Contesting birth certificates and “gender permanence”

by on August 25, 2009  •  In Transgender

A new paper by Paisley Currah and Lisa Moore on the struggle between transgender advocates and New York City agencies over the designations on birth certificates has just been published:

Currah, Paisley and Lisa Jean Moore. 2009.  “‘We Won’t Know Who You Are’: Contesting Sex Designations on New York City Birth Certificates.” Hypatia 24:3 (Summer 2009): 113-135. 

Here's the abstract:

This article examines shifts in the legal, medical, and common sense logics governing the designation of sex on birth certificates issued by the City of New York between 1965 and 2006. The experience of transgender citizens illustrates the problems that result from birth certificates’ dual functions as a) an authenticator of identity and b) an historical record. The analysis of our data, generated from participant observation, ethnography, official reports and minutes, and in-depth interviews identifies two key organizing principles animating the debates over the last forty years. Gender fraud dominated the discussions of the 1960s and 1970s and provided the rationale for rejecting the request of transgender individuals to change the sex on these documents.  The requirement of gender permanence figures most strongly in the most recent debates in New York City, and justified the re-imposition of the policy first articulated around fraud: that the genitals  be surgically modified before the state will re-issue an identity document indicating a change of sex. In an era when the foundational facts that sustain guarantees of identity—biometric, social, historical—can change, emerging state practices of identity management and the technologies enabling its growth and spread create real obstacles for transgender individuals.


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