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Justice And Related Legislation (Marriage Amendments) Bill 2018

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Tags: Equality, LGBTI, Australian Christian Lobby, Gender Identity

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.