A recent government proposal to revise 42 legal clauses related to gender, identity and the public registry has raised questions about what this all means.

Times of Malta took a few questions and comments from readers to explain the changes which are expected to be tabled in parliament for a second reading later this week.

One of the amendments states that when parents bear a child and they register their child’s birth, they can now choose to leave the gender field blank. Is this mandatory?

No, it is not. The amendment concerning children’s gender states that parents can leave the field blank so the child can assign their own gender when they come of age.

The amendment does not mean that parents are not allowed to assign their child’s gender, it only opens the option for the field to be left blank.

If a child is assigned a gender at birth that they later choose to change when they become an adult, that same person will be able to go to the public registry to change their gender as they see fit.

But men and women are born different, parts of their body define who they are. Why is it an option to leave out someone’s gender?

Recent research on what makes one ‘male’ or ‘female’ makes a clear distinction between sex and gender.

The American Psychological Association defines sex as something that “is assigned at birth, refers to one’s biological status as either male or female, and is associated primarily with physical attributes such as chromosomes, hormone prevalence, and external and internal anatomy”.

Gender, on the other hand, is defined as follows: “Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for boys and men or girls and women”.

Research implies that the idea behind leaving the field blank isn’t to go against natural biology, but rather to allow developing adults to associate with the roles, behaviours and activities that they feel are most consistent with their gender identity.

Research also suggests that gender fluidity, defined in a Jung Journal article as “an alternative to binary (male and female) gender identities”, is becoming more commonplace in society.

The Malta LGBTIQ rights movement (MGRM) has been instrumental in fostering a wider acceptance of gender fluidity and/or non-heteronormative sexuality in local culture.

In a piece featuring in the recently published collection of essays, titled Mapping the Rainbow, MGRM’s Alex Caruana discussed the first survey ever conducted among LGBTI+ students, one which “revealed some worrying realities.”

Of the 139 respondents, 81.4 per cent claimed they felt excluded, while 73.5 per cent reported negative rumours about them.

Almost a quarter (27.3 per cent) of respondents felt unsafe because of their gender expression.

Therefore, the measures being taken by the government to allow self-determination of gender can be regarded as a small step to overcoming much deeper intolerances based on gender stereotypes which actually do cause psychological harm to LGBTI+ youth.

What about changing surnames? If I have a partner but we are not married or we are just living together, can we still change our surnames?

People who are in a partnership that is not bound by law can now choose to have a conjoined ‘family’ name.

Simplified, that means that person with surname ‘A’ and person with surname ‘B’ can do the following:

A + B = AB / BA / B / A

AB + CD = ABCD / CDBA / AB / CD

As an example, let’s say we have person ‘A’ whose surname is Borg, and person ‘B’ whose surname is Camilleri.

The people who are partnered or living together can do the following:

Choose to join their two surnames in any order. This means they can become ‘Borg Camilleri’ or ‘Camilleri Borg.’

If AB and CD have two surnames each (so Borg Mangion and Camilleri Grech, for example), there can be up to four surnames in total, in any order the couple wishes.

So, in the second example, one can have ‘Borg Mangion Camilleri Grech’, or ‘Mangion Camilleri Borg Grech’ etc.

Choose one of the two persons’ surnames. So, in the case of Borg and Camilleri, both persons can choose to pick ‘Borg’ or ‘Camilleri’.

In all cases, any family name that the couple chooses will be the surname that is automatically assigned to their children at birth. Additionally, couples do not need to be married, brought together by civil union or even living together to choose a family name for themselves as long as both parties’ consent.

What about couples who got married or were in a civil union before these amendments?

Both married couples and couples in a civil union can choose their own ‘family name’ that is derived from their surnames, as listed in examples above.

What about swapping surnames or creating a new one from scratch? Is that possible?

No, neither of these two options are possible. ‘New’ family names can only be based on surnames both parties already have.

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