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“Sex Not Specified”: Victory for Norrie May-Welby

March 16, 2010

(UPDATE: GAB reader janiek alerted us to a new development in Norrie’s situation. On Tuesday, New South Wales’ Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages  deemed Norrie’s certificate invalid. Please take a moment to learn more and sign the petition to let Norrie keep hir certificate.)

Norrie May-Welby (who primarily goes only by Norrie) has just become the first person in New South Wales to be legally recognized as sexless.

From The Sydney Morning Herald:

This Mardi Gras, Norrie received a gift that no other androgynous person in NSW has had before.

The night before the parade, the postman brought a certificate from the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages that contained neither the dreaded ”M” nor its equally despised cousin, ”F”.

Instead, it said ”sex not specified”, making the 48-year-old Sydneysider, who identifies as neuter and uses only a first name, the first in the state to be neither man nor woman in the eyes of the NSW government.

20 years ago, Norrie legally transitioned from male to female. Since then, however, ze has identified as neuter. It is a victory, then, that ze no longer has a legal sex or gender. Norrie, who works with SAGE Australia, wrote a piece for The Scavenger explaining hir decision to seek this particular type of legal recognition:

Those concepts, man or woman, just don’t fit me, they are not my actual reality, and, if applied to me, they are fiction. At 48 years of age, I’m less inclined to just humour other people’s delusions about gender and try and conform to one of their expected options.

If I need to show identity documents, I certainly don’t want details that are false, for this will only cause trouble when officials realise I don’t match my documents.

Certainly, Norrie is not the only person in the world who doesn’t identify as male or female. So it is surprising to read that ze is thought to be the only person in the world (and definitely the only person in NSW) to successfully legally change hir sex to neither male nor female. Christie Elan-Cane is currently fighting for a similar type of legal recognition in the UK, but it is unclear if or when her request will be approved. And although legal rights and recognition for transgender, genderqueer and gender non-conforming people in the United States are steadily improving, I have never heard of a U.S. citizen legally identifying outside of the gender binary.

Norrie’s victory is proof that one can legally exist outside of the boundaries of “male” and “female.” Now that this new precedent has been established in NSW, hopefully more gender non-conforming Australians will be able to make a similar legal change. And once the rest of the world sees Norrie and the progress being made in Australia, I hope other countries will follow suit and allow people to legally identify as sexless. Particularly for people who view their sex and gender identity to be fluid, neutral legal options are important. Or, in Norrie’s words, “There seemed no sense in having such a changeable and transient quality as gender nailed down as a permanent mark on identity documents.”

For more about Norrie’s journey, check out hir blog.

9 Comments
  1. Julie Bartkiewicz permalink
    March 16, 2010 11:55 am

    If these legal documents are now available what does this mean for people who are sexless, are they obliged to apply for accurate documents? And if so how is this going to effect people who aren’t so accepting of their conditions?

    A lot of tricky questions still out there on this issue.

    • Carrie Polansky permalink
      March 16, 2010 11:49 pm

      I don’t think anyone is “obliged” to do anything, necessarily — trans people, for instance, are not legally obliged to transition when they come out. But it’s now an option for other sexless folks, if they want to change their legal identifications.

      Your second question is a lot harder to answer. There will always be people who aren’t accepting of those who identify outside of the sex and gender binaries, and that, sadly, will not change even with new legal rights in place. However, I would hope that, since it is now legal in NSW to identify as sexless, there will be harsher legal consequences for those who do discriminate against people outside of the male/female binary. The problems won’t disappear, but at least now there will (hopefully) be a legal recourse.

  2. janiek permalink
    March 18, 2010 11:58 am

    A few days later the Australian authorities withdrew Norrie’s certificate. Sign the petitions to support Norrie: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/norrie/

    • Carrie Polansky permalink
      March 18, 2010 1:21 pm

      Thank you for bringing this important update to our attention, janiek. This is a really awful development.

      For anyone who wants to hear more about what’s happening with Norrie, The Sydney Morning Herald has the details.

  3. Tanya permalink
    March 19, 2010 7:20 am

    I think that Norrie is a very unhappy person. He was not able to live in this world as a man, then he was not able to live in this world as a woman. I do not think he needs a certification, he needs help to accept himself the way he is. And I think that being feminist means to be be proud to be a woman no matter how hard it can be sometimes, and stand for our rights and freedom. And as a feminist and a woman I cannot support a man like Norrie. May be you can change a human law, but one can not change the laws of nature. He got stuck between two worlds, he needs help. And he gotta decide who he is, this time I am afraid it is not problem of our society. It is his problem. That he does not want to face and cope with. He wants society to be rather sick, than him be treated. Everyone of course has a right to be whom he or she wants, but there must be a line that should not be crossed: a line between healthy and sick. Life is not easy, and everyone should make a choice but not get away from it. If we keep supporting people like Norrie some day we will wake up in the world full of mentally sick, week and unhappy and irresponsible people.
    With all my respect to everyone who took the courage to make her/his choice.

    • Carrie Polansky permalink
      March 19, 2010 8:45 am

      Tanya,

      I think you may have a limited understanding of what the laws of nature really are as they relate to sex and gender. Scientists agree that there are more than two biological sexes, and the medical community understands that there are people whose genders do not correspond to their biological sexes assigned at birth. The identities of people who are transgender, genderqueer, intersex, or who identify outside of the male/female binary are indeed natural. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the great diversity that exists in the realm of sex and gender, and it’s offensive to those who are living outside the binary.

      If Norrie is, or has ever been, unhappy (and that’s a bold assumption for us to make either way, not knowing hir), it is more likely because ze hasn’t been able to live hir life as ze wants. Norrie has been told for hir whole life to choose between two options: male and female. But Norrie doesn’t identify as male or female, and yes, that does mean society has failed hir on this one. Just as society has failed to protect and support countless other people who identify outside of the sex and gender binaries.

      • July 2, 2010 3:08 pm

        I think you are misunderstanding the relation of society to the individual if you think that society can “fail” one single person as unique as Norrie. Or maybe society is “failing” me too because I feel unable to fulfill my utterly unique potential in (insert profession/desire/life goal here). To whom can I petition against this failure?

Trackbacks

  1. Possible First: Legal Recognition of Sexlessness « Feminist Philosophers
  2. Celebrating Gender Across Borders’ one-year blogiversary « Gender Across Borders

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