Transsexual backs law change to alter her birth certificate

SEEKS CHANGE: Transexual Stephanie Dixon.
SEEKS CHANGE: Transexual Stephanie Dixon.

Stephanie Dixon looks like a woman, talks like a woman and walks like a woman.

She has breasts and female genitalia, but when she had to provide her birth certificate as proof of identification when signing up for a beauty technician's course, it said she was a male.

The 43-year-old, who had gender reassignment surgery and breast augmentation, is attempting to change that and has a Family Court declaration to say she can.

However, the process has stalled because Dixon is still technically married to the mother of her children, and same-sex marriage in New Zealand isn't legal. Louisa Wall's Marriage Equality Bill would change that. The bill would allow for transsexuals to marry in their chosen sex or stay married in their chosen sex.

Dixon knows she's not the only one in her predicament who would benefit if the bill was adopted into law.

For her, having the sex changed on her birth certificate is the “final straw”.

“My birth certificate doesn't show who I am and I know I am not the only one in this position. So why is it that when someone has an operation they have to stay in their past gender when it doesn't represent who they are,” said the Christchurch beautician and mother-of-two.

Having to apply to the Family Court to have it changed is “not something you choose to go through and it's not something you want to go through”.

She also doesn't want to go through the pain of having to explain to people why her birth certificate reads “male” when “I don't look that way, I don't act that way and, in some circles, they don't even know.

“It puts you in these situations where you have to explain what's happened and what's going on and really it need not be."

A 2008 Family Court decision set a precedent, when it clarified that a person did not have to have full gender reassignment surgery to have their sex changed on their birth certificate.

Transsexuals have to apply to the Family Court to have their gender changed on their birth certificate, which falls under the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act 1995. Section 30(2) of that act would have to be altered as a consequence of Wall's bill.

In the four years since the 2008 court decision, 58 people have been successful through the courts, compared to 37 in the four years prior. Over the past eight years, 14 people have had their applications dismissed, withdrawn or struck out.

Family Court judge A J Fitzgerald said in his decision that full gender reassignment surgery was unachievable for many transsexuals because of the costly expense or for medical reasons.

The 2008 case clarified the process and it is clear that it is now based on a case-to-case basis, but applicants do have to show that they are taking steps or have taken steps to transition, including hormone replacement therapy or gender reassignment surgery, and have a supporting letter from a psychiatrist.

Aucklander Racheal McGonigal, who has had gender reassignment surgery and her birth certificate changed, says some of her peers believe that the court process should be made easier, but she believes the current process shows a commitment.

“A lot of transsexuals want to hide their past, but you've got to be realistic. You can't change your past,” she says.

Following a Family Court declaration, any government agency with an interest in ensuring that people should not have more than one legal identity, such as Corrections, may be notified.

So what happens when a transsexual is convicted and sent to jail? There are a handful of transsexuals currently in prison and Corrections Services director of offender health Bronwyn Donaldson says their safety is paramount.

Sunday Star Times