Law change for sex self-identification needs discussion not silencing

Daphna Whitmore

Parliament is considering a law change to allow people to change their sex on their birth certificates by simply filling out a form. If the law is passed there will be no requirement to show any proof of living as the opposite sex. When people have raised concerns about the possibility that this could be abused by predatory males (demanding access to female changing rooms, public toilets, women’s refuges, being housed in women’s prisons etc) they have been attacked with slander, threats and slurs by some strident transactivists. The transactivist campaign has been grotesquely authoritarian, energetically censoring, de-platforming, and hounding those who even question the implications of these changes.

We reprint below an article by Renee Gerlich, a feminist, activist and writer, who has been raising concerns and calling for a proper consultation before any change is made that can impact the rights of women. The article was published on Scoop Media on May 28 this year, and then taken down some time later. Scoop editors Joe Cederwall and director Alastair Thompson had removed it without consulting Renee. She was never given any satisfactory explanation of why her article was censored (see here).

Green Party sex self-identification proposals are “transphobic”

by Renee Gerlich

The government is currently discussing submissions on the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration (BDMRR) Bill. Preliminary hearings have made it appear that this bill largely affects cremation law and updates the existing BDMRR Act by digitising and making historic documents and family genealogy more accessible. Public submissions, however, overwhelmingly emphasise gender identity. The current BDMRR Act allows individuals to change the sex marker on identification papers, like birth certificates – many submitters want this process to be made easier.

Organisations from the Green Party to the Human Rights Commission, Young Labour, Rainbow Youth, the Law Society and “Parents and Caregivers of Transgender Children” want to see barriers removed from the process of changing the sex marker on one’s birth certificate. They want the BDMRR Act amended so that birth certificates can be modified without cost or court procedures. It is claimed that this would be in the interests of “documents with dignity” and “transgender rights”. I argue that while the falsification of historic documents and identification papers may appeal to some trans-identified individuals on a personal level, it is not in the interests of trans-identified people as a group. In fact, proposals that erase evidence of gender transition to conflate it with biological sex can easily be viewed as “transphobic”, to use the language of transactivism, since they involve a refusal to confront the realities of gender transition in favour of systematic invisibility.

Anyone promoting these amendments needs to think carefully about who exactly is served when evidence of gender transition is erased from the record.

Transactivists work hard to draw attention to the needs and harms that are particular to, or magnified among, trans-identified people. This involves drawing a distinction between those who are “transgender” and either feel they were born in the wrong body or simply “assigned” the wrong sex at birth – and those who don’t identify as a different sex to their birth sex. The latter are called “cis” people, and transactivists often lament living within a “cisnormative” society in which the majority of people do not understand the special needs of those who are trans-identified. All of the effort transactivists exert to create awareness of these distinctions is erased by those who suggest that identification papers be modified to remove evidence of gender transition. This amounts to the conflation of being “transgender” with being “cisgender”.

Those who identify as transwomen work hard to make clear the distinctions between themselves, and biological females. Neither group are served by the conflation of the two.

If organisations like the Green Party have their way, someone who was born biologically male, and then underwent hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery because they identify as a woman, will be able to change their documentation so that it appears they were born biologically female. This erases evidence of any gender transition having taken place. Some individuals may find this personally validating, and that is understandable – our personal choices most often do not account for social trends and patterns. But government, and legislation, must be socially responsible and must account for these. The falsification of documents will not help the government assess and cater to the needs of New Zealanders who are trans-identified. While it may make some people “feel good” to be able to change their identification papers to match their inner feelings, in reality, this will only invisibilise trans-identified people.

At a candlelight vigil for Zena Campbell, Green MP Jan Logie stated that “a lot more work needs to be done about violence towards New Zealand’s gender minorities.” Transactivists often lament being disproportionately targeted with bullying and violence, and while these claims do require more analysis and investigation, there is no doubt that transgenderism is closely associated with harm, dysphoria and with intense suffering. The 2012 New Zealand Adolescent Health Survey reported that depression rates for teenagers who identify as transgender are around 40 percent, with 20 percent attempting suicide. The falsification of historic documents, identification papers – and census records – is going to complicate and in many cases preclude proper evaluation of these harms and the prevent appropriate design and funding of services to address those harms.

The reason why many people promote the falsification of documentation as a solution, is that they prefer to deny the realities of gender transition in preference of making false claims about birth sex. This is grossly irresponsible, and also conflates the very two categories that transactivists always seek to distinguish: “trans” and “cis”. Indeed, if there is such a thing as “transphobia”, then this is what it looks like. The determined denial of, fear of, and refusal to confront the reality of gender transition. If any among us are “transphobic”, it is those who are calling for evidence of gender transition to be erased through the falsification of historic documents and identification papers.

The consequences of this “transphobia” will indeed be indefinite. While the accusation of “transphobia” is often used to point out so-called “micro-aggressions”, such as the knitting of pussy hats or baking of vulva-shaped cupcakes for a Womensfest – the refusal to acknowledge the reality of gender transition at a legislative level is much more systematic. The impacts of “transphobia” on this scale will indeed be dramatic, and indeed affect all women, as well as men.

