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Australian Passport gender choice made easier
September 15, 2011 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Male, Female, X - you know what you are Australian passport holders will now get to choose what gender they want to be listed as, with the choices including 'X' for intersex. (Apologies for the single link. An amazing topic, but I am not the most knowledgeable on this and hope those who are can come and comment on it).
posted by Megami (76 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good on Australia for being more gender-inclusive, but how many people really want to be identified as "X"? Wouldn't an option like "Other / Prefer Not To State" be more useful?
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:22 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The X is short for eXtreme
posted by nathancaswell at 1:23 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


how many people really want to be identified as "X"

My hunch, borne out by my Canadian passport at least, is that instead of "male" or "female" as the article says, it's really M or F.

In which case, what single letter best represents intersex/genderqueen/not-stating/etc? No idea.

In general, this is super good news!
posted by Lemurrhea at 1:31 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm curious how medical practitioners will make their decisions (before issuing a letter to the government).

Does a person need to be strictly "intersex" (ambiguous organs, for example) or can it simply be based on a person's gender identity preference? (If so, why is it necessary to get a doctor involved?)

I recently started reading a transman's blog and he stated that he identifies as "male" but doesn't intend to "medically transition."

Overall I think this is a good step for the Australian government, but I'm left with plenty of questions, still...
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:32 PM on September 15, 2011


I wonder what the point of having one's gender on the passport is. You've already got the name, the date of birth, the address (and perhaps some biometrics in some countries). Surely that is enough to identify you as a unique person.
posted by vidur at 1:33 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


This CBS article states: "Transgender people, whose perception of their own sex is at odds with their biology, will be able to pick whether they are male or female if their choice is supported by a doctor's statement. Transgender people cannot pick 'X.'"

Which, ugh. A step in the right direction, but not a big enough step.
posted by Auguris at 1:34 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


In which case, what single letter best represents intersex/genderqueen/not-stating/etc? No idea.

Maybe ∅?
posted by phunniemee at 1:35 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The X does not stand for intersex, which indicates a very specific set of physiological criteria. It seems to indicate nonsurgical, non-binary transgenderedness or just preferring not to answer.
posted by lumensimus at 1:35 PM on September 15, 2011


vidur, good question! Recently I heard that, Kate Bornstein, an amazing trans activist, has suggested that trans/genderqueer/gender-fluid people (and their allies) should push for governments and other record-keeping entities to simply eliminate gender as a category of data that they collect and use. That makes a lot of sense to me.

That said, this move by the Australian government is certainly a big step in the right direction.
posted by overglow at 1:37 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


>I wonder what the point of having one's gender on the passport is. You've already got the name, the date of birth, the address (and perhaps some biometrics in some countries). Surely that is enough to identify you as a unique person.<

Yes. I find this whole subject just not that interesting, not understanding the love or the hate, but wouldn’t it be easier to just eliminate that information than to make it possibly even more confusing? It’s not like it’s going to come up like "It was the same name, date of birth, address, fingerprint, only it was a woman, not a man".
posted by bongo_x at 1:38 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would think the designation may cause problems with immigration officers in less liberal nations. Rather than using your passport to affirm your sense of self maybe you should use it as a tool to expedite your progress past small minded bureaucrats guarding the gates of less progressive nations.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:39 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, I didn't know that bit, Auguris. That is ugh. I hope that this can be a foot in the door, though, and that in the future anyone who chooses can have their gender listed as X.
posted by overglow at 1:39 PM on September 15, 2011


lumensimus, as the Australian Passport Office’s Sex and Gender Diverse Passport Applicants web page states:

A passport may be issued to sex and gender diverse applicants in M (male), F (female) or X (indeterminate/unspecified/intersex).
posted by Megami at 1:40 PM on September 15, 2011


Ah. The article itself doesn't use the term.
posted by lumensimus at 1:43 PM on September 15, 2011


I wonder what the point of having one's gender on the passport is. You've already got the name, the date of birth, the address (and perhaps some biometrics in some countries). Surely that is enough to identify you as a unique person.

As far as I've been able to figure out so far in this rather crazy life, gender only seems to matter when you're about to go to jail, to a hospital or otherwise whenever you're about to get fucked.

I guess they need to know on your passport so they know to send a male or a female guard for your cavity search. (Does this mean you can request an interesex or transgender guard if you're intersexed or transgendered? )

Some day in the future it wont matter at all. People will identify as XX, XY and/or XXY with modifiers or something, or we'll have more than just a hurtfully restrictive gender binary to describe each other.
posted by loquacious at 1:44 PM on September 15, 2011


how many people really want to be identified as "X"

That's two x's too few to make one Vin Diesel.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:45 PM on September 15, 2011


Some day in the future it wont matter at all.

If the Department of Homeland Security has its way, you're right. In every passport, opposite the ID information page, we'll all have high-definition, full-color photographs of our genitals. That way they'll know 1) what sex we are, and 2) our "personal topography" to make the TSA's enhanced pat-downs less taxing for the security agents.
posted by phunniemee at 1:49 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe ∅?

