What it’s like to change the gender on your birth certificate to something nonbinary through the department of births deaths and marriages in Victoria.

The short version:
Well, we got there in the end.

The long version:
I was born in Victoria, and had my original birth certificate on hand, so that was lucky. If you weren’t born in Victoria, this is the form for you, and if you can’t find your birth certificate because you were born ages ago and life is too chaotic for that nonsense, this is the form for you.

I changed both my gender and my name. Doing both at the same time saved me some money; legally changing names and legally changing genders costs $112.20 separately (plus $10 postage, $34.30 for a certificate of verification, ~$8 registered post for returning original birth certificate, and $1 for bribing the pharmacist to certify my identity documents, so really ~$165.50 all up), but the government has a 2-for-1 deal at the moment, so it was one fee to do both together. Changing both at the same time also felt tidy, like a clean new beginning.

The process itself

is pretty straightforward but has a lot of annoying steps.

Here is is the total list of things you need. In a minute we’ll be going through step by step exactly how you use them.
$165
A month or two
A credit report (from here, here or here)
This online form
Certified copies of identity documents (either a driver’s licence and a passport, or a bunch of these)
A note from a friend
A statutory declaration, witnessed by a declared statue

First step: Get a credit check. Go to illion, experian, or equifax, and fill in your details. It’s free, but a hassle. It takes about a week for them to reply. If you’ve never had a loan, you won’t have a credit history, but that’s fine, it’s totally fine, the department will accept that. Take a screenshot of the email they send you.

Second step: Apply to change your gender through the BDM website. Here’s the form, here’s the explainer, and here’s some guidelines. This is when you’ll pay the $112.20. You’ll get an automated email with a reference number pretty soon afterwards. If you changed your name, they will address this email to your deadname! Wow!

Third step: Endless forms. You’ll need a driver’s licence and a passport, and if you don’t have those, that’s a bit of a headache, because you’ll need to collect a whole bunch of random stuff with your name on it instead. Once you get these identity documents copied and certified, tell your buddy to fill out this form saying that you’re a very nice person who deserves a nice gender. Fill out this statutory declaration and get someone intimidating to sign it.

Now there’s two ways you can do the next part. Method one: post your original birth certificate (or the form saying you couldn’t find it), your certified identity documents, the letter from your buddy, and your statutory declaration to:

Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria
GPO Box 4332
MELBOURNE VIC 3001

You’ll probably want to send it registered post (~$8) so you know it doesn’t get lost. Write your reference number on the outside of the envelope.

Method two: post your original birth certificate, but email all the rest of your documents to bdmcos@justice.vic.gov.au. Put your reference number in the subject line.

Fourth step: Email bdmcos@justice.vic.gov.au with your order number and ask for a Letter of Verification. This is an official government PDF that states that you’ve legally changed your gender (and/or name). It’s really useful to link your old and new identities, so get one.

Fifth step: Wait around for bloody ages. Maybe a month? Maybe two months? Perhaps three! Who knows!

Other adventures at the department of births death and marriages

My gender is “other”. The department didn’t know how to feel about this. About a month after I submitted all the forms I got a weirdly worded email telling me it wasn’t approved. I’ll just post the whole conversation (minus personal details) here. Please note that I was nervous and trying to be all professional and formal but also accommodating and nice so I come across as a complete wanker!

Someone from BDM: “Please confirm your new sex descriptor as ‘other’ is not on approved list”

Me: “I had a quick look at the BDM website and found this section on sex descriptors: https://www.bdm.vic.gov.au/changes-and-corrections/change-a-record-of-sex/sex-descriptors. It doesn’t seem to have a list of approved sex descriptors, but it does state that “We will work with you to ensure the sex descriptor is personally meaningful and can be registered.” In doing the application I followed the guidelines of the website and chose something I thought was appropriate. If there are other options that are more appropriate I will change my sex descriptor to one of those.”

A different person, a week later: “You have selected your new sex descriptor to be ‘Other’. Are you able to advise the reason why you are wanting to use ‘Other’? If you don’t want to specify your gender, you can use ‘Not Specified’.” 

Me: There’s a few reasons why the ‘other’ descriptor is meaningful to me. Firstly, ‘other’ is a common option on administrative forms alongside male and female. Here’s an example from the Equifax credit report application page:

In my academic work, I use the idea of the ‘other’ to talk about how people understand themselves and relate to those around them. In a philosophical sense, having an idea of an ‘other’ is essential to forming an idea of ‘yourself’, which I think is quite nice. Here’s a quick link to an overview of the concept: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Other_(philosophy). A lot of what this article talks about is negative, but ‘other’ can also be seen in a neutral or positive sense of complementary difference. ‘Not Specified’ suggests to me that a person has a gender (that could be any gender), but doesn’t want to say it. It’s sort of the difference between saying “I am x” and “I am not y”, if you see what I mean. But I’m happy to go with ‘Not Specified’ if it’s a more common or easier turn of phrase for you to input.”

Them, a week later: “We have received an approval to complete your application with a sex descriptor ‘Other’. The application has now been finalised and a birth certificate will be posted to you shortly.”

So it was a bit of a hassle, but we got there. It took about a month for my new birth certificate to arrive (and I’ve already misplaced it :/). Two months later, when discussing what happened to my Letter of Verification (got lost in the mail apparently), I asked them what other non binary sex descriptors people used, and they said this:

“In relation to your query about other words people use for their non-binary gender identities, examples of non-binary descriptors that people have nominated include: Gender non-conforming, Genderqueer, Gender fluid, Non-binary man and Non-binary Female.

The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages does not have a definitive list of non-binary descriptors. The Registrar considers a number of factors when deciding to register a sex descriptor including perceptions of the sex descriptor in the trans and gender-diverse community (noting that community perceptions change over time). More information about how the Registrar decides to register a particular sex descriptor can be found on our website: https://www.bdm.vic.gov.au/changes-and-corrections/change-a-record-of-sex/sex-descriptors “

So there you go. If you change your sex to something wacky, they’re going to ask you to justify it, which I think is a marvellous and empowering practice which cis people should not be excluded from.

Other

I think I didn’t articulate myself when I was trying to justify ‘other’ as a gender, but I’m pretty inarticulate about gender (and everything else) all the time. Let’s give it another go though.

A lot of people hate ‘other’ as a gender category on forms. I think because the cis get the choice between two specifics but nonbinary people only get one generality. Like there’s an impression that genders that aren’t male or female just all get lumped in together because they’re not as important, or too confusing or too niche.

But I find ‘other’ to be a really useful and fitting word for my experience of being in the world, especially in terms of gender. It feels like the right word to use. I do feel othered often. I do feel like I’m outside or secondary.

When my favourite philosopher Val Plumwood talks about otherness, it’s not really as a negative thing. It’s the result of hierarchical dualism; defining bunches of people as opposite to each other and saying that one bunch is better than the other bunch (also the definition of ‘better’ is rigged, also the definition of groups is rigged, and also the ‘worse’ bunches of people are seen to be all alike). Things that are other aren’t bad, but the categorisation of people as other has been pretty bad for the othered people. Her solution isn’t to destroy otherness, but to take the hierarchy out of it, to acknowledge that differences exist but it doesn’t mean that anyone’s better or worse than anyone else, which I think is rad. It’s not even about reclaiming a slur, it’s about going ‘yeah I guess I am an other to you, and it’s not a bad thing to be, in fact you need me in order to make sense of your own existence”.

And yeah, it’s easy to fill in forms, because other as a gender is everywhere, and I can go ‘yeah that’s me!’ and it feels like faceless corporations are acknowledging me accidentally which is delightful.

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