Man who changed legal gender to get cheaper insurance exposes the unreliability of gender markers

A cisgender — not transgender — man from Alberta recently changed the gender marker on his birth certificate, as CBC Calgary reported this week. He did it to get cheaper automobile insurance — but for trans people, the report raises fears of backlash.

Anti-trans activists have repeatedly banked on a fear of cis men changing their gender markers

These are the redacted birth certificates of an Alberta man who changed his gender for cheaper car insurance, in a case that some trans people fear will lead to a backlash. The circles in red show that the certificate on the left reads 'male' while the newer one on the right reads 'female.' (Submitted)

A cisgender — not transgender — man from Alberta recently changed the gender marker on his birth certificate, as CBC Calgary reported this week. The man decided to change the gender noted on his ID to reduce the cost of his automobile insurance — a move that saved him more than $1,100.

To trans people, the report has brought to the surface fears of backlash. In recent years, anti-trans activists have repeatedly banked on a fear of cis men changing their gender markers to access affirmative action as well as women's spaces, arguing against loosening change of gender marker legislation.

In the United Kingdom, flames of fear were fanned when a cis man was suspended from the Labour Party for falsely claiming to be a woman in order to make it onto an all-women's short list.

In the United States and Canada, anti-trans groups have opposed trans women's access to women's bathrooms by playing up the fear that it would allegedly allow cis male predators easy access to those spaces. Although trans advocates and allies have pointed out that gendered bathrooms do little to prevent sexual violence and that better-built degendered bathrooms would be preferable, opponents of trans rights continue to bank on fear to advance their agenda.

Unlike the ex-member of the Labour Party, the man from Alberta — known only by the pseudonym "David" — did not seek to undermine trans rights. CBC quotes him saying that he "didn't do it to point out how easy it is to change genders," nor to "criticize or ridicule transgender or LGBT rights." Instead, he sought to take a stance against the injustice of gender-differentiated insurance premiums.

Fraud and possibly perjury — this was an act of civil disobedience. Perhaps a naive one, as he will likely face some of the denials of service and many barriers that trans people face when their gender marker doesn't match their affirmed gender identity.

That men pay a higher premium than women for car insurance might be a small cost to a group that on average makes more money, but it also legitimates differential treatment motivated by economics rather than equality, something which is bound to harm women on the long-run. Economic motivations are a driving reason for the lower pay of women's athletes and the absence of a women's equivalent to the Tour de France.

The story also highlights something that trans communities have been claiming for a long time — that government-sponsored gender markers should not be relied upon when making gender categorizations. Those categorizations are unhelpful because they fail to track the people's gender identity and material conditions. Insofar as the right to gender self-identification is already recognized by Canadian jurisprudence, gender markers doubly serve as a barrier to the full inclusion of trans people and as an additional risk of mischief — as "David's" story illustrates.

Unsurprisingly, trans advocates have taken a stance against the very presence of gender markers on government-issued identification. Thus far, however, governments have only granted the right to opt out of having a gender marker and have yet to take step toward the abolition of gender markers.

Abolishing gender markers is a suggestion that brings emotions to the surface in our society, which still places so much weight on gender. Independently of the state of the law, which is clear on the matter, gender markers are often one of the only ways for trans women to access to women's bathrooms when faced with hostile management.

At the consultations with the federal government regarding the use of gender markers last year, I argued that we should move toward an opt-out rather than opt-in structure, but with time I am becoming more and more amenable to the complete abolition of gender markers on government-issued identification.

At the end of the day, we can only hope that this stunt by David will not go down in history as fanning the flames of anti-trans panics but instead as having further exposed the fault lines of governmental categorization of gender.

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Florence Ashley is a transfeminine jurist and bioethicist. Originally from Quebec, they are currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and Joint Centre for Bioethics.