Felix Desmarais: Parliament’s support for transgender rights a glimmer of hope in dark times


This year, I enrolled in a night class to learn te reo Māori.

The course has been a joy, but a dark spot came when, as part of my enrolment, I was required to provide evidence of my birth certificate.

I began “medically” transitioning in 2017, and the world sees me now as who I am – a man. It’s not obvious to anyone these days that my testosterone is store-bought.

Because the world sees me as who I am, and because of the genuine discrimination transgender people can face, the fear of being outed and placed in danger is a constant threat.

While I have a great life and I’m very happy (especially since I transitioned), that threat is something I have to live with, and it can be truly awful.

It’s why, when my whare wānanga needed my birth certificate, I was anxious. It has the wrong letters next to where it says ‘sex’. It should say male but it doesn’t.

I asked if the whare wānanga could still, please, list me as a male student. No, came the answer.

The details on my enrolment had to match what was on my ID, otherwise it wouldn’t be accepted by NZQA or the Tertiary Education Commission, a staff member told me.

I haven’t changed my sex on my birth certificate because to do so meant going through a Family Court process.

I didn’t want to do that because – and I’m sure anyone can relate to this – I don’t really fancy being questioned and queried over something so innate about who I am.

I’m a man, that’s a fact. I know it like I know I’m right-handed. Someone could force me to write with my left hand, but it would never be right. My handwriting would be illegible and I would be constantly struggling like a rail-thin Wellingtonian pedestrian in a southerly.

It wasn’t fair that I had to go through such an arduous and demeaning process for a simple administrative change that would make me safer and happier.

This is what the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill sought to address and it passed unanimously on Thursday afternoon.

It makes the process for amending the gender marker on people’s birth certificates easier – changing it from a Family Court process to a simple statutory declaration.

I watched Parliament TV as MPs across the political spectrum expressed their support for what National Party MP Ian McKelvie said was a change that means a lot to some people and has no impact on anyone else.

I might be a man, but I was by no means afraid to cry streaming tears of relief as MP after MP affirmed that transgender, takatāpui and non-binary New Zealanders deserve the right to identify themselves. I felt seen and acknowledged as a human being.

McKelvie is correct, and his comments referenced those opposed to the bill. Some argued men would masquerade as women and be a threat to their safety. Such an argument is preposterous and was rightly dismissed.

Not to mention, it is still a crime to make a false declaration. There would be criminal recourse for anyone misusing it.

Others bellowed that sex is binary and rigidly defined and changing genders on official documents (which by the way is already done by statutory declaration for passports and drivers’ licenses) undermines so-called ‘biological reality’.

Scientists disagree. Chromosomes vary, so do sex characteristics (genitals and the like). Sex and gender is not remotely as neat and tidy as some may have it.

The arguments are mired in fear and transphobia, and they’re tiresome.

Some are proffered under the guise of feminism which is particularly galling since such arguments tend to target transgender women, a group which is statistically at most risk of harm in the community.

The fact is, transgender people exist. We are real, we are natural, we contribute and we deserve to be safe. We’re not ‘brave’, we are ordinary people who want to survive and thrive.

The world feels dark and divided right now, but Parliament unanimously supporting transgender rights is a precious, flickering flame that reminds us that sometimes, humans are truly good to one another.

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