SX cover story: Born identity
Norrie made history by becoming the first person in NSW to be recognised as neither male nor female. But, in a surprise twist, the government has reversed its decision. Inside one person’s quest to be free of labels.
It’s mid-morning on a weekday in Sydney’s CBD, the lobby of the building that houses the Australian Human Rights Commission is calm, and Norrie, the person who, until recently, was the first in the New South Wales to be officially recognised as being neither male nor female, is sitting on the plush leather seat. Flanked by a small group of supporters, Norrie is relaxed and composed. But not for long. For in a few moments, Norrie is about to front the media to bring attention to a discrimination claim with the Human Rights Commission against the NSW Attorney-General’s office. The reason? The NSW Government’s back flip which, according the Norrie, was tantamount to being “socially assassinated”.
Norrie, 48, made headlines earlier this month when the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages issued a certificate recognising Norrie as being neither a man nor a woman. The document, a Recognised Details Certificate, indicated ‘not specified’ in the ‘sex’ field, making Norrie the first person in the state to be recognised as being sex/genderless.
Upon being granted the status, Norrie was elated. “I was surprised to get the certificate,” Norrie tells SX. “I was surprised to get the call from the registry office saying, ‘We’re going to give you what you want’.” Shortly afterwards, Norrie began approaching other government agencies to have their records revised.
But that all changed on Tuesday last week when Norrie was notified by the Births, Deaths and Marriages registrar, Greg Curry, that, following legal advice, the document was now deemed invalid. Norrie believes that the decision came as a result of “pressure from the top”.
“At the time, when I was notified, I felt absolutely devastated. I felt like they’ve killed me, like I’ve been socially assassinated. Suddenly, I’ve gone from the world’s first person with a ‘sex: not specified’ status to a fraud or an error they’ve just decided.”
“I don’t know what pressure the registrar is under,” Norrie, who prefers the pronoun zie, adds. “Maybe he’s got kids to feed, maybe he can’t stand up to the people ordering him around – I can’t judge. I just know that what he’s attempting to do is wrong and whoever is trying to make him do it is wrong, and my identity is what I say it is. The world knows who I am now.”
Norrie was born as a male in Scotland in 1961. Growing up in the town of Paisley, Norrie recalls a childhood that was “rough as guts”.
“The kids were murdering each other on the basis of who was Protestant and who was Catholic. There was a lot of violence. I didn’t hang around a lot of the kids at all.”
It was during this early stage that Norrie began identifying as androgynous. “As a child, I didn’t really identify much as a boy or a girl. In my head, I had fantasies. Sometimes, I was Supergirl, other times I was a Superboy. I didn’t stop and think I can’t pretend I’m Supergirl because I’m not a girl, in the same way I couldn’t stop and pretend I’m not Supergirl because I’m not from Krypton. And so, in my head, I was comfortable with characters of various genders and gender roles.” In the late 60s, Norrie’s family moved to Australia.
At university, a sense of freedom allowed Norrie to embrace being androgynous. But things took a sharp turn after university, when Norrie began working in the public sector. Discriminated against for being androgynous, Norrie suffered a nervous breakdown. While doing drag shows at a local gay hotel in Perth provided a welcome distraction, Norrie decided to take the next step. “I thought, maybe I’m happier as a woman. I certainly wasn’t happy being a man.”
In 1985, at the age of 23, Norrie began the road to transition and started to take hormones. Four years later, Norrie had surgery to become a woman. But two years later, Norrie decided to stop taking hormones, in an effort to experience a more natural state of being. “I started reading about feminism and started moving away from gender stereotypes. I liked climbing trees so why on earth should my identity be something I buy in the shops in a bottle? Why shouldn’t I just be who I am? I wanted to find that out without the pills from the shop. I just wanted to be me.”
Today, Norrie identifies as neuter, that is, one who belongs to neither sex. “You should be able to have a legal identity without having to say what your sex or sexuality is. Why should your rights be limited to what sex you have or what sex your partners have? It shouldn’t matter.”
For Norrie, what matters now is human rights.
The complaint lodged on Thursday at the Australian Human Rights Commission alleges that, in revoking the document, the NSW Attorney-General breached the Sex Discrimination Act and the United Nations Charter of Human Rights.
“Frankly, I can’t see how it’s even legally possible,” Norrie says. “I think the Attorney General’s department has broken the law.” (The NSW Attorney-General’s Department did not return repeated calls from SX).
“The NSW government has legally issued the documents,” said Tracie O’Keefe of the lobby and advocacy group, Sex and Gender Education. “They have no business to now change Norrie’s sex status without Norrie’s consent. No government has the right to change the sex status of any person without that person’s permission. We will fight them through the courts.”
Only time will tell what will happen. But Norrie is determined to see it through to the end.
“This idea has gone out there and the world has not ended,” Norrie adds. “Some people like the idea, some are threatened by it. Someone said I had a caused an earthquake, adding: ‘Do you realise what you’ve caused society?’ Well, yes I do! I’m trying to remove unfair discrimination. I’m trying to give everyone a space to be themselves and live their life without being tied down by a label that’s unnecessary.”
Norrie photographed for SX by John McRae.