The Abolition of Sex/Gender Registration in the Age of Gender Self-Determination: An Interdisciplinary, Queer, Feminist and Human Rights Analysis
AbstractIt is commonly accepted that gender matters (whether cisgender, transgender/trans*, gender non-binary, genderfluid, gender queer, agender, or other) and many are raising awareness about the fact that gender always seems to matter. That gender matters, and always matters, does not necessarily mean, however, that gender needs to be authenticated or endorsed by the state.In fact, based on a feminist and queer reading of human rights, this interdisciplinary article asserts that state-sponsored sex/gender assignment through the practice of sex/gender registration must halt. It argues that mandatory (binary) sex/gender registration disproportionately infringes the emerging right to gender identity autonomy and the right to the legal recognition thereof. Most often, our Western heterosexual cultural system of gender, which posits the existence of two oppositional and complementary gender identities, anchored in so-called natural and binary sex, goes hand in hand with material and discursive forms of violence and entails various forms of unequal power dynamics. Hegemonic in nature, the heterosexual cultural system of gender pervasively regulates many (if not every) aspects of all bodies’ lives and being, including by legal means. The law upholds and certifies that specific gender regime, inter alia, by assigning a sex to individuals at birth (through the registration of a claimed evident, objective, natural element to be found on or in the body by inspection). Policies of mandatory (binary) sex/gender registration therefore constitute the cornerstone of the legalisation of the heterosexual cultural system of gender, which produces not only the conventional feminine and masculine gender identity (i.e. women and men) but also sex (i.e. females and males).This article suggests that, as long as the law refuses to go beyond the compulsory male/female (or even male/female/other) framework, it will be complicit in upholding the undesired consequences of the heterosexual cultural system of gender, which affect all persons of whatever gender or physical features. Therefore, undoing remaining forms of global gender injustice, as well as respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights relating to gender identity, requires the abolishment of sex/gender registration instead of expanding the available gender markers. Indeed, this article finds that current state practices do not pursue a legitimate aim, and even if they do, mandatory sex/gender registration does not pass the proportionality test that is required in the assessment of restrictions of fundamental rights. A human rights analysis of official sex/gender in the age of gender self-determination finds mandatory sex/gender registration to be a disproportionate measure and recommends that states change their current practices. Doing so would be beneficial to cisgender and trans* individuals alike.
ECtHR 11 July 2002, 28957/95, Christine Goodwin v. United Kingdom.
ECtHR 12 June 2003, 35968/97, Van Kück v. Germany.
ECtHR 10 March 2015, 14793/08, Y.Y. v. Turkey.
ECtHR 6 April 2017, 79885/12, 52471/13, 52596/13, A.P., Garçon, Nicot v. France.
ECtHR 17 January 2019, 29683/16, X. v. Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
ECtHR 7 July 2020, 41701/16, Y.T. v. Bulgaria.
US Federal Court for the district of Colorado, Zzym v. Pompeo, 341 F. Supp. 3d 1248 - Dist. Court, D. Colorado 2018.
High Court of Justice, R on the application of Christie Elan-Cane v. Secretary of state for the Home Department  EWHC 1530 (Admin).
Court of Appeal (civil division), R on the application of Christie Elan-Cane v. Secretary of state for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 363
Constitutional Court of Austria, VfGH, 15 June 2018, G77/2018-9.
Rechtbank Limburg, 25 May 2018, C/03/232248 / FA RK 17-687, ECLI:NL:RBLIM:2018:4931.
Court of Cassation of France, Cass Civ (1), 4 May 2017, n°531, ECLI:FR:CCASS:2017:C100531.
Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, BVerfG, Order of the First Senate of 10 October 2017 - 1 BvR 2019/16, ECLI:DE:BVerfG:2017:rs20171010.1bvr201916.
Constitutional Court of Belgium, GwH 19 June 2019, 99/2019.
Supreme Court of India, National Legal Services Authority v. Union of India & Ors., AIR 2014 SC 1863.
High Court of Australia, NSW Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages v Norrie  HCA 11 250 CLR 490.
Supreme Court of Nepal, Sunil Babu Pant and Others v. Nepal Government and Others  Supreme Court of Nepal, NJA Law Journal (2008) 262.
Austria. Bundesgesetzes über die Regelung des Personenstandswesens (Civil Status Act) 2013. BGBl. I Nr. 16/2013.
Austria (Ministry of Interior). Verwaltungsangelegenheiten – Sonstige; Personenstandswesen Erkenntnis des VfGH vom 15. Juni 2018, G 77/2017-9, zu § 2 Abs.2 Z 3 PStG 2013 -Umsetzung zu Varianten der Geschlechtsentwicklung (“3. Geschlecht”). BMI-VA1300/0528-III/4/b/2018.