What about ;)->-∅<
posted by smithsmith at 1:49 PM on September 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Okay, I'm gonna try something weird here and try to see if I can understand the whole 'doctor's note' dealie.

So, the point of a passport is to serve as an international ID. And this can stand at odds with both a) the fluidity of self-identification and b) the practicality of letting someone fill out a passport with just any-old info they want. My gender is biologically male, but spiritually female! My hair really should be blond, let me wear my wig! Since my female name isn't the same as my birth name, I can put a different name on too. I can understand, in the face of this mutability, the desire to have some hard-n-fast rules as to what you are and aren't allowed to put on your passport as defining characteristics.

I *think* that is the reasoning, at least. Does that make sense? It's often difficult to perceive these sorts of things as even possibly coming from anything resembling a rational viewpoint.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:53 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I kind of like the choice of "X" as the "Other" option. It's the "independent variable" in algebra, right? It can mean anything you want it to mean.
posted by argonauta at 1:55 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


FatherDragon, I know for a fact that if you can prove you are known by a certain name in Australia, even if it is not the name on your birth/marriage/Deedpoll certificate, you can get a passport in that name. I have travelled on a passport where I had raven black hair in the photo, but my hair was platinum blonde. To be honest, I know these two things are not as serious, or as important, as gender, but they are part of identity that a passport lets me decide are 'who I am', why not something as important as gender?
posted by Megami at 1:56 PM on September 15, 2011


should push for governments and other record-keeping entities to simply eliminate gender as a category of data that they collect and use.

Hm, the only downside to that is that we learn a tremendous amount (like, relative salaries, access to healthcare, etc) by recording gender in various types of govt. recordkeeping.

However, there's no reason you couldn't add Other (with explanation space for a preferred definition) or Prefers Not to Say. Then those would become measurable categories of data in themselves.
posted by emjaybee at 1:57 PM on September 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


And this can stand at odds with both the fluidity of self-identification

I agree as I went bald since my last passport photo 9 years ago.
posted by smithsmith at 1:58 PM on September 15, 2011


Which, ugh. A step in the right direction, but not a big enough step.

It seems to me that if the purpose of including sex for identification purposes, it would have to correspond physically to a person being biologically male or female or intersex. Otherwise, I agree with Bongo_x that it would be better left off of passports altogether.

Still, I don't feel like I have a completely solid grasp on the ins and outs of government/sex/gender identity. Sex and gender identity are different things, as I understand it. Beyond the practical issue of security and identity of a passport holder, I see no reason why the government should be concerned about my gender identity.
posted by beau jackson at 1:59 PM on September 15, 2011


Gender information is used for many innocuous and uncontroversial purposes by the state:

Tourism boards love this information (Have you flown from the U.S. to Hawaii recently? You are asked to complete a 2 page information form with hotel information, if you plan to go to other islands, why you're going, etc.) Some places make the bulk of their revenue from tourism, and tailor their message accordingly.

Long term population trends are really important for infrastructure planning, gender plays a big part in that (China, for example). Knowing you have 1 billion citizens is much less useful than knowing you have 550 million men and 450 million women.

It's also useful for government published statistics, which are generally free and can be used for good purposes such as wage fairness, voting rights, mobility studies, etc. How do we know who's "winning" (or losing) if we do not keep score?
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:04 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


In which case, what single letter best represents intersex/genderqueen/not-stating/etc? No idea.

Sexy MF
posted by chavenet at 2:04 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is nothing wrong with single link posts!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:07 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with these discussions is that the article itself isn't using 'sex' and 'gender' properly. The problem I see is the problem I think they're trying to address - that sex and gender is 99% of the time one and the same, but also very occasionally not. This is trying to address those situations in that it's really the gender that they use to identify someone in their passport photo. The photos are headshots, not crotch shots.

I think the 'X' is probably a bad, confusing choice - why not just spell it out and say 'transgendered' on the passport. Certainly there's room.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:22 PM on September 15, 2011


vidur, good question! Recently I heard that, Kate Bornstein, an amazing trans activist, has suggested that trans/genderqueer/gender-fluid people (and their allies) should push for governments and other record-keeping entities to simply eliminate gender as a category of data that they collect and use. That makes a lot of sense to me.

As noted above, gender/sex is really important to people doing social research; you use gender/sex information to watch whether males and females are being born at (mostly) equal rates, what kind of grades they get in school, who goes on to higher education and in what disciplines, how much each sex makes in average income -- gender/sex is a huge part of our society, and information is how we study our society. Of course, people should be allowed to identify however they want; indeed, I would be happy for people to submit their whole gender history to something like the census or other surveys - the data is always anonymized, and more data on gender will only help us better understand the lives of transgendered and genderqueer people - such as educational attainment, employment prospects, health concerns, etc.

