On 8 July 2013 I appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 Report to raise awareness about intersex people. The feedback from people across the country and in my electorate has been very positive.
I would like to thank the ABC for giving me the opportunity to discuss these issues in front of a national audience. It is my hope programs like this will help reduce the shame and stigma attached to being born biologically a combination of male and female.
CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: Most people are born clearly male or female, but some aren’t. These who don’t fit either category face daily challenges living in a society divided into men and women, from identity in official documents to which changeroom to use.
But now transgender, intersex and gender diverse people are being recognised in the eyes of the law.
Monique Schafter reports.
NORRIE: When I was a child though I wasn’t happy with boy roles and not being allowed to play dolls and stuff. I seemed to identify much more with the feminine side of things and patterned myself on my mother.
MONIQUE SCHAFTER, REPORTER: Sydneysider Norrie was registered male at birth, but as a child began a lifelong quest to discover his or her true identity.
NORRIE: I identified I guess as a transsexual in my early 20s. I had friends that were trannies. I went on hormones. I was doing drag shows. So, had the sex change and discovered that being stuck in one role wasn’t really good for me. And I thought about what gender would I want to be, given the option and it’s a whole person. It’s male and female in some ways; in other ways, it’s neither. Physically, I’m neuter. (Laughs) Like your pet. Socially, I’m both.
MONIQUE SCHAFTER: In 2009, Norrie began a journey to be legally recognised as neither male nor female. Norrie applied to the Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages to have her ID certificate changed to “sex non-specific”, and in 2010, became the first person recognised as neither man nor woman in the eyes of the New South Wales Government. But four months later, the Registry wrote to Norrie after receiving legal advice and said the change had been issued in error and was invalid.
NORRIE: When it happened, I couldn’t see a way forward. I was just down in a deep, dark, black home. It was a strange time. It really felt like I had in a way been socially murdered or socially assassinated.
MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Norrie appealed the decision to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal, but the case was dismissed. So Norrie went to the Nsw Supreme Court, and on May 31st this year, won.
NORRIE: Oh, we’d won! After so long. It seems a court has finally said, “Of course sex is not just binary. Don’t be silly.”
EMILY CHRISTIE, SOLICITOR, DLA PIPER: This is the first time that a court anywhere in Australia has recognised that somebody can be something other than male or female. It breaks open this binary idea of sex, binary idea of gender identity and said that actually, yes, there are some people in the world who don’t fit into these two categories and that the law can and should recognise them.
MONIQUE SCHAFTER: The matter was sent back to the tribunal to decide on an official sexless designation for Norrie, but the legal battle continues. The Registrar of Births, Deaths & Marriages has now applied to the High Court for special leave to appeal.
NORRIE: Government had said they were gonna do this thing and had done it, and then pulled it out from under me. “No, we couldn’t have done that. You’re wrong, you’re not getting it.”
MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Norrie’s case only applies to people who’ve had what’s commonly known as sex reassignment surgery and choose to identify as sex non-specific.
NORRIE: If you’re gonna specify in terms of male or female, I’m not specifically male or female.
MONIQUE SCHAFTER: However there are others, like Tony Briffa, whose biological sex is not distinctly male or female who are also pushing for real recognition.
TONY BRIFFA, HOBSONS BAY, VICTORIA: People that are intersex like me are a combination of male and female. We were just born that way. That’s what nature made us. And we should be able to be recognised as a combination of male and female if we want to.
MONIQUE SCHAFTER: Councillor Tony Briffa, former Mayor of Hobsons Bay, Victoria, was born intersex. Doctors made the decision the family should raise the baby as a girl and surgically removed Tony’s male attributes. Tony lived as a woman for 30 years.
TONY BRIFFA: I had a wonderful childhood as Antoinette. Grew up as a girl, had wonderful experiences as a woman. Then lived a few years as a man to see what that was like and I took some testosterone at the time for a few years to see what that was like. And that was an interesting experience, but that wasn’t the full me either. I just want a birth certificate that actually reflects what I am, and that is a combination of male and female. It’s not really too much to ask.
MONIQUE SCHAFTER: For people who aren’t male or female, everyday life throws up a number of challenges.
How do you negotiate things like public toilets and changerooms and those sorts of parts of society?
NORRIE: Um, I go where I need to when I need to and just keep my head up high and keep to myself. … Sometimes I’ve been made to feel uncomfortable in the ladies’ changeroom at the pool. So I started just using the handicap one, which is also the child changing one, so it seems like an appropriate third option.
TONY BRIFFA: I went through a body scanner at Sydney Airport and obviously the staff there realised that I wasn’t exactly male. So I got asked the question: “Excuse me, are you a man or a woman?” And that’s a trick question for someone like me. And I ended up saying, “Well, I’m a woman,” because I knew that that was gonna be the easier option for me if I was going to be searched because I don’t have typical male genitalia. So I then was searched, unfortunately, by Customs. But that was OK because that’s how I present. But, incredibly, they didn’t search my backpack. They just wanted to search my person to work out what I was. And it’s all about my sex.
EMILY CHRISTIE: There is a lot of stigma and a lot of discrimination towards people who don’t fit into our ideas of who we should be and what sex is and so people tend to stay hidden.
MONIQUE SCHAFTER: For people like Norrie and Tony Briffa, the fight for legal recognition is far from over.
TONY BRIFFA: Intersex people have larger issues such as the medicalisation that we receive as children in terms of the surgeries, the non-consensual surgeries that are irreversible. And in things like marriage – you know, when John Howard changed the Marriage Act to specify that marriage was between a man and a woman, what the hell does that mean for someone like me?
CHRIS UHLMANN: Monique Schafter reporting.