The BC government removes barriers to changing sex on ID — it’s time to stop conflating sex and gender

A protest sign held at a trans activist rally in Canada

Last week, the British Columbia government announced they were “improving the gender designation process” in the province. Should this be unclear to anyone, what this actually means is that the NDP, BC’s governing (left wing) party, revised the process for changing one’s sex on all identification cards, including an individual’s driver’s license and birth certificate. The province had already removed the surgery requirement, and on January 10th, removed the doctor’s note requirement, allowing any individual to alter their legal sex through self-declaration. Now, a man can become legally female in BC simply by filling out an application form online.

Grace Lore, Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity, explained:

“Moving to a non-medical model of gender identification will reduce a real barrier that two- spirit, transgender, non-binary and other gender-diverse people in the province face when trying to change their identification documents. Each individual knows their own gender best, and today, I am proud that our government is recognizing this by taking landmark action.”

I have railed on, mostly to deaf ears, about the problems stemming from conflating sex and gender, which seem abundantly clear in this context, as it has allowed the government to pretend as though they are simply allowing individuals to express themselves freely, when in fact what they are doing is allowing individuals to alter material reality in ways that harm women and girls, in particular.

Despite my years of explaining, in various talks and articles (as well as to the government directly, when they were working to pass Bill C-16, Canada’s gender identity legislation, which is the root of this most recent legislative change), what the difference is between sex and gender and why that matters in these discussions, the conflation has been almost universally adopted. Even those who identify as “gender critical,” and have publicly taken on the fight against gender identity dogma, continue to use the term “gender” when in fact they mean “sex.” I have never been able to figure out if they do this because they truly don’t understand the difference between sex and gender, or they simply don’t care. I suspect, though, it has something to do with no one ever listening to feminists.

For the record, I don’t think people should always listen to feminists. Feminists say plenty of stupid, annoying, and just plain wrong things. But when it comes to the issue of gender identity and the trans movement, feminists were the ones desperately trying to warn of what was to come; to share with the world the persecution, silencing, and threats they were being subjected to, on account of their criticisms of gender identity ideology; and to explain why sex matters and why one’s feelings about gender stereotypes did not actually change a person’s sex. Few listened, and here we are — so far gone we may not be able to go back, and with swaths of men coming out of the woodwork, now that it is easier to do so, pretending as though they are the first to have said out loud, “Men aren’t women” and asking, “Where are all the feminists?!”

It’s very nice, at long last, to have so many more people speaking out against trans activism, but at this point, it is a bit too late. A few years ago, when this kind of legislation was first presented by the government, there was an opportunity to push back, but few did, either out of fear of repercussions or due to ignorance. Many simply didn’t think this kind of legislation mattered. Others did not want to be punished in the way they saw women like myself, Julie Bindel, Janice Raymond, Lierre Keith, Sheila Jeffreys, and so many others had been. Had people listened to what feminists were warning of back then, perhaps we could have avoided this mess, but coulda woulda shoulda, I suppose.

Here we are, in the present, so we can only do what is possible now. One thing that is possible is to fight back against the various bills being pushed through, criminalizing therapists who don’t immediately “affirm” a child’s proclaimed “gender identity,” putting them on a path to irreversible surgeries and hormone treatments, or criminalizing online speech that challenges government orthodoxy. We can fight the government on their decision to allow males to be transferred to female prisons, though this becomes next to impossible when they have determined any male may proclaim themselves legally female at any given moment.

One thing that would be helpful, to be sure, is to stop allowing “gender” to be conflated with sex, because “gender” is, in fact, a thing anyone can identify in and out of. I can say “I have masculine qualities,” but I cannot say “I have male qualities.” I can dress in masculine clothing, but cannot put on a male body. A man can be feminine, but he cannot literally be a woman. This does not seem very complicated to me, yet those who have recently positioned themselves as brave leaders in the fight against gender identity ideology refuse to alter their approach accordingly.

It seems to me that if we had all been very clear about the fact that gender is not sex, and that one can feel all kinds of ways about gender, but those feelings do not alter one’s biological sex, much of this could have been avoided. Instead, the trans activist movement, the media, and the government has used this conflation to their advantage, pretending that they are simply advocating for people to identify as masculine or feminine or neither, thereby allowing individuals to free themselves from restrictive, sexist stereotypes, when this is not at all what is going on. What has happened, instead, is that progressive society, institutions, and legislators have determined that regressive, sexist stereotypes do alter material reality, making a penis female and a period something any person can have, regardless of their lack of uterus, ovaries, and vagina.

Now, saying something like, “gender-diverse individuals will have easier access to ID documents that match their lived identities, which, for many, will have a profound impact” (as Lorraine Grieves, provincial program director of Trans Care BC, did) can be treated as an important step in improving human rights law, when in fact it is not in any way necessary for individuals to express their personal feelings about gender on their ID. This would be like me demanding my favorite colour be listed on my driver’s license or “Dog Person” be added to my birth certificate. No one needs to know what kind of clothes you like, what your emotional state is, or what kind of mental health issues you struggle with in order to identify you as the person you say you are. And, in fact, if your ID says you are female when you are male, your ID is failing to serve its purpose as if now identifies you as someone you are not.

Now, it can be claimed that “medical consent” from a doctor or psychologist should not be required for an individual to identify out of gender stereotypes, because of course it shouldn’t. Arguably, each individual does “know their own gender best,” as Lore says, as each individual knows their own likes, dislikes, and preference for dresses over pants best. The thing is that none of this matters in a legal context, nor should it matter when deciding whether or not a man should be granted access to women’s shelters or girls’ change rooms.

Language does matter. Words have meaning. Males and females are real things. Sex and gender are not the same thing. Two plus two does not equal five and men are not women.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.