As for passports - having gender does help identify people; it eliminates 1/2 the population from the pool of people from whom I could get a fake passport. Sure, some people might be able to pass as the opposite sex, but most of us can't barring hormonal therapy. That said, again, people who have transistioned should be recorded as the gender in which they now present themselves, so that their ID matches their appearance.
posted by jb at 2:36 PM on September 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Tangentially related: there was a link- either a FPP or just as a comment- from a couple of years ago or more, where a SQL DBA tackled the problem of how to store gay marriage in any public records datastore... but went much, much further, exploring how to create data structures that aren't limiting for future growth in to all kinds of unions beyond that.

It was a fascinating example of the meeting of technology and the good kind of libertarianism (with zero preconceptions about the 'propriety' of private matters). Can anyone dig that up?
posted by hincandenza at 3:21 PM on September 15, 2011


Sure, some people might be able to pass as the opposite sex, but most of us can't barring hormonal therapy.

And so, for most people, there really is no need to have their gender on the passport.

I get that governments need a fair bit of data on people, and such data is indeed collected regularly. I am NOT wondering about the government's need to know our gender in general. I am wondering about the need to have the gender field on one's passport. That's all. It is a very limited thought/query triggered by the FPP.

Limiting myself to the passport context, my guess is that the gender field is simply a leftover from the good old days when it may have served some purpose (I can't even guess), but has become completely meaningless now.
posted by vidur at 3:24 PM on September 15, 2011


hincandenza: Tangentially related: there was a link- either a FPP or just as a comment- from a couple of years ago or more, where a SQL DBA tackled the problem of how to store gay marriage in any public records datastore... but went much, much further, exploring how to create data structures that aren't limiting for future growth in to all kinds of unions beyond that.

Here you go, Gay marriage: the database engineering perspective
posted by Z303 at 3:33 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


No more gender: poof! The whole issue of women's inequality magically goes away, because that which does not exist cannot be tracked. Be careful what you wish for.
posted by Wordwoman at 3:38 PM on September 15, 2011


Limiting myself to the passport context, my guess is that the gender field is simply a leftover from the good old days when it may have served some purpose (I can't even guess), but has become completely meaningless now.

I totally disagree. I think the sex is the meaningless measure. Passports are all about identity, and gender is about identity. The gender is the important one to preserve. Pre and post-op individuals can change sex throughout their lives, and yet maintain a constant gender.

The opposite can be true, of course, but I would also argue that the transition from one gender to another would probably warrant a new passport application for precisely the identity issue.
posted by jimmythefish at 3:48 PM on September 15, 2011


jimmythefish: "I think the 'X' is probably a bad, confusing choice - why not just spell it out and say 'transgendered' on the passport. Certainly there's room."

That would be just as incorrect as the article's use of "gender" and "sex". "Transgender" is not a third gender, separate from "man" and "woman". Instead, "transgender" is a category that can add onto "man", "woman" and other gender categories, like how a donut can have sprinkles and chocolate icing. So someone can be a transgender man, a transgender woman, or be transgender and differently-gendered altogether. Making "transgender" a separate category from "man" and "woman" would be a complete misnomer.

X in this case is meant to cover intersex people, who are a different (though sometimes overlapping) category from transgender people. I don't think I'm a fan of that, either; "X" could easily have too many negative connotations. Perhaps "I"?
posted by jiawen at 4:14 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tourism boards love this information

Subjecting ordinary people to harassment when they travel vs. inconveniencing the marketing department of a hotel chain?

That which does not exist cannot be tracked...wage fairness, voting rights, mobility studies

Valid concerns, and excellent reasons why my gender should be reported on the census and tied to my social insurance number. Not reasons why gender needs to appear on anyone's passport.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:19 PM on September 15, 2011


I suspect that the idea behind this is that if someone presenting as Gender A is searched or is otherwise revealed to have the equipment of Gender B, they will not have problems resulting from the fact that their passport says Gender A. That is, it's not there to help travelers feel good about themselves; it's a way to help them deal with immigration officials in situations where things have begun to go wrong.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:32 PM on September 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Good on Australia for being more gender-inclusive, but how many people really want to be identified as "X"? Wouldn't an option like "Other / Prefer Not To State" be more useful?

Are you kidding? X is the most awesome letter. I'm tempted to put it down.

But seriously this is an awesome step, and I fully support it.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:44 PM on September 15, 2011


Here is the policy.

Good on Australia for being more gender-inclusive, but how many people really want to be identified as "X"?

I was recently told by an Intersex advocate that there are about 15 people in Australia with an X on their passports.

This CBS article states: "Transgender people, whose perception of their own sex is at odds with their biology, will be able to pick whether they are male or female if their choice is supported by a doctor's statement. Transgender people cannot pick 'X.'"

The policy doesn't say anything about that. The most relevant section is: "The term ‘indeterminate’ sex refers to persons whose sex cannot be determined as either male or female. This status is determined by the relevant Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and recorded on a person’s birth certificate.

In accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standard for unspecified sex, the symbol X in the sex field is to be used in such cases.""


