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Friday, June 12, 2015
The Meaning of Official Documents, When Race And Gender Change On The Fly
Today we learned that the head of a Spokane, Washington NAACP chapter had a birth certificate identifying her as white, but she nonetheless identified as African-American.
The legal issue is not what race or gender these people are. It is the meaning and purpose of the government documents issued.
These documents are identification documents. They are issued so that the authorities -- and increasingly, any merchant performing a transaction -- can identify or verify the identity of the person. Yet other documents like birth certificates are meant to convey and report information about a person at birth -- and that means if someone was born male, the certificate should always read male even if the person undergoes gender reassignment surgery years later. Because the person was a male at birth. And because government documents are supposed to report objective facts -- even if unwanted -- instead of someone's fantasy or desire.
This is why driver's licenses report descriptive information on a person's name, date of birth, race, approximate weight, hair and eye color. It is an attempt to make it easier to identify and verify someone presenting the document, on the basis of relatively objective (although obscurable) data.
If present-day identification is the question, then matters as to current gender and race are raised. This is where Caitlyn Jenner (formerly the 1976 Summer Olympics Men's Decathlon Gold Medalist known as Bruce) presents the question of fact as to what gender she currently is. This is entirely separate from the question of what gender she would previously have wanted to be, or what gender "she" in fact was when "he" actually competed in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic Games.
Some people circulated a petition -- quickly rejected -- to remove Jenner's Gold Medal on the grounds of gender fraud. Interestingly, current Olympians undergo rigorous drug and genetic testing to weed out athletes who may be "more male" from the female competitors. (See this 2012 Time piece explaining the practice.)
In short, government documents are intended and must be kept intended for data reporting purposes. Self-esteem or image issues are not grounds for the alteration of objective data.