BY ANDREA HOUSTON – In its eagerness to be inflammatory and salacious in its coverage of the recent Human Rights Tribunal decision concerning changes to legal sex designation, the National Post has written a completely inaccurate story.
First the eyebrow-raising headline, "Human rights tribunal to would-be women: You can take your penis with you," which is simply disrespectful and a silly choice of words.
But then reporter Tristin Hopper wrote this lead: “A man doesn’t need to have his penis removed to legally become a woman, according to a new order from the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal."
Admit it, National Post, you just wanted to use the phrase “would-be-women,” which is not accurate, and stick the word “penis” in your lead.
Did you even read the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal decision? It’s right there is the first paragraph of the introduction: “Since 1978 the Vital Statistics Act has provided that in order for a person to obtain a birth certificate with a sex designation other than the one assigned to him or her at birth, he or she must undergo ‘transsexual surgery’ and provide the respondent with medical certificates from two doctors certifying that ‘transsexual surgery’ was performed."
(This week the tribunal struck down the rule that required any transsexual surgery to change the sex category on birth certificates. The tribunal found that the surgical requirement for changing the sex designation on a birth certificate — as set out in the Vital Statistics Act — discriminates against trans people.)
The Post story leads readers to believe that the tribunal decision is strictly about genitalia and that “lopping off the penis” is the only transsexual surgery, which is not the case. “Under current law, even if a man transitioning to a woman had undergone hormone therapy, grown a pair of breasts and developed a higher-pitched voice,” the Post states, “they are barred from changing their sex without written proof of a vagina."
Lawyer N Nicole Nussbaum tells me otherwise; she explains that “transsexual surgery,” as stated in the current policy, doesn’t specify any particular surgical procedure. That’s because there are several different transsexual surgeries, depending if you are MTF or FTM.
"It’s actually very rare for people to have the complete removal of the male genitalia with no creation of vaginoplasty,” Nussbaum says. “Transsexual surgery can be a number of different surgeries. The woman in the tribunal decision had an orchiectomy (the removal of the testicles), which is not SRS."
Other types of transsexual surgery could indeed include things such as male chest-contouring surgery, the removal of the Adam’s apple, breast augmentation and the surgical alteration of the voice, she says.
"Men don’t change their sex to become women,” Nussbaum says. “Transsexual people have known their [true gender] for their whole recallable lives. They are essentially correcting the sex designation assigned at birth to reflect the gender in which they live."
The writers and editors at the National Post, or any publication for that matter, may benefit from reading the Trans Pride Canada style guide. Writing respectfully and accurately is just as important as beating the competition to page views.