Arguably, if you are, for example, a biological woman who has had bottom, but not top, surgery, and instead of identifying as male or female you identify as just 'trans', you could get an X. IMO, there's nothing in the policy that states otherwise.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:17 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I totally disagree. I think the sex is the meaningless measure. Passports are all about identity, and gender is about identity. The gender is the important one to preserve. Pre and post-op individuals can change sex throughout their lives, and yet maintain a constant gender.

The opposite can be true, of course, but I would also argue that the transition from one gender to another would probably warrant a new passport application for precisely the identity issue.


Not sure I understand you here. If you are disagreeing with my use of the terms gender/sex, please forgive my ignorance.

But if you are saying that it is important to have the M/F/X identification on one's passport because "passports are all about identity", then I'd respectfully suggest that passports are actually all about ensuring that countries know who they are letting across their borders. Passports are travel documents1 and are in essence a security measure.

If someone is measuring their identity and/or sense of self-worth by what it says on the passport, then society has failed them in a terrible way.

[1] Passports are just one among many types of travel documents. The travel document you'd hold depends on your home country, your intended destination country, and sometimes on your personal circumstances (refugee/asylum seeker/visa violator etc).
posted by vidur at 5:39 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just in case it is not clear, when I'd written "Limiting myself to the passport context, my guess is that the gender field is simply a leftover from the good old days when it may have served some purpose (I can't even guess), but has become completely meaningless now", my intention was not to say that gender/sex field has become meaningless in general, but that it has become meaningless in passports.
posted by vidur at 5:43 PM on September 15, 2011


Yeah, good points as to the usefulness of gender-based statistics. I think especially the need to combat sexism is really important.

You know how some forms have a section at the end that asks for your ethnicity and is all like, this is optional but it helps us do such and such things? What if more forms and records treated gender like that?

Oh, yeah, and also maybe included sex, gender identity, and gender expression as different fields. (Something I sure wish this conversation was doing.)
posted by overglow at 6:18 PM on September 15, 2011


If someone is measuring their identity and/or sense of self-worth by what it says on the passport, then society has failed them in a terrible way.

For intersex and trans people, society *has* failed them in a terrible way. This seems like a small step towards fixing that.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:52 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


For a little more information on why it's important for gender diverse people to have identity documents that accurately reflects their gender status, you might want to read the 2009 Australian Human Rights Commission report - "The Sex Files", especially the problems with the existing system.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:29 PM on September 15, 2011


New Zealand issues passports with X as well. As I understand it, the idea is the same as in this article--a stopgap measure because it's very difficult and expensive to change the sex on one's passport between M and F. Basically, the passport agency is recognizing that the system doesn't work and fixing the part of it they can. Having an X eliminates one set of potential issues, but creates another--immigration officials don't necessarily have any idea the X option exists. (I don't know of countries outside Australia and New Zealand that issue passports. Part of me seems to recall the X being basically for traveling overseas for surgery (the US used to issue correct-gender temporary passports in that scenario, but I think the policy change has meant they're now unnecessary), but I'll let someone more familiar with trans issues in Australia and New Zealand explain.)
posted by hoyland at 7:30 PM on September 15, 2011


Er... that issue passports with X.
posted by hoyland at 7:30 PM on September 15, 2011


I strongly disagree that government statistics need to force people into binary gender categories.

The issues stated above, such as income, health, and equality in the workplace are all social outcomes which are influenced by gender regardless of a person's sex. A society which only has access to binary gender data is a society in which discrimination against LGBT people cannot be studied.
posted by honest knave at 8:22 PM on September 15, 2011


I wonder what the point of having one's gender on the passport is. You've already got the name, the date of birth, the address (and perhaps some biometrics in some countries). Surely that is enough to identify you as a unique person

One very simple reason is that it halves the dataset you need to search through to find a match, especially for a biometric template like a facial or fingerprint biometric record.

This is a very different process to looking up a person based on attributes like DOB & name. With biometrics, you're often using them to do a search like "OK, I've converted this fingerprint image into a great whopping number based on a clever algorithm, now computer - go to work finding if this fingerprint is known to you, plus or minus X degree of tolerance" (to allow for image quality variances, damage to the print, the person's level of skin moisture, recent use of chemicals like bleaches etc). In other words, you're never going to find an exact match, so you cast your net widely enough to find possible near matches.

While a lookup based on known attributes like name, DOB or passport number can return a result in a split second, it takes a heap of processing power to churn through, in Australia's case, up to I think 13 million passport holders to find a biometric match.

Halve that by gender, and you've halved your processing time & server load.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:29 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kate Bornstein, an amazing trans activist, has suggested that trans/genderqueer/gender-fluid people (and their allies) should push for governments and other record-keeping entities to simply eliminate gender as a category of data that they collect and use. That makes a lot of sense to me

Actually, a relatively recent (Australian) Human Rights Commission report into Sex & Gender recommended (amongst other things) that: "Where possible, sex or gender should be removed from government forms and documents".
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:41 PM on September 15, 2011


Halve that by gender, and you've halved your processing time & server load.

