Mar 8, 2018

The banality of discrimination: how bureaucratic inertia is failing non-binary people

With so many people now identifying as non-binary, you'd think government departments would be more accommodating. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the experience for many non-binary people.

Liz Duck-Chong

Freelance writer

In 2003, Alex MacFarlane quietly became the first person in the country to obtain a passport with neither an M or an F in the sex field. Almost 50 at the time, they had spent much of their adult life pushing to obtain an X there instead, demarcating indeterminate, intersex, and/or unspecified.

Ten years later, in a move that Professor Gillian Triggs called "profoundly significant", the federal government introduced the "Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender", a publication that built on progress made in the decade prior and mandated that all federal institutions comply with standards of terminology, privacy, and care.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

14 thoughts on “The banality of discrimination: how bureaucratic inertia is failing non-binary people

  1. Mayan

    The real mystery is why sex is recorded on birth certificates and thereafter deemed to somehow be a vital part of a person’s ID for official purposes. Most every attempt to answer that is a variant of “We record this because we have systems that require it to be recorded.”

    1. JQ

      How about for the collection of demographic statistics?

      1. Mayan

        We must collect data because we collect data.

        1. Arky

          Yes, let’s be unable to prove wage discrimination against women by refusing to keep the data (just to use one example).

          The fact that some poor jobsworth at Centrelink either can’t explain the use of the data or doesn’t know it doesn’t mean it isn’t used in a thousand ways.

        2. Richard

          We collect data for many reasons, including health care. Keep up.

  2. JQ

    It might be worthwhile for the author to point out the proportion of the population that is intersex. According to the IHRA, which Duck-Chong cites, the figure is estimated to be 1.7%.
    Is it therefore reasonable for bureaucracies or businesses to consider recognition of intersex people a priority?
    Sexuality is complicated even for straight people, and so I can imagine intersex people have potentially very challenging lives, but how – exactly – are intersex people “harmed” by having a conversation about anti-discrimination measures?

    1. Rais

      Intersex people in our society do have a lot of issues and these shouldn’t be artificially worsened by inflexible software. In 2007 I worked on the Census and took a call from a very upset caller who objected to being forced to identify as either male or female, which the caller was not. The caller was born with characteristics of both male and female and rightly wanted this recognised since it is not really uncommon and is a biological as well as social reality. We do, after all, have a word for this: hermaphrodite. I spent about half an hour on the phone trying to soothe the caller’s feelings since there was nothing I could do to change the Census form. With the advantage of hindsight I wish I had suggested that the caller decide between ticking both the male and female boxes or ticking neither since I now know that one inconsistency on the form would not have been followed up with the respondent.

      1. Rais

        Sorry that should read 2006.

    2. [email protected]

      Why do you assume that non-binary = intersex? The demographic data that IHRA share shows that only 1 in 5 intersex people are non-binary.

  3. gjb

    Leave it to science, you can’t quibble about your chromosomal makeup. Its not likely anyone who is not confused about their sexuality care less about yours… Sorry your nor special.

    1. Matt Hardin

      So if it’s not important to you but it is important to the non-binary why force the non-binary person into categories that suit you.?

      1. AR

        You are, I assume deliberately, inverting Gjb’s point.

  4. Desmond Graham

    this topic will be obsolete if not already irrelevant- in the near future Canberra will be the repository for all population data on health etc. estimated at the end of 2018 and the data base will be accessible at a price – and for agencies.

  5. Richard

    XX = female. XY = male.
    There are of course various genetic overlaps, errors (yes, they are error in transcription and exchange) that give rise to various aberrant genotypes.
    Those apart, hormone exposure in utero and to some cultural ideas post natal can give rise to various confused states of sexuality and identity to a greater or lesser degree and with a more or less permanent impact on the individual. That is also fine to a degree. Live and let live.
    But when somebody with a clearly defined genotype wants to identify as the other, not just L,G or B, there is something seriously wrong and those who pretend it is a range of normal are doing nobody any favours.
    If genotype has you as a fully functional male, then that is it, no matter how you “feel” inside or how much do$$$h you can make from a Follywood..
    Seek hormone therapy before you seek the knife and before saying “doctors support the concept” you have to take a look at their vested interests. Bit like those private “fertility specialists” who help women of 70+ have babies.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details