Argument #2


Having full legal recognition and a full set of legal documents helps to protect transsexuals from discrimination both in society and in the workforce. They are no longer forced to explain to their employer/the person at the check-in desk/the bank clerk why they look like a woman but their ID says they are a man. It should be a transsexual’s choice as to whom and what they tell about their gender.


Gender recognition legislation still leaves the choice of gender up to a panel. A trans-gendered individual still has to persuade medical professionals and bureaucrats that they look, live and act ‘enough’ like the gender that they wish to change too. Not only can this process be humiliating but also it forces them to live up to the panel’s preconceptions of a particular gender rather than their own wishes.

Argument #3


Refusing to grant transsexuals new legal documents renders their existing documents useless. Unsurprisingly a border guard may treat it as suspicious if a women hands the guard her passport if it says ‘she’ is actually a ‘he’. It would be clearer and more practical for all concerned if the documents of an individual reflect the gender in which they were living.


Unfortunately because a lot of the assumed gender characteristics are assumed reversibly (wigs, make-up, hormones etc.) we will be unable to tell that ‘he’ will always look like ‘she’. While anyone seeking to verify identity can ask for such items to be removed, unfortunately this leaves security systems – increasingly based around verification of identity – open to deception or confusion.

Argument #4


Only a new birth certificate can fully break the link with the past for trans-gendered individuals. Why should they be defined by the gender assigned to them at birth when many would claim this was a mistake on the doctor’s part?


Altering a birth certificate fundamentally changes a historical record, wiping out the fact that an individual was born a certain gender. While, like changes of name, supplements can be added to a birth certificate, nothing should be done to change the facts as originally recorded and originally applied.



  • This house would legally recognise trans-gendered individuals
  • This House would allow new birth certificates for transsexuals

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