Thanks, Ubu. The engineer in me totally gets this.

However, the specific purpose of passports is such that there is no need to search through the database on various fields. All that the immigration software needs to do, is to match the visa number against the database of currently valid visa numbers. Some countries search by passport number instead, and match that against the database of passport numbers with currently valid visas. Either way, it is a simple enough query through a not-very-large database.

When a match is found, the immigration official just glances at his/her screen to make a visual identification of the photograph with the person standing at the counter, and takes a quick look at the passport to check that the details match the visa database (this is also automated in many countries now). In some (most?) countries, the software also checks against INTERPOL notifications, which is also not a huge database.

That's all there is to passports. AFAIK, there are really no circumstances in which the sex of a person as indicated on the passport is of any real help (leaving aside the security theatre of groping before boarding).

There are other IDs issued by governments for other purposes. I understand the need to have other fields in those databases, including for the purpose of faster database queries. There is a recent related FPP on the challenges for India's unique ID project.

The M/F/X on passport is nothing more than a symbolic gesture. If it makes some people feel like this is progress, I have no problems with that.
posted by vidur at 10:09 PM on September 15, 2011


Sure, some people might be able to pass as the opposite sex, but most of us can't barring hormonal therapy.

And so, for most people, there really is no need to have their gender on the passport.


Ah - but while I could look like a man from a fake or stolen passport from just the headshot - because heads aren't as strongly indicative of sex - having an extra field that marks on the passport that the real owner is male makes it harder (probably impossible) for me to use that passport. It's really about limiting out the possible people I could steal passports from - it's also why gender is used to identify people when searching for them.
posted by jb at 10:11 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


vidur: what you're describing is only one particular use case: "immigration officer uses passport data to retrieve holder's identity", and you're right - for that use case, the passport number is the key you'd use.

(actually, there's a machine-readable string that can be scanned, including passport#, DOB, name, etc and on newer passports a contactless RFID chip that only needs to be swiped near a reader)

But why assume that's the only use case? England, for example, has a completely passport-free iris recognition system that frequent travellers can register for. There, the use case would be "system scans iris to produce biometric template to search & retrieve recorded passport data". In that case, there's no simple key like a passport# to search on, and instead it needs to do some biometric number crunching. It wouldn't know the person's gender unless there's some kind of kiosk where you could enter that upfront, but you get an idea of the different kinds of uses that passport data can be put towards.

Imagine next that upon trying to leave a country, the immigration officials want to know if you're on some kind of "most wanted" list. That's another potential freeform search of all records that would be helped by having gender segmentation.

Overall, though, I think the gender info is less about identity verification than it is about what others have suggested: gathering summary data about population, immigration, tourism & so on. It probably also helps if the authorities need to find a certain person called Qwerty Asdasdaf, if they can know what gender they are, a fact not immediately obvious with unfamiliar foreign names.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:02 PM on September 15, 2011


Ah - but while I could look like a man from a fake or stolen passport from just the headshot - because heads aren't as strongly indicative of sex - having an extra field that marks on the passport that the real owner is male makes it harder (probably impossible) for me to use that passport.

That's not how fake/stolen passports work in international travel.

Some countries print the photo whereas some countries just glue-stick the photo. Countries in the latter category are also likely to have the rest of the information handwritten, and often not even covered by simple lamination.

Getting a fake passport for a country in the first category (printed photo and information + lamination + perhaps some more safeguards) requires getting access to a blank, unfinished passport booklet. The forger would put your fake info with your real photo, and you are good to go. As you might guess, the sex field is really not an issue here because the forger can put in whatever you want in the blank booklet. In this category, we are talking about some real high-tech forgery, BTW. Quite expensive, and more or less out of the reach of ordinary Joe Criminal.

Fake passports of countries in the latter category can also be forged from blank booklets (and given that these countries are unlikely to have strong internal security procedures, this is much easier). However, passports for these countries can also be forged from existing, stolen passports. The lack of security features makes it relatively easy to change the photo and other details. Once again, changing M to F or F to M is no big deal for a forger who is already carrying out the much harder task of replacing the photo and forging an ink seal and ink signature to replace existing markers (because the edges won't match anymore).

For obvious reasons, the fake passports of countries in the latter category are also less in demand because they get scrutinized more during the visa process as well as at immigration checkpoints.

Note: Handwritten passports are being phased out of international travel as per the decision of International Civil Aviation Organization (sorry, don't have a link handy).

There is also an entirely different category of fake passports - real passports obtained under false pretenses (faked identities based on other forged documents). Once again, there is nothing that a "sex" field can do about these.
posted by vidur at 11:06 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ubu, you are right about the iris-scan system of UK. But as you mention, it is a passport-free immigration system. The question of having a sex field in the passport does not arise in this case.

