On Wednesday June 9, the State Department announced a new policy on gender change in passports. If an individual has obtained the proper medical verification, their passport will reflect the transition (or the transition in process, if applicable). The law states:
When a passport applicant presents a certification from an attending medical physician that the applicant has undergone appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition, the passport will reflect the new gender. The guidelines include detailed information about what information the certification must include. It is also possible to obtain a limited-validity passport if the physician’s statement shows the applicant is in the process of gender transition. No additional medical records are required. Sexual reassignment surgery is no longer a prerequisite for passport issuance. A Consular Report of Birth Abroad can also be amended with the new gender.
My first instinct is RAD! — which is probably much like other feminists and supporters of human rights on the information superhighway and the media alike. The government has made somewhat of a space for individuals to assert their own gender! Now, sex reassignment surgery will not be necessary for one to assert their gender, as the government formally acknowledges what many groups already feel to be true: the difference that sex and gender are not one in the same.
Although there is something exciting and cool about the government nodding to somewhat radical ideals, it is nothing more than a nod. Unfortunately, I don’t expect the U.S. government to be the bastion of radical thought regarding the body. I mean, do you? This new policy reflects a government and a culture that is becoming less exclusive towards the transgender/LGBT community. Does it contain the seeds of less-oppressive tomorrow? Is this actually a victory for transgender/LGBT individuals? Obviously, I would rather this policy exist rather than not, but in many ways, the policy does not engage the dangerous and isolated reality that the aforementioned community faces.
Because this policy so heavily relies on formal, medical authorization, one must consider the state of medical care today. An incredibly marginalized group, transgendered individuals do not have adequate access to medical facilities — in addition to jobs, housing, and public benefits. The community suffers disproportionate amounts of discrimination, and one of the most prominent forms of discrimination comes from the medical community.
Considering the state of health care, this policy feels much more like an obligatory gesture on the part of the government. Unsurprisingly, this policy reflects a very narrow understanding of the complex ways individuals assert their gender identity. For example, what about transgendered individuals who aren’t interested in transition? Medicine is historically a positivist, sexist institution—reliance on the medical field for gender validation can (and most likely will) be riddled with heteronormative hypocritical bullshit.
Depending on what fight your fighting, this policy may come as a “progressive” victory. Though it’s a general step in the right direction, some might consider it misguided. I, myself, find it classist and empty.