Belgium. Wet tot hervorming van regelingen inzake transgenders wat de vermelding van een aanpassing van de registratie van het geslacht in de akten van de burgerlijke stand en de gevolgen hiervan betreft (Gender Recognition Act) 2017. BS 10/07/2017.
Germany. Gesetz zur Änderung der in das Geburtenregister einzutragenden Angaben (Act Amending the Information to be Entered in the Birth Register) 2018. BGBl I 2635.
Malta. Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act 2015.
Denmark. Folketinget, (2014). Forslag til Lov om ændring af lov om Det Centrale Personregister (Proposal for an Act amending the Act on the Central Personal Register), L. 182. Folketingstidende A.
Germany. Personenstandsrechts-Änderungsgesetz (Act to Amend Civil Status Law) 2013. BGBl I 1122.
Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Resolution 2048 (2015) Discrimination against transgender people in Europe.
Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Resolution 2191 (2017) Promoting the human rights of and eliminating discrimination against intersex people.
IACtHR 24 November 2017, Advisory Opinion OC-24/17, Gender Identity, and equality and non-discrimination of same-sex couples.
American Psychiatric Association, (2018). Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men [Last accessed May 13, 2019]. Available from: https://www.apa.org/about/policy/boys-men-practice-guidelines.pdf.
Arai, Y., (2001). The Margin of Appreciation Doctrine and the Principle of Proportionality in the Jurisprudence of the ECHR, Antwerpen: Intersentia.
Baisley, E., (2016). Reaching the Tipping Point?: Emerging International Human Rights Norms Pertaining to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Human Rights Quarterly, 38, 134-163.
Butler, J., (1997). Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. In K. Conboy, N. Medina, S. Stanbury (eds.), Writing on the Body: Female Embodiment and Feminist Theory, New York: Columbia University Press, 401-419.
Butler, J., (2007). Gender Trouble – Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.
Canada. Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, (2017). News Release: Minister Hussen announces major step forward in gender equality by making changes to passports and immigration documents. [Last accessed May 13, 2019]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/news/2017/08/minister_hussen_announcesmajorstepforwardingenderequalitybymakin.html
Chase, A.T., (2016). Human rights contestations: sexual orientation and gender identity, The International Journal of Human Rights. 20(6), 703-723.
Cooper, D., Renz, F., (2016). If the state Decertified Gender, What Might Happen to its Meaning and Value?. Journal of Law and Society. 43(4), 483-505.
Currie, D.H., (1992). Feminist Encounters with Postmodernism: Exploring the Impasse of Debates on Patriarchy and Law. Canadian Journal of Women and Law. 5, 63-86.
Fausto-Sterling, A., (2000). The Five Sexes – Revisited. Sciences. 40(4), 18-24.
Fordham, M., de la Mare, T., (2001). Identifying the Principles of Proportionality. In J. Jowell, J. Cooper (eds), Understanding Human Rights Principles, Antwerpen: Intersentia, 27-90.
Gerards, J., Brems, E., (2017). Procedural Review in European Fundamental Rights Cases: Introduction. In J. Gerards, E. Brems (eds), Procedural Review in European Fundamental Rights Cases, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-16.
Gonzalez-Salzberg, D., (2014). The Accepted Transsexual and the Absent Transgender: A Queer Reading of the Regulation of Sex/Gender by the European Court of Human Rights. American University International Law Review, 29, 797-829.
Gössl, S., (2016). From a question of fact to question of law to question of private international law: the question whether a person is male, female, or …?. Journal of Private International Law, 12, 261-280.
Greenberg, J.A., (1999). Defining Male and Female: Intersexuality and the Collision Between Law and Biology. Arizona Law Review. 44, 265-327.
Guzman, A.T.; Meyer, T.L., (2010). International Soft Law. Journal of Legal Analysis. 2(1), 171-225.
Halley, J., (2006). Split Decisions: How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Koffeman, N., (2015). Morally Sensitive Issues and Cross-Border Movement in the EU. Cambridge: Intersentia.
Kollman, K., (2009). European institutions, transnational networks and national same-sex unions policy: when soft law hits harder. Contemporary Politics. 15(1), 37-53.
Kristeva, J., (1981). Woman Can Never Be Defined. Trans. M.A. August. In E. Marks, I. de Courtivron (eds.), New French Feminisms, New York: Schocken.