I am indeed aware of other use cases where passports are actually being put to a non-travel use. In some countries (e.g. India), a passport is one of the few documents that serves as an identity proof as well as an address proof (in Australia, the driving license does this, and mine doesn't seem to have any M/F indication). But I don't think it is good practice to intentionally design things so that they can be put to non-design uses. Have I used Infinite Jest as a door stop on a few occasions? Guilty as charged, but that's no reason to add extra pages to all books.

Overall, though, I think the gender info is less about identity verification than it is about what others have suggested: gathering summary data about population, immigration, tourism & so on. It probably also helps if the authorities need to find a certain person called Qwerty Asdasdaf, if they can know what gender they are, a fact not immediately obvious with unfamiliar foreign names.

I totally agree, and note that this is not really applicable to the specific case of passports. Data about population, immigration and tourism is already captured through mechanisms like census and visas, and not through passport fields. If Qwerty Asdfasdf is a foreigner, the immigration system has got her (and it is not a large enough database, in my first-hand experience), if she is a local, other databases (where I agree that having the sex field serves an important purpose) have her.

I should also clarify that I am not actually against having this field in passports. I just don't think it is very useful.

Okay, enough thread-sitting for the day. It's Friday evening and somewhere there is a drink with my name on it. I'll show myself out now.
posted by vidur at 11:38 PM on September 15, 2011


I think this is progress. Imagine day when doctors could say "congratulations Mr and Mrs X, it's a healthy baby hermaphrodite!".

The journey to non-surgical-abuse of gender-indeterminate children surely starts with a third field in forms. A passport? Even better.
posted by iotic at 11:56 PM on September 15, 2011


Passports aren't mediums for personal expression. They contain identifying data.

The idea that a person chooses what sex to list in a travel document is idiotic. If a post-op transgendered person legally changes their gender from M to F or vice versa, sure, put that in the document.

If Jeff Lebowski wants his passport to say "The Dude", he has to legally change his name to "The Dude". The border guards of a random nation 500 miles away are not interested in who you are inside, they're interested in making sure people aren't using fraudulent passports and they are who they say they are.

This will probably peg me as a troglodyte for some MeFites, but I honestly think it's wholly unreasonable for every individual or interest group to demand special categorization and terminology because god forbid they be lumped in with their chromosomal sex for any purpose, ever.

If you are actually biologically "intersex", then that's one thing, but you shouldn't be able to pick your sex any more than you can pick your date of birth because you "still feel 29".
posted by unigolyn at 2:46 AM on September 16, 2011


"I totally disagree. I think the sex is the meaningless measure. Passports are all about identity, and gender is about identity. The gender is the important one to preserve. Pre and post-op individuals can change sex throughout their lives, and yet maintain a constant gender."

My brain actually hurts from reading that.

The word "identity" in this context is not the pomo term for self-classification. It's the identity the Nigerian prince with the emails wants to steal.

And people cannot change sex, it is a biologically immutable fact. You have the DNA you were born with, and it will remain that until every last cell of your body is destroyed. The only thing we can change is our gender, i.e. how we are seen and treated by a society of sexually dimorphous animals by changing our external characteristics.

I don't know what you feel like inside any more than you know how I feel inside. No human being will ever know that about anyone else. An XY male saying "I have always felt like a woman" is meaningful to him in a way that can never be communicated. I am utterly in support of everyone living their lives in whatever way makes them the happiest. I am utterly in favor of everyone doing to their bodies what they feel is right.

But you are not entitled to ask us to pretend biological facts are not facts because they disagree with your identity politics. If you are XY, you are a male. If you are XX, you are a female.

Whether you are a man or a woman is the societal construct that you are free to change.
posted by unigolyn at 3:07 AM on September 16, 2011


unigolyn: If you are XY, you are a male. If you are XX, you are a female.

People's actual sex, as biologically fact is much less clear cut than most people think, just off the top of my head, I can think of Androgen insensitivity syndrome as an example.
posted by Z303 at 4:22 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


FatherDagon jimmythefish unigolyn

Here's how changing my passport worked on a practical level. I'm in the UK but since Oz is also a common law country it should be similar. I had a passport in my birth name which also listed me as male. I wanted to change things so I as listed as Zoe and female. Which are actually separate things as far as the passport office is concerned.

I'd changed my name by statutory declaration, which people like banks and some utilities required before changing my accounts to my new name. The passport people would have been happy to list me at Ms Zoe but still with a male gender marker. I also need to have my photo signed by a suitable person, as my appearance has changed significantly.

To get the gender marker changed, I need a letter from a doctor at my gender identity clinic, stating I had been diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria and was starting my Real life experience. I'm not sure what security checks they they did.

All this was pre HRT and any surgery (only hair removal on my face in my case). Which is one of the changes in the new Australian rules I think it worth pointing out, they have dropped the requirement for Sex reassignment surgery before allow the gender markers to be changed. This is particularly important for Trans Men as the state of the art bottom surgery still has far from ideal results and is very expensive.

So this is a long winded way of saying its very much not a free for all on which gender is listed on your passport.

