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Justice And Related Legislation (Marriage Amendments) Bill 2018 - Second Reading

20 November 2018

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, it has been a privilege listening 
to the other speeches members have made on this bill. I have a few 
particular things to add. I will not go into a lot of detail but I want 
to discuss how much things have changed in my life. There are many lives 
lived and I take the point Ms Standen made before about documented 
evidence throughout history in all human societies of trans people.

In the mid-1980s I did a university degree, part of which involved a 
women's studies course. One of the things that was discussed at that time 
was a conversation about what is sex and what is gender. Reflecting on 
that conversation I realised how over the past 30 years I have applied 
what I learned to language in writing, to the written word, and what we 
learned was that sex is your biology, it is how you are born, and gender 
is the culture you become embedded with in your lived experiences in 
society and it incorporates the historical, the environmental and the 
social arrangements and prehistory of the particular community you happen 
to be living it. How quaint. What a nice, clear little definition. I 
look back on that now and think that was the best we could do at the time, 
and feminist writings at the time were challenging the norms of sliding 
between the use of the terms 'sex' and 'gender', and bringing us to be 
more aware of the language we used. Clearly the thing I have learned 
probably in the last five years, more than throughout the last 30 is about 
the fluidity both of the term 'sex' and the term 'gender'.

The mercurial nature of those terms means that every single time we try to 
trap them in a definition, they elude us. We understand now that there is 
so much about human lived experience that we cannot put into a box. We 
particularly cannot put it into a binary opposition. That is where we 
have ended up in our Christian history, but most societies around the 
world try to push humans into binary boxes.

In our attempt over the last 20 or 30 years, we have created the idea of 
maybe a third box, but even a third box becomes complicated. Despite 
shame and stigma, violence, social disapprobation, the loss of jobs and 
harassment on a daily basis, people have continued to speak out over the 
past 50 years and we now understand that even the idea of a third box is 
complicated because some people can be born with a penis and two x 
chromosomes. Some people can be born with three X chromosomes. Some 
people, at the very early age of four, five or even younger sometimes, can 
be absolutely definite that they are not the sex their parents keep 
telling them they are.

There are many stories. More open societies on this planet, such as 
Scandinavia, have been incredibly welcoming and helpful and have a non-
binary way of looking at and understanding children and helping their 
families support the child to grow with the lived experience that they 
having. We also see plenty of situations where people might be quite 
comfortable in the sex that they understand themselves to be until they 
reach puberty, and then the incredible explosion of hormones and the 
changes in their physical self and in their social interactions and the 
relationship between those two means they come to understand that they 
feel differently about who they are.

I was doing some reading about trans people who have lived their whole 
lives with a very strong view that they want to live a life as a person of 
another sex. There was a beautiful story published in the Guardian last 
week about a woman in England who underwent sexual reassignment surgery at 
the age of 81. Amazing. It was the most fantastic story but also a sad 
story of course because that person, Rose, lived her whole life with the 
understanding that she wanted to live as a woman but it took her to the 
age of 81 with the support of her doctor to be emboldened to undergo that 
surgery. She describes the experience of living in a different body and 
how incredible that is for her.

This is happening in the United Kingdom where they are far more open than 
we have been here in Australia. In the seven years up to 2015-16, 75 
people aged between 61 and 71 had had gender reassignment surgery. That 
is quite a lot of people and it is rising. It is actually not that many 
but the figures say within that period those numbers are increasing, 
trends are going up and they expect them to continue to go up. There is a 
great sorrow for many people who have to transition at a late age, and let 
us not forget all the people who can never make that choice because of the 
society that we had. When they were 20 and 30, it was so shameful to have 
that conversation that they were riven with fear at the prospect of being 
able to have the conversation, to come out to their true self and so they 
lived their life. They tried to make peace with themselves and lived 
their life in silence. They thought that if they did their duty, got 
married and had children, that it would cure them. For many people, it 
certainly did not, so-called, 'cure' them. It was a matter of duty. They 
undertook their duty to society, to their parents, to everybody else whose 
life was not theirs. They basically gifted their life to the community 
that was not prepared to allow them to live as their true self. Surely, 
of everything you would wish on a child when it is born, you would wish 
that child to be able to live a life of truth in themselves.

I met many gay men who had come out later in their life when I worked at 
the AIDS Council in Canberra in the early 1990s. They spoke about a 
living a whole life in a lie and it had created a tremendous impact on 
their physical and mental health. You could see the suffering embedded in 
their bodies. You could see the high prevalence of addictions, the high 
prevalence of a profound lack of confidence in themselves and you could 
also see the joy and the love of communities of people coming together, 
coming out. people who have never lived in a position of shame in a 
community cannot know the feeling of incredible joy and love. It is why 
Mardi Gras is such an exciting place. It is why it means so much. It is 
a beacon of hope. It is why people in Tasmania, right now, have their 
floats organised for Mardi Gras. It is because it is a statement of 
public openness and acceptance of yourself in your community. 