For example: male suicide rates are significantly higher than female. It is quite possible that they are even higher among males who go through the pain, dysphoria and trauma of gender transition. If that is the case, but documents are falsified, suicide among this section of the population will be registered as neither male, nor “trans”, but female. As a result, female suicide rates will appear to increase. In other words, the problem will appear to be very different than it really is, and it will be difficult to get to the bottom of and address. Correlations between suicide and gender identity – either as it is experienced inherently, or as it is responded to socially – will be buried more deeply and harder to point to.

Reporting of male violence in general will becomine increasingly distorted. Already there have been numerous reports from Britain, the United StatesCanadaAustralia and New Zealand of male violence as having been committed by a “female”. Given that many trans-identified people lament being on the receiving end of male violence, it is not in their interests – and certainly not in women’s – for male violence to be increasingly reported as perpetrated by females. This will distort our understandings of both the real situation and what we need to do about it.

It is also well documented by now that a large proportion of women who opt for gender transition are lesbian, and that there is a strong correlation with anorexia, another symptom of dysphoria. The falsification of documents will mean that “men” will slowly appear to be experiencing anorexia in greater numbers. A greater number of them will appear to have been sexually abused, too, since one in three women are sexually abused and abusers do not take identification into account.

Men will also, increasingly, have different reproductive requirements. This is something that Otago University students have been drawing attention to recently, covering campus in “Boys Bleed Too” stickers during Period Week (called Period Week because Women’s Week was too exclusive). Men, apparently, require sanitary products. Midwifery is beginning to be considered a men’s issue, as is abortion. This will mean that women will no longer be able to complain when it is men making decisions about the legal status of abortion, for instance, or the funding midwives. Women will no longer be able to complain about men making decisions on any issue previously understood as sex-based.

Women who still need sex-based protections despite their identification may be denied access. Females who identify as men still risk being targets for assault because of their sex – but should they have access to Women’s Refuge services? How does a Women’s Refuge respond to a woman who claims to be a male, born male, with a birth certificate confirming she is male? Will trans-identified women be turned away from Women’s Refuges and safehouses if they need them? Will we need Men’s Refuges – will they be safe there?

If they won’t be turned away – why? Is that because we know that they are really female – and if we do, why should we lie about that in legislation? Or do we simply believe that Women’s Refuges should cater to both sexes – and if so, why should women’s services, which are ever-underfunded, be so accommodating in a misogynist world?

Consider too, that self-identification has also not been shown to reduce male pattern violence. That means that males who identify as women are just as likely to commit violence against women as the general male population. Allowing these people into female-only spaces – schools, safehouses, prisons – means lumping women with the risk. Legislation that allows for the falsification of identification papers, therefore, puts women at risk and promotes the eviction of women from female-only spaces in favour of men who may or may not be perpetrators of violence against women.

The fact that these proposals are taking place without any kind of robust debate or discussion is misogynist, but it also gives the lie to any pretense at “trans inclusivity”. Promoting the erasure of evidence of gender transition does not promote inclusion of any kind, or an end to the male violence that trans-identified people also suffer from. As a proposed solution, falsifying identification papers is cowardly, ignorant and socially irresponsible.

No individual or social ill is remedied by a refusal to examine it honestly. The Green Party must back down on its promotion of dishonest legislative amendments. They are failing women by undermining of sex-based protections, and they are failing the trans-identified people they claim to represent, also.

For more articles by Renee Gerlich see her website


  1. While New Zealand is awash with pc liberalism there is a very strong under-current of authoritarianism in this society. It manifests itself not only in backwoods right-wing fashion, but also in chunks of the left. Don’t like something? Ban it. Or demand someone else ban it.

    Serious questions demand serious discussion and debate. What a pity Scoop opted for censorship and that a section of the left decides to go down the same rabbit hole, with lashings of woke post-modernism and weird contempt for the views of women (especially lesbians) thrown in for good measure.

    Deep down, sections of the left share the authoritarian impulse with sections of the right.

    Phil F

  2. Thanks for printing this. Most of the socialist and other ‘far left’ identified groups in NZ are fully intoxicated by the trans cult Kool Aid. They bully, lie, slander and censor critics instead of engaging in any sort of good faith discussion. The treatment of Renee in particular is absolutely disgusting – apart from the censorship she has faced an online bullying campaign, with enthusiastic participants from the snowflake left joining in en masse.

    Readers curious about the self ID issue in NZ should also check out the Speak Up For Women site, which includes a range of articles explaining the issue:

    This is an issue with many parallels to the UK, which is divided on the issue of the ‘Gender Recognition Act’. Despite the institutional influence and dirty tactics of the TRAs this issue has galvanised the feminist movement in the UK, with groups like Fair Play For Women and WPUK making a strong case for their concerns:

    • Thanks Tim. The article is getting a reasonable number of views. Hopefully more people will learn that we have put up what was shut down by Scoop and start to think through the consequences of both this kind of censorship and gender self-ID.