As an aside I can't change my National Insurance Number until a get a Gender Recognition Certificate and a new birth certificate, so in terms of marriage/civil partnerships and the law I still remain male.
posted by Z303 at 5:23 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


But you are not entitled to ask us to pretend biological facts are not facts because they disagree with your identity politics. If you are XY, you are a male. If you are XX, you are a female.

Z303 already took care of this, but I thought I'd add that, while you're stuck with the chromosomes you started with, not everyone is XX or XY. Not everyone who is XX is female, either. Now, each of us has very good odds of guessing our karyotype, but for the most part, we don't know with certainty. (Klinefelter's is common enough that you've likely met someone who's XXY. XX males are much less common. Many women who are XXX will never find out.) No one tested your chromosomes before filling in your birth certificate; they looked between your legs and picked a box to check. Sometimes that choice is obvious, sometimes it seems obvious but is wrong, sometimes it isn't obvious and the doctor wings it or leaves it to be filled in later, sometimes it isn't obvious and someone decides to solve the 'problem' with surgery.
posted by hoyland at 5:28 AM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is particularly important for Trans Men as the state of the art bottom surgery still has far from ideal results and is very expensive.

This is a kneejerk reaction, but I must point out it is rather impolite to comment on the state of other people's genitals, i.e. those of trans men who have chosen to have bottom surgery. There are people who aren't interested in bottom surgery, people who can't afford it, people who are waiting for a new technique to come along and people who've had bottom surgery.

For the most part, the rules were written with trans women in mind and aren't clear when applied to trans men (and leave trans women not interested in or unable to afford genital surgery out in the cold), so every jurisdiction has a different interpretation (and sometimes just makes a decision on the spot). The Illinois ACLU has taken on the issue to try and get the state to change its insistence on genital surgery for both men and women.
posted by hoyland at 5:46 AM on September 16, 2011


but I must point out it is rather impolite to comment on the state of other people's genitals, i.e. those of trans men who have chosen to have bottom surgery.

Yes perhaps I should have said, most Trans men I have talked to have said they are unhappy with the current results and are waiting for advances in surgery.

There are people who aren't interested in bottom surgery, people who can't afford it, people who are waiting for a new technique to come along and people who've had bottom surgery.

Yes, that was basically what I wanted to say. People have lots of reasons for deciding what surgery they will and will not have and for the record I'm non-op MtF.

For the most part, the rules were written with trans women in mind and aren't clear when applied to trans men

Things are a little different in the UK, the no surgery part of the Gender Recognition Act was driven from the FtM side if my memories of the process serve but obviously applies to MtF equally.
posted by Z303 at 6:26 AM on September 16, 2011


I am baffled at people who would do away with gender markers on identity documents. If someone stole your car, and the police put out an APB, the first and most helpful item in the description is "male" or "female." Then race. The vast majority of people can visually be broken down into those categories, no matter what they actually are or how they feel inside. It's a very efficient and quick descriptor.

I totally, totally understand that it's difficult to be transgendered/intersex and I understand the desire to authentically represent yourself, but passports are about security, not your value as a human being. My solution would be to allow transgendered/intersex folks to put whatever they pass as in daily life, M or F, and if they are truly androgynous-appearing, X.
posted by desjardins at 7:22 AM on September 16, 2011


FatherDragon, I know for a fact that if you can prove you are known by a certain name in Australia, even if it is not the name on your birth/marriage/Deedpoll certificate, you can get a passport in that name.

It's true, I did underestimate how mutable people's concept of a name was. Or perhaps Australian passports are just prone to typos in the name field? Who knows.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:22 AM on September 16, 2011


My solution would be to allow transgendered/intersex folks to put whatever they pass as in daily life, M or F, and if they are truly androgynous-appearing, X.

So who decides whether or not someone is "truly" androgynous-appearing? The cops? Because I think trans/genderqueer/intersex people have some well earned skepticism regarding the ability of the police to treat us with dignity and respect.

Personally I think it's busted when anyone polices someone else's gender identity or expression, and I can scarcely imagine how much worse it would be if it was the official policy for agents of the governments to do so.

Also, you know, you mentioned race as a useful descriptor for finding people. Race is not listed on my driver's license and yet that doesn't prevent the cops from describing me in a racial way if they're putting out an APB. Why would gender be any different?
posted by overglow at 10:13 AM on September 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay, that is kind of a curious point. I checked my driver's license, and it lists sex, hair color, eye color, height and weight. Hair and eye color are much more mutable than skin color and aren't a good indication as to race (my white husband has black hair/brown eyes). From a strictly descriptive perspective, with security as the main aim, skin color would make much more sense to have on an identity document, but that's politically impossible.
posted by desjardins at 11:08 AM on September 16, 2011


I checked my driver's license, and it lists sex, hair color, eye color, height and weight. Hair and eye color are much more mutable than skin color and aren't a good indication as to race (my white husband has black hair/brown eyes). From a strictly descriptive perspective, with security as the main aim, skin color would make much more sense to have on an identity document, but that's politically impossible.

Passports and drivers licences have photographs on them. Skin colour is clearly apparent from that photograph.

