Gender bending: let me count the ways
In the beginning there was male and female. Soon there was
homosexuality. Later there were lesbians, and much later gays, bisexuals,
transgenders and queers. But anyone who thinks LGBTQ is the full
count of contemporary sexualities is sadly out of date. For example, the
transgendered have for some time been divided into those who are awaiting
treatment, those have had hormone treatment, those who have had hormones and
surgery, and those who have had hormones and surgery but are not happy and want
it all reversed.
Enter the Australian Human Rights Commission with some
exciting new developments. In an extraordinary document entitled Protection
from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex and/or gender
identity, the AHRC has come up with a further list of “genders” which they
require us to recognize, and on whose behalf they want our federal government
to pass anti-discrimination legislation. To date (by the time you read this,
the AHRC's family of sexualities may have increased and multiplied) these are:
transgender, trans, transsexual, intersex, androgynous, agender, cross dresser,
drag king, drag queen, genderfluid, genderqueer, intergender, neutrois,
pansexual, pan-gendered, third gender, third sex, sistergirl and brotherboy.
(No, I don't know what “neutrois” means).
So if we add these genders to the LGBTQ list we get 23 in
all, not to mention the divisions within the transgendered group. For PR
purposes, however, the “gendered" community now identifies itself as
LGBTQI (the "I" stands for "intersex".) Rather than
abbreviating I think they should add all the other letters of the alphabet, then
we would all feel protected and not discriminated against. Being Indian by
birth and having married an Australian of Anglo-Celtic origin, I am all for
diversity, but I am not going to commit to "neutrois" until someone
tells me what it means.
Once the government passes proposed legislation, presumably
businesses will be required to provide designated toilets for each gender, and
Equal Opportunity Gender Identity (EOGI) units will ensure compliance with
In October last year the Australian Human Rights Commission
held public consultations in Sydney and Melbourne during which interested
citizens were given the opportunity to express their views on the gender
discussion paper. In her introductory remarks at the consultation in Melbourne which
I attended, the Hon. Catherine Branson QC, chairman of the AHRC, said that the
commission was relying for its approach to gender discrimination on the
Yogyakarta Principles. (No, Yogyakarta is not another gender identity, it is a city
in Indonesia where a group of human rights activists met.) Branson said that
while the Yogyakarta Principles were not in themselves binding, they are an
"interpretation of international binding agreements to which Australia is
I pointed out that not only had the Yogyakarta Principles
not been accepted by the UN, they had been rejected every time "sexual
orientation" was debated at the Commission on the Status of Women meetings
I attended in New York. Possibly Branson had not expected that anyone at the
consultation would have actually attended UN meetings in New York -- she seemed
a trifle deflated after my comment -- but she will cheer up with the news from
Canada where Bill C-389 protecting Gender Identity and Gender Expression in the
Canadian Human Rights Act is being fast-tracked through the House of Commons.
There was the usual debate about the meaning of “gender” at
this year's Commission on the Status of Women meeting in New York in March,
from which I have just returned. The term is used liberally in every CSW
document, past and present, but during the latest CSW session the Holy See
(Vatican) -- which often speaks for other nations (mainly from Asia, Africa,
and the Caribbean) in presenting a more traditional view of morals -- insisted
it be defined. As a result, many paragraphs in the "Agreed
Conclusions" document were modified either by adding "men and
women" or ensuring that the context in which the term "gender"
was used in the paragraph would not easily lend itself to be understood as
anything other than male and female.
The fact is that in international law the only binding
definition of gender is contained in the Rome Statute of the International
Criminal Court, which states: "…the term 'gender' refers to the two sexes,
male and female, within the context of society. The term 'gender' does not
indicate any meaning different from the aforementioned definition.”
During negotiations, the European Union and its supporters
simultaneously claimed that gender is a fluid social construct but also tried
to reassure old-fashioned countries that “we know what the definition is.” One
delegate rebuffed the EU explanation retorting, “If it’s really not a problem,
then why can’t we plainly state what it means [i.e. male and female]?"
Debates about gender are perennial at the UN even though the
women of the world have more urgent needs -- such as a clean water supply, good
roads, electricity, and maternal health care. This year's debate gave me a
feeling of deja vu as I recalled an incident at a CSW meeting in New York some
years ago. The delegate from Nicaragua refused to accept any definition of
"gender" other than male and female. The Swedish government
threatened Nicaragua with the withdrawal of aid unless Nicaragua sent home its
recalcitrant delegate. Nicaragua is a poor country, dependent on foreign aid,
so the hapless delegate was ordered home and a new delegate was sent to New
York. When the debate on "gender" resumed, the new Nicaraguan
delegate innocently said: "But in my country, gender is male and
female.....", so Sweden was back to square one. This is but one example of
the way wealthy countries bully third world nations into accepting their sexual
When the Australian Labour Party won the federal government
benches in 2007, it established policies for monitoring prices (and the
movement of whales and Japanese whaling ships in the southern ocean). The
government did not have much success with these policies; prices rise in
response to market forces regardless of who is watching. But, not learning from
the futility of Fuel Watch, Grocery Watch and Whale Watch, Julia Gillard's
government is now proposing a "Gender Watch". Medium and large
businesses will be subject to spot
checks on the numbers of women they employ with penalties for
non-compliance. Not to be outdone, Joe Hockey, Opposition Treasury spokesman,
kicked an own goal by announcing that if corporates did not increase the number
of women board members, quotas may have to be imposed. He stated that Australia
ranked second-last among OECD countries on the numbers of females in senior
executive positions. (This may be why Australia has survived the global
financial crisis much better than any of the other OECD countries… Okay, I'm
However, quotas and separate toilets are not enough for true
equality. Australian activist, Katrina Fox, who in 2008 co-edited a book Trans
People in Love, wrote an emotive piece for the Australian Broadcasting
Commission recently entitled Marriage needs redefining.
In it she clarifies how all the gender boundaries surrounding marriage must be
removed. “A more inclusive option,” she begins, “is to allow individuals to get
married whatever their sex or gender, including those who identify as having no
sex or gender or whose sex may be indeterminate.”
"Indeterminate"? Can't everybody fit into one of
the 23 genders the AHRC has listed so far? But, happily, Fox does have some
boundaries. Further into the article she writes: "I'm not suggesting we go
as far to sanction people marrying inanimate objects, like the German woman who
married the Berlin Wall and was utterly devastated when her ‘husband’ was
destroyed in 1989...."
I never realized that someone actually loved the Berlin Wall
and that when President Reagan said "Tear down that Wall, Mr. Gorbachev,"
he was trying to wreck a marriage.
Babette Francis is the National and Overseas Co-ordinator of
Endeavour Forum Inc., a pro-life, pro-family NGO which has special consultative
status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN.
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