Lau, H., (2020). Gender Recognition as a Human Right. In A. von Arnauld, K. von der Decken, M. Susi (eds.), The Cambridge Handbook on New Human Rights: Recognition, Novelty, Rhetoric, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Herault, L. et al. (2018). Etat civil de demain et Transidentité. Rapport final. [Last accessed on 16 July 2019]. Available from: http://www.gip-recherche-justice.fr/publication/etat-civil-de-demain-et-transidentite/.
Luterán, M., (2014). The Lost Meaning of Proportionality. In G. Huscroft, B.W. Miller, G. Webber (eds), Proportionality and the Rule of Law: Rights, Justification, Reasoning, New York: Cambridge University Press, 21-42.
McNeilly, K., (2014). Gendered Violence and International Human Rights: Thinking Non- discrimination Beyond the Sex Binary. Feminist Legal Studies. 22, 263–283.
Neuman Wipfler, A.J., (2016). Identity Crisis: The Limitations of Expanding Government Recognition of Gender Identity and the Possibility of Genderless Identity Documents. Harvard Journal of Law and Gender, 39, 491-554.
New Zealand. Identity and Passports Office, (last updated 2018). Information about Changing Sex / Gender Identity. [Last accessed on May 13, 2019]. Available from: https://www.passports.govt.nz/what-you-need-to-renew-or-apply-for-a-passport/information/.
O’Brien, W., (2015). Can International Human Rights Law Accomodate Bodily Diversity?. Human Rights Law Review, 15, 1-20.
O’Flaherty, M., (2015). The Yogyakarta Principles at ten. Nordic Journal of Human Rights. 33, 280-298.
Organisation Intersex International Germany, (2018). Geschlechtseintrag „weiteres” ist kontraproduktiv. [Last accessed May 19, 2019]. Available from: https://oiigermany.org/geschlechtseintrag-weiteres-ist-kontraproduktiv/.
Reilly, E., (2006). Radical Tweak – Relocating the Power to Assign Sex. From Enforcer of Differentiation to Facilitator of Inclusiveness: Revising the Response to Intersexuality. Cardozo Journal on Law & Gender, 12, 297-335.
Spade, D. (2011). Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Rrans Politics, and the Limits of Law. Durham: Duke University Press.
Ruocco, B.T. (2016). Our Antitotalitarian Constitution and the Right to Identity. University of Pennsylvania Law Review. 165, 193-226.
Theilen a, J.T., (2020). Pre-existing Rights and Future Articulations. Temporal Rhetoric in The Struggle for Trans Rights. In A. von Arnauld, K. von der Decken, M. Susi (eds.), The Cambridge Handbook on New Human Rights: Recognition, Novelty, Rhetoric, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Theilen b, J.T., (forthcoming). Subversion Subverted: Developments in German Civil Status Law on the Recognition of Intersex and Non-Binary Persons. In E. Brems, P. Cannoot, T. Moonen (eds.), Protecting Trans Rights in the Age of Gender Self-Determination, Cambridge: Intersentia.
Valdes, F., (1995). ‘Notes on “The Conflation”: Foreword’. California Law Journal. 83(1), 12-33.
van den Brink, M., (2016). Mag het een hokje meer zijn? Ontwikkelingen rond sekseregistratie. Ars Aequi, 774-780.
van den Brink, M. (2017). The Legitimate Aim of Harmonising Body and Soul. Changing Legal Gender: Family Life and Human Rights. In K. Boele-Woelki, A. Fuchs (eds.), Same-sex Relationships and Beyond. Gender Matters in the EU, Cambridge: Intersentia.
van den Brink, M., Tigchelaar, J., (2014). M/V en verder: Sekseregistratie door de overheid en de juridische positie van transgenders [Last accessed July 5, 2019]. Available from: https://www.wodc.nl/binaries/2393-volledige-tekst_tcm28-73312.pdf
van der Meer, T.A.M., (2003). Gay bashing - a rite of passage?. Culture, Health and Sexuality. 5, 253-266.
Visser, C, Picarra, E, (2012). Victor, Victoria or V? A Constitutional Perspective on Transsexuality and Transgenderism. South African Journal of Human Rights. 28(3), 506-531.
Weiss, S, (2001). The Gender Caste System: Identity, Privacy, and Heteronormativity. Law & Sexuality: A Review of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Legal Issues. 10, 123-186.
Wilchins, R, (1997). Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender. Riverdale (NY): Riverdale Avenue Books.
Wittig, M, (1992). The Straight Mind and Other Essays. Boston: Beacon Press.
X, (1995). Patriarchy is Such a Drag: The Strategic Possibilities of a Postmodern Account of Gender. Harvard Law Review. 108, 1973-2008.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).