But it can be difficult to tell eye colour from a small photo, and you can't tell height or weight. That's why they should be specifically listed.

Sex is usally apparent from the name, but what it if it's a name that is unfamiliar to you. It's a Chinese customs officer supposed to know whether, for example, 'Siobhan' is a male or female name?

I think that there is still an argument to have sex listed on identity documents - it can make public administration easier in a number of small ways - but there needs to be a way to recognise that sex and gender are not binary constructs. Because if you don't, a small number of people will just keep getting screwed over, again and again.

Because the trans/intersex/genderqueer community are such a small minority, they lack political power - they can't spend masses of money lobbying the governments or educating the public. That's why this is such a big deal - sense at last! It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:08 PM on September 16, 2011


If Qwerty Asdfasdf is a foreigner, the immigration system has got her (and it is not a large enough database, in my first-hand experience), if she is a local, other databases (where I agree that having the sex field serves an important purpose) have her.


But - at least in the case of the foreigner - they get that information from the passport. Or so it worked for me, as a foreign F-1/J-1 going in and out of the US. They checked my ID against the passport.

And while I agree that fake passports aren't usually done like fake drinking ID's (borrowing the legit ID of someone who looks like you but is a couple of years older), having a field like sex makes the quick-and-dirty steal someone else's passport and try to use that a bit harder.
posted by jb at 6:35 PM on September 16, 2011


They should just remove any and all categories pertaining to gender, sex, or marital status ( I've filled out papers requiring me to choose Ms/Mrs/Miss, and its an oh-so-annoying reminder that my state doesn't recognize my domestic partnership. ) And if they really, really need to know your genetic makeup, just have XX and XY as your options. It eliminates all assumptions and pretenses related to sexual organs and gender identity.
posted by shesaysgo at 8:29 AM on September 17, 2011


Shesaysgo: there are lots of people who are neither XX nor XY - even if you ignore people who are XX but appear XY or XY but appear XX there are XO, XXX, XXY and XYY, XXYY, and others. And then there are the people who have different genes in different parts of their bodies.

I'm all for labelling people, but in the absence of a portable DNA tester and lots of training there's not much point having genetic information on a passport.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:30 PM on September 17, 2011


I don't even know my genetic makeup with 100% certainty. Serious question, when/how would you find out about that if you otherwise appear/feel "normal" for your assigned gender?
posted by desjardins at 6:13 PM on September 17, 2011


Desjardins: according to a few of those Wikipedia links, you wouldn't. Some have symptoms, some don't, and if you're a genetic mosaic you might get different readings depending on which cells got sampled. Things are a lot more complicated than they were when I learned about genes from my Disney Encyclopedia.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:55 PM on September 17, 2011


It looks like the UK is also considering making similar changes to passports.
posted by Z303 at 7:47 AM on September 19, 2011


The hair color listed on my driver's license isn't my natural color or the color shown in the photo. It's also a completely different color, length and style from the photos on my passport and student ID, which are both different from each other. All of the above are different from my current style. I'm also no longer the same height and weight as I was when I got my license, nor the same weight as when I got my passport. If putting the apparent sexes of trans people on their documents would really be that confusing to the authorities, then clearly I need to get into crime because they'd never catch me!

Seriously though, I would guess that most of the time the sex field is used to help with visual identification. Regardless of your personal beliefs about the "legitimacy" of trans people, it would be awful unhelpful if the police put out a lookout warning for a "male" suspect who is visually and behaviorally indistinguishable from a woman.
posted by purplecrackers at 8:02 PM on September 19, 2011


Z303 already took care of this, but I thought I'd add that, while you're stuck with the chromosomes you started with, not everyone is XX or XY. Not everyone who is XX is female, either.

That was not my point, I was responding to someone misusing the words "gender" and "sex".

Your genes don't change. I am not arguing that transgendered people are deluded about their gender identity. I am simply arguing that "Pre and post-op individuals can change sex throughout their lives, and yet maintain a constant gender" doesn't make sense.

At any rate, XX males and other such genetic abnormalities are exceedingly rare, as well as sterile. For literally 99% of us, what I said remains true, and I'd imagine similar rates among the transgendered.
posted by unigolyn at 4:32 AM on September 20, 2011


Your genes don't change. I am not arguing that transgendered people are deluded about their gender identity. I am simply arguing that "Pre and post-op individuals can change sex throughout their lives, and yet maintain a constant gender" doesn't make sense.

If in the quote jimmythefish are using sex in terms of the marker on various documents, which can change, with you using the term to refer to a persons chromosome make up which would not change, then you can both be correct but I wouldn't want to put words into anyone mouth.

For gender again it is perfectly possible for someone to have always identified as male but with other people going from perceiving them as having changed from female to male.

For literally 99% of us, what I said remains true, and I'd imagine similar rates among the transgendered.

By 'us' do you mean Humans? This could be misread very easily in the heat of the moment.
posted by Z303 at 8:01 AM on September 20, 2011


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