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"Radical Form Of Mansplaining": Victoria's Ugly Debate On Transgender Rights

The Victorian government is trying to make it easier for transgender people to change the sex on their birth certificate – but the opposition isn't keen.

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A politican has said transgender women are just "engaging in a radical form of mansplaining" during a fiery debate in the Victorian state parliament over birth certificate changes for transgender people.

In most Australian states, transgender people must undergo sex reassignment surgery before changing the sex on their birth certificate.

A bill being put forward by the current Labor government in Victoria would see the surgery requirement removed in line with federal guidelines on sex and gender.

It will also get rid of the "forced divorce" requirement, which means transgender people who are married cannot change the sex on their birth certificate unless they divorce their partner.

The bill passed through Victoria's lower house last week, but not without a fight.

Jibes flew freely across the parliament as a procession of Liberal MPs stood to denounce the bill. Its passage in the upper house, where Labor has not got a majority, looks uncertain.

"The attack on trans, gender diverse and intersex people from the opposition is disappointing and it will make it much more challenging to get this legislation through the upper house," minister for equality Martin Foley told BuzzFeed News.

"This Bill is about giving people the respect they deserve and we call on all members of the Legislative Council to give it their support."

Liberal MP Louise Staley told the parliament during the debate, held over September 13 and 15, that the bill was "post-modernist mumbo jumbo", and referenced anti-transgender radical feminists to argue against the proposed changes.

"There is a significant cohort of radical lesbian feminists troubled by men identifying as women," she said.

"My objection to pre-operative transgender people being able to change their birth certificates is feminist and practical."

Staley said she believes transgender women, who she referred to as men, "cannot by definition actually ever experience" what it is like to be a woman.

"I cannot help feel that such men are engaging in a radical form of mansplaining, telling women what really makes one a woman," she said.

The next speaker, Labor's Sharon Knight, apologised to onlookers for Staley's diatribe.

"To those in the gallery, I cannot even imagine what that was like to sit through. I really apologise," she said.

The shadow attorney general, John Pesutto, criticised the government for not providing enough detail on the bill earlier, though acknowledged the reform had been included in Labor's platform prior to winning the election.

Liberal MP Robert Clark went further, accusing the Andrews government of deceit.

"Radical ideas like this should not be imposed on the community by stealth," he said.

However, Foley rebutted the claims, saying the government had not only taken the position to an election it had won, but had consulted "widely and extensively".

BuzzFeed News understands the bill was developed in consultation with trans, intersex and gender diverse people, as well as various groups and agencies including Victoria Police, Corrections Victoria, the Australian Medical Association, psychologists, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and faith-based groups.

Valerie, 18, a transgender woman from the Gold Coast, is currently studying in Melbourne.

She told BuzzFeed News that living in the Victorian capital is certainly easier than her hometown, but documentation reading "female" would come as an added relief.

"I'm starting to not exactly look like a guy, because I'm not one," she told BuzzFeed News.

"I try to avoid [using my birth certificate]. I use my passport where possible. But there are still situations where you need a birth certificate. It makes it awkward and uncomfortable."

Although Valerie was born in NSW, the passage of the government's bill would mean she can get a document with her nominated sex without having to have surgery.

The rules around gender transition and documentation are patchy around Australia, with ACT having no surgery requirement and South Australia also moving to eliminate its requirement.

In Western Australia, a 2011 High Court decision ruled that hormone therapy and psychological treatment is sufficient for transition, while in all other states, surgery is a requirement.

Valerie advised the politicians opposing the bill to "get outside" and meet with the transgender community.

"People never bother to actually talk to us," she said.

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at

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