Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

A Passport to Trouble: Bureaucratic Incompetence as Censorship

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

A Passport to Trouble: Bureaucratic Incompetence as Censorship

Article excerpt

Introduction

Access to government issued identity documentation (ID) is not readily available for all Canadians. Trans- identified Canadians1 are one particular group that has a significant amount of difficultly accessing ID. The ramifications of the barriers to obtaining ID are significant and far reaching; and for transidentified people, can function as a justification for other forms of exclusion and violence based in transphobia. Transphobia consists of actions, behaviors or beliefs that are driven by an understanding (consciously or not) of the trans-body as less real than the non- trans body (Prosser, 1998). These actions, behaviors and beliefs function as forms of violence, whether explicit or implicit, intentional or otherwise, that are often thought to stem from fear. "Common sense" assumptions about gender-that everyone identifies as the sex they were assigned at birth and that norms of masculinity and femininity naturally follow these birth assignments-are used to justify transphobia in the form of stigmatization, discrimination, and various types of violence (Spade, 2008). Thinking about transphobia in this way, it is easy to see that policies that enact barriers to ID access for trans- people are an excellent example of institutional transphobia.

Barriers to ID access for trans- people in Canada occur in a myriad of ways, and this article will look specifically at access issues in relation to passports. As trans legal scholar Dean Spade (2008, p. 749) notes: "the literature has thus far failed to look at the range of administrative gender reclassification policies and practices-including birth certificates, DMV policies, policies of sex- segregated facilities, and federal identity document policies-side by side, which has meant that the significance of the incoherence of these policies as a group has been obscured." This article will not go so far as to attempt such a lofty endeavor; however, through an examination of the barriers to information regarding gender reclassification, this article offers a different trajectory towards a similar goal. While the significance of these incoherencies is incredibly important, so too are the erasures of gender reclassification policies that occur through the lack of access to information regarding them, and the impact these erasures have on the interconnected government policies that affect trans- people (such as access to ID, placement in sex- segregated facilities, and access to healthcare). Moreover, these erasures perform a significantly more important function than simply an extension of institutional transphobia; they also function to naturalize and reify "common sense" assumptions about gender that underpin both the policies and transphobia, as well as various forms of misogyny.

Through a consideration of the relationship between legal discourses and citizenship discourses as they relate to the transsexed body and the passport, this article undermines the commonsensical assumptions that underpin social justice and human rights issues. By explicitly considering how a lack of access to information functions to produce certain bodies as possible and others as impossible, while simultaneously producing different forms of citizenship for these (im)possible bodies, government issued ID becomes the ground from which the horizon of institutional transphobia and the naturalization of gender difference becomes obvious. Exposing this institutionally imbedded transphobia is merely an initial step in the much larger project suggested by Spade, as the significance of the incoherencies between policies is also obscured by the barriers to access of the very information contained in these policies. Moving through a critical and rigorous examination of a single Passport Canada form, this article uses the formal and informal archive produced by this form, ethnographic stories, and the mandate and understanding expressed by Passport Canada to expose the inaccessibility of information regarding gender reclassification. …

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