This bill and the amendments that have been foreshadowed to be discussed 
in the committee stage are about enabling people to live joyful lives, 
loving lives, embraced by their community for who they feel they are, for 
who they know they are, because who except us in our own hearts can really 
know who we are? I am deeply distressed to hear the minister continue to 
perpetuate a lie that she had not ever seen or heard of the amendments 
before recently. I am every distressed to hear the minister continue with 
that untruth. It is simply not true. I am very distressed to hear, in 
the context of this important bill, that the minister pretends that she 
does not know. She does not want to grapple with the change that is 
coming. This change is coming, trans people are living this life and they 
demand not to live in silence, to be able to live in their own sex and 
their own gender, the one that they choose.

Members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order. 

Dr WOODRUFF - I want to come to a deeply concerning and deceptive action 
of the minister in the preparation of this bill. In section 12 of the 
bill - you could say that there are many important elements to this bill 
and the amendments that have been foreshadowed - the heart of the 
principal amendment that was discussed in budget Estimates this year, by 
Ms O'Connor, and discussed prior to that by members of the trans community 
was that a person should not have to undergo surgery in order to change 
the sex or the gender under which they choose to live. 

Every person within the community I have spoken to about this bill is in 
comprehensive agreement that it is a cruel and harmful requirement and it 
should be removed. What we find in the principal act, under Part 4A - 
Registration of change of sex, section 28A says -

Application to register change of sex

(1) An adult person -

(a) whose birth is entered in the Register; and
(b) who has undergone sexual reassignment surgery; and
(c) who is not married -

We find that the bill prepared by the minister, who asserts that she is 
very concerned about this issue, has removed from paragraph (b) the words, 
'surgery; and' and she has substituted the word 'surgery -'. She has 
removed paragraph (c). If you are married to a person and you have 
changed your sex, you do not have to have sexual reassignment surgery. 
However, you can only apply to the registrar to change your sex or gender 
if you have undergone sexual reassignment surgery. In other words, it is 
only in relation to marriage that this minister is removing the 
requirement for sexual reassignment surgery. If a person in the community 
who is not married and who wants to change their sex or gender wants to 
make an application for that, they first have to have a risky medical 
procedure in order for that to happen. 

It is not simply one risky medical procedure. I know a person who has had 
his breasts removed but that person still, according to this minister and 
how she has drafted this bill, has to have his uterus removed. Shame. 
Dangerous. We also know that the older a person gets, the higher the 
medical risks from surgery. What we are hearing, what we would expect, as 
society continues to change and become more open and which everyone in 
this House would surely want to occur, is that there will be older trans 
people who may want to change their sex or gender as it is registered, but 
they have to get sexual reassignment surgery. The risks for a person who 
has diabetes, the heart risk for somebody over 65, 70 or 81 having surgery 
is definitely a risk. Why would we insist that a person would take a risk 
to their health, also at great cost and definite pain? You cannot have 
surgery without pain of some sort. It is almost like a punishment. 

It is really about exacting a cruel punishment to say they have to have 
that surgery, have that risk, have that cost, have that time off work, 
have the pain and the suffering and come back and we will talk to you. It 
is disgusting. It is really distressing to find that. I thought at least 
that was something that had been dealt with but it seems not. It is 
something we will definitely be talking about in the committee stage.

I will finish by saying that in the Mercury on 9 November there was joint 
statement released by the Women's Legal Service of Tasmania, Engender 
Equality, the Hobart Women's Shelter and Women's Health Tasmania in 
support of the foreshadowed amendments for this bill that have been 
proposed by the Greens and the Labor Party. Those services were disputing 
the people they work with would in any way be harmed or endangered by the 
foreshadowed amendments. This is an important statement because some 
groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby have been peddling some 
mistaken, misguided ideas about the so-called concerns they have for men 
who might pretend to be women accessing certain spaces such as women's 
refuges. 

The services who put the statement out collectively provide support on 
legal, health, domestic violence and housing issues. They said that they 
already worked with transgender women who are themselves at at-risk group. 
They are identified and are at a higher risk than other people in the 
community. The statement says that there is no research or service 
experience to suggest that men who seek to harm women change their gender 
or masquerade as transgender women in order to do so. Acknowledging in 
law the human rights of transgender people does not reduce the human 
rights enjoyed by non-transgender people. Protecting women's rights and 
supporting transgender people are not mutually exclusive. I would like to 
put that matter to rest in case it is one last straw the minister feels 
she needs to grasp on this issue, because it is not supported by the 
services that work most closely with women at risk.

Having lived with a person who underwent a life change from a woman to a 
man, and from having an extended family member who does not identify 
either as male or female, does not accept either of those binary gender 
markers in their life, and having very close friends who have donated 
sperm to other extended family members and had the experience of people 
opening themselves up to the joy of living their life as themselves, I am 
really glad to be here today debating this bill and the foreshadowed 
amendments that will come before the House. 

I look forward to us bringing some clarity and kindness, but most of all 
acceptance and choice to trans people, so they can get on with their lives 
in the community.