'You are constantly told you are wrong about who you are and what you feel’

'You are constantly told you are wrong about who you are and what you feel’

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Our client Rowen shares their experience of how the Equality Law Program helped them advocate to have the correct gender marker used on official government records. 

I am a non-binary trans person and I use X as my gender marker.   

I officially changed my name from my birth name to Rowen I went to Centrelink to try and change both my name and my gender marker. I was told that I could change my gender to a different binary marker but I couldn’t change it to the X marker until I had photo ID. I went away and got a passport that showed that my gender marker was X and went back to my local Centrelink branch with the passport. I was told, no problem, that my gender could be changed. I was also misgendered by Centrelink staff at my local branch. I came home two hours later and I found out my gender still hadn’t been changed. I called Centrelink and spoke with them for some time and was told that they couldn’t change my gender, that it was not something they had an intention to change and that they could instead put a note on the system. I put in a formal complaint because Centrelink appeared to have no intention to change and update their system. I received a written response that said Centrelink could put a note on the system which wasn’t helpful.  

From what I understood the general policy and recommendations for Australian public service entities is that an X marker should be made available to gender diverse people. I didn’t understand why Centrelink wasn’t intending to comply with this guidance. It felt like Centrelink thought that having an inclusive service wasn’t important. I felt that I wasn’t being treated with respect. Centrelink didn’t seem to understand why I was trying to get this done or make the complaint.  

It is quite important to me that my gender is correctly reflected, not only on a personal level but also because I am part of a bigger community of gender diverse people. If I am being treated like this it means every person I know and care about will be treated in the same way.   

Being misgendered and not being respected makes me feel as if I am being told that the way I see myself is wrong, that the way I feel is wrong and that I am incorrect and don’t exist. Every time it happens it builds up; you are constantly told you are wrong about who you are and what you feel.   

I thought it was quite unfair and so I called the Human Rights Commission. They gave me some advice about my options and recommended getting legal advice which is how I came to call Victoria Legal Aid.  

Victoria Legal Aid ended up helping me a lot more than just with deciding what option to pursue; Victoria Legal Aid wrote a whole lot of letters that went beyond my initial complaint. It was really helpful having that support from Victoria Legal Aid in navigating my complaint and deciding the steps to take. It was only with the help of a lawyer that I got an answer from Centrelink which informed me that they do have plans to change and which apologised for the treatment I experienced. This made me feel that I wasn’t important enough or wasn’t asking the right questions or using the right language on my own.   

There are a lot of things that Centrelink could have done to improve my experience. Centrelink could have updated their systems so I didn’t have to go through this experience, they could have given me a straight answer from the outset about the issues with their systems or told me the truth when I submitted my complaint. Centrelink could also have worked towards not misgendering me when I called the service.    

I submitted a similar complaint to Medicare when they told me they could not change my gender to an X marker. After I made my complaint someone spent two hours on the phone with me and updated me about their systems, their plans to include an X marker and asked me about any changes I thought they should make to be a more inclusive service. I was treated with respect and because of that I felt really happy even though my gender is not correctly recorded. I felt happy because they took me seriously and they do have intentions to change their systems.    

I think people should challenge unfair decisions, particularly in the public sector because it is something designed to help Australians and is paid for through our taxes; it’s not something that should only benefit some people in the country. We live in a country that prides itself on being a democracy; part of that is listening and respecting other people and treating them fairly.   

Respectful treatment is being able to use the gender marker that you choose and being referred to correctly. Everyone is going to make a mistake sometimes, but people should have the knowledge if they make a mistake to learn from it, correct it and not do it again. People should have basic knowledge so that whenever someone who is trans goes to use a service, they don’t have to also serve as an educator. I am going to access services from Centrelink for a particular purpose, I am not going in to teach and educate them, that is not my place. 

More information

Learn about IDAHOBIT.

Read about sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.

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