Your Gender Doesn’t Belong to the State

The gender identity of a large part of the population is not very surprising in social interactions, since it, for the most part, corresponds to their genders assigned at birth. But we should not forget that transgender communities continue to fight for self-determination of their own genders.

Gender identity is not always correspondent to gender assigned at birth. Which means that, for instance, a person can perceive herself as a woman, but her gender assigned at birth is male, or vice versa.

The Brazilian Association of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transvestite and Transgendered People (ABGLT) defines gender identity thus: “[A]n internal and individual experience of each person’s gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex attributed at birth, including the perception of one’s own body (which may involve, by free choice, modification of appearance or body function by medical, surgical and other means), and other gender expressions, including clothing, manner of speaking and behavior. Gender identity is the perception a person has of himself or herself as a male, female or a combination of both, independent of [gender assigned at birth].”

This non-correspondence between gender identity and gender assigned at birth shouldn’t be seen as a disease for which some medical paternalism would indicate treatment: It’s another expression of the human sexual or gender dimensions. Neither homosexuality nor transsexuality should be eliminated from human experience; they are important expressions of individual liberty and intimate life.

Even though gender identity is such an intimate and private matter, the state insists in turning it into a public discussion through government IDs and civil naming regulations.

The civil name, in Brazil, is the one used in every person’s ID, following each one’s birth certificate. Changing it depends on very bureaucratic procedures with very few admissible justifications.

This creates a problem for trans people: Their names in the ID don’t reflect their gender identity. This results in the embarrassment of not being able to control one’s own individual expression in social interactions, since the civil name induces people to treat them according to a gender conception they do not identify with.

In Brazil, one way around that has been the so-called “social name,” regulated by the states, which is the name the individual prefers to be called by in interactions with others and that allows people to have a little more control over their gender expression. States issue another ID with the social name and solve partially a problem created by federal legislation.

We should, however, challenge the legitimacy of the state to claim knowledge about a person’s gender. This power has been a way the government deprives transgender individuals their civil rights, denying them legal recognition of their different status or only recognizing it after gender reassignment surgeries, as if every trans person were obliged to change their body to express their gender.

This curtailing of civil rights also occurs because the state claims the right to register every citizen with mandatory identification documents, which are meant to police and control everyone.

As Erick Vasconcelos commented, Brazil is under an “identification totalitarianism,” that finds pretexts to justify ever more collection of information by the government with no transparency. So, we should raise the flag of individual privacy and the first step to achieving this is giving back to trans people the right to claim their gender identity.

What should the government do, then? A decent step would be to emulate Argentina with their Gender Identity Law, which guarantees to trans people the right to self-determination of their gender and fixing it in government documents.

A project in Congress is actually inspired by the Argentine law and its approval would be an interesting development towards freedom.

That’s just a small step, though. It treats a symptom of injustice to trans people, not its cause, and the struggle for more freedom for minorities should go on to demand complete privacy for each person. The state should not be able to force people to possess identification documents at all.

The mandatory IDs, in fact, make it easier for the state to target specific undocumented people. Immigrants, both in Brazil and in the US, are at a great danger of being deported, and that’s even more true in the case of a discriminated minority group such as transgender people.

Thus, there’s an intersectional concern here: Mandatory identification documents put already targeted people under the spotlight and, both for the freedom of movement and of gender self-determination, we should do away with them.

We must hand over to trans people their right to determine their gender and to not be hurt by legal walls. Their privacy, intimacy, and gender identity are not owned by the state.

Translated from Portuguese by Erick Vasconcelos.

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