Swapping Sexes: Rewriting Herstory

Can Michael legally become Michelle without the surgery? Two experts weigh the pros and cons of potential transgender legislation.

By Matthew Hutson, published on March 1, 2007 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

People whose self-identified gender doesn't match the body they were born with are trying to set the records straight. There's a growing demand for the right to "correct" the sex on birth certificates without the corresponding surgery. Those who consider the operations dangerous, unaffordable, or unnecessary would only need affidavits from a doctor and a mental-health professional supporting their decisions. The proposal's opponents point to practical concerns ranging from restroom use to national security issues. Should the swap be so simple?

  • YES: "Transgender people need ID that matches the gender in which they live. Amended birth certificates will help them participate more fully in society. Working, traveling, and even entering big-city office buildings all require ID; try proving you're entitled to work when your ID says you're a man but you look like a woman." —Michael Silverman is executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.
  • NO: "Gender has important implications for many societal institutions that need to segregate people by sex. These include hospitals, schools, and prisons, as well as some workplaces. While a hormonal standard may be sufficient in one setting, genital anatomy may be a more suitable standard in another. A prison has different priorities concerning safety, comfort, and procedural clarity than a school or a workplace." —Thomas Frieden is New York City Health Commissioner