  3. Cheers Tim. Exchange of ideas on this topic is not welcomed off shore either.
    Below a USA hui this year reports their gathering being savaged by the distribution of at least one leaflet. Thankfully, after resolute measures being taken, damage was mercifully slight.

    “THIS YEAR, at the annual Socialism conference hosted by the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in Chicago, we were quite dismayed by the appearance and participation of a local Chicago socialist (not in the ISO) notorious for her outspoken support for trans-exclusive “feminist” (TERF) ideology.

    For years, this person, who is a signer on an atrocious open letter advocating the rights of TERFs to express their bigotry in left spaces, has had opportunities to engage and learn that these “ideas” are not welcome in the ISO or our events. This person, however, did not limit herself to attendance.

    We learned on the final day of the conference that she was there to organize, when she handed an old friend, previous political collaborator and out non-binary ISO member an anti-trans treatise colored in Marxism.

    We do not know how many other conference attendees received this piece of garbage — one comrade receiving it was one too many. We celebrate that other than this infringement on our well-being, the remainder of the conference was an overwhelmingly safe and beautiful space for people of all genders and expressions.

    This reinforces our pride as members of a socialist organization that demonstrates in practice a deep and thorough commitment to trans liberation, and against TERFism. Immediately after the conclusion of the conference, the organizers released an unequivocal statement on the conference Facebook page condemning the actions of this person and reporting the organizers have banned her from future ISO events.

    Given that some confusion seems to exist about whether TERFism is just one among a “diversity of opinions” that are equally worthy of engaging on the left, we thought we would take some steps to review the absolute bankruptcy of these garbage ideas.

    Despite being a very small minority in the left, TERFs — aka radfems — have caused havoc for trans folks for decades. Despite claiming to be part of the left of the feminist movement, TERFs’ politics on gender tend to align more with that of the far right.

    So much so that TERFs have both collaborated with and have been heavily funded by far right groups in their quest to fight any legislation that betters the lives of trans people and in their push for legislation that makes life worse for trans folks.

    If we do not rid the left of this toxic movement, it will continue to grow like a tumor and persist in making the lives of our trans and gender non-conforming comrades hell, while also serving as a significant barrier to winning broader gains for the feminist movement overall.”

    • The ISO statement is just awful, they are so utterly unwilling to engage and discuss the issue it is truly pathetic. Their over the top reaction to one person handing out a leaflet with a differing viewpoint seems like a parody. I hope they all felt ‘safe’ after banishing the heretic.

      Here’s a much better position from the UK Morning Star:

      Communists call for protection for women’s spaces

      COMMUNISTS called for protection of women’s spaces and preservation of “separate spaces and distinct services to protect women from violence and abuse” today.

      The party’s biennial congress said that women’s rights won over decades of struggle were “under sustained ideological attack,” thanks to the “growth and ascendancy of neoliberal philosophy across a range of intellectual fields.”

      It adopted a resolution expressing concern at “the divisive debate around self-identification which conflates ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ which could threaten the rights of women and girls” and committed members to fight for a wider understanding of these problems in the labour movement.

      Delegates discussed the attacks on women who raised concerns about self-identification and attempts to no-platform or silence them, including attacks on the Morning Star for agreeing to publish articles on the subject.

      Mover Mary Davis of the London district said that socialism would be unattainable without “an understanding of the link between women’s oppression and class exploitation.”

  4. The transactivists are very different to the older transexuals like Georgina Beyer who identified with women without denying objective reality by insisting she was literally a woman. Beyer says there is a third gender and she still describes herself as transexual. That is in contrast to Caitlyn Jenner who claims she is a woman and always has been.

    The transactivists by insisting that ‘transwomen are women’ and denying the reality of biological sex are occupying philosophical La La Land. Now they demand everyone must obediently repeat their dogmas and are waging an Inquisition against non-believers. Crimes such as mis pronouning are denounced and any criticism is called hate speech.

    The trouble with all this make believe is that it has consequences. For instance, denying biological sex and pretending to be the opposite sex means that transpeople will get substandard health care if they present as whatever sex they choose because physiological differences between men and women are significant. There have already been cases where people have concealed their biological sex from medical staff and received the wrong treatment.

    There are different ranges for red blood cells, different ranges for kidney function and lung function between the sexes. For instance, abdominal pain is investigated differently – for women of reproductive age pregnancy, ectopic pregnancy, ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease have to be considered and don’t apply to males. Insisting that subjective wishes are all that count is bonkers and harmful.

  5. Thank you for this article and analysis. If people are permitted to change the facts on their birth certificates, what will be next? Doctoring photos, perhaps, to hide any evidence that a transwoman was once a boy. And then expunging words from documents. An attack on facts is dangerous to all of us and, as the article points out, dangerous also to transwomen, whose struggles will be erased and whose lives may be endangered because they may be unknowingly treated in the wrong way by doctors. There should be no shame attached to being a transwoman. Hiding or denying a fact makes it seem as if one is ashamed of that fact.

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