THE Australian passport office has issued just 110 gender ‘X’ passports since they became available in 2002 – an average of seven a year.
In 2017-18 more than two million Australian passports were issued and the government estimated that about 57 per cent of the population, just over 14 million people, had one.
The 2016 Census counted gender diversity for the first time, and while 1260 people listed themselves as “other” the Australian Bureau of Statistics says that’s likely to be a very low figure for a bunch of reasons.
In March last year Fremantle resident sami became one of the few Aussies to be issued with a gender x passport, which has X (unspecified) instead of M or F in the gender section.
Sami says non-binary people are reluctant to get one in case they are refused entry to certain countries or get hassled at passport control.
“I am aware of someone with an X passport who was detained for some hours in Singapore,” sami said.
“I am unsure whether they were deported back to Australia or let through; certainly they were subject to discrimination.
“Ironically this is more of an issue for gender-unspecified folx, rather than female-to-male or male-to-female folx, since it’s the third gender that is at issue.”
Misty Farquhar, vice chair of TransFolk WA, has also heard of people with gender x passports experiencing problems when crossing international borders.
Sami says a lack of support from Australian consulates also deters people taking up the gender-neutral passports, with people who’ve been robbed seemingly getting ahead of them in the queue.
Shortly after receiving a passport, sami received a letter from Australia’s foreign affairs department saying there was little they can do to help overseas Aussies with gender x passports.
The international civil aviation organisation does permit ‘X’ sex passports, but ultimately it’s up to individual countries to decide who gets in.
Sami, a 50-something dual citizen, uses a British passport with gender ‘M’ when visiting the UK and other countries that don’t recognise a third gender on passports.
“Ironically the UK doesn’t recognise a third gender on passports like Canada and Australia do, but they all have the same head of state.”
In August last year, Canada became the first country in the Americas to introduce a gender x option on passports, following the lead of Australia, Denmark, Germany, Malta, New Zealand and Pakistan.
India, Ireland and Nepal are among the countries that provide various third-options.
From 2003-11 gender x passports were only issued to Australians with a birth certificate listing their sex as indeterminate, but in 2011 the government relaxed the guidelines and started accepting a supporting letter from a doctor or psychologist as proof of indeterminate gender.
Farquhar says WA residents might also be reluctant to apply for a gender x passport because it’s inconsistent with their birth certificate.
“The only options for birth certificates in WA at the moment are ‘male’ or ‘female’, so there is an issue of a person’s legal documentation not being consistent and possibly causing issues for them down the track,” Farquhar says.
“We do hope to see birth certificate reform in WA in the very near future, which will give non-binary folk another option to affirm their gender.”
Recently the WA Law Reform Commission recommended leaving gender off birth certificates and adding a third official option of non-binary. It is accepting public submissions on the proposal until October 19.
The commission’s proposal is similar to South Australian 2016 legislation that introduced the birth certificate options of ‘non-binary’ and ‘indeterminate/intersex/unspecified’.
The same year the Australian Human Rights Commission stated that individuals should have the right to specify their own gender and not require supporting documentation from the medical profession.
Governments around the world including New Zealand, Germany, Canada and the UK are also currently considering law reforms on how they recognise gender.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK