In the Netherlands, it’s legal for transgender persons change their gender and names on their birth records and in the population registration. You need to be at least sixteen years old and need a declaration by a gender specialist before you can go to the municipality to have your information changed, so it’s not an easy process. In recent years, the requirement to have gender confirmation surgery was dropped, so transgender people can now have their gender changed without undergoing forced sterilization or surgery.
Several people have asked me how they should handle these changes in their genealogical software.
There are two interests at play here:
- The transgender person deserves to be referred to by their own name and gender, the way they are legally registered. Referring to a transgender person by their name or gender assigned at birth is disrespectful. They may refer to their name assigned at birth as their “dead name,” to give you some idea about how they may feel.
- The genealogist needs to know the names and genders a person was recorded with in their life to be able to find relevant records. Knowing a transition took place resolves conflicts between different records that use different names. Knowing the gender assigned at birth is also necessary to determine biological relationships, such as in the case of children born to transgender parents. Knowing a person likely has a Y-chromosome and one X-chromosome or likely had two X-chromosomes can be helpful to sort out DNA matches.
So how do we record the changed information in a way that respects our transgender relatives, but still allows us to do our research? My recommendation that respects both these interests is this:
- Use the (current) gender and name of the transgender person as the default.
- Add the gender and name assigned at birth as alternative facts. Mark these private.
- Make a private note about the transition, for example as a custom fact. Mark this private as well.
Information about living people should be privatized when published online anyway, but marking the facts related to the transition as private adds an extra layer of protection. When creating charts or reports, for example, most genealogy programs allow you to choose not to print private facts even when sharing with family.
By recording the gender and name assigned at birth as private facts, the information is available to the researcher, but not to other people with whom the information is shared. It respects the wishes of the transgender relative.
Update: why I don’t ask the relative
This post has been shared a lot on social media, which I appreciate. One piece of advice I often see there is to ask the relative. Personally, I don’t ask, since I think that is unnecessary and potentially insulting. They told me their name. They told me their gender. Why would I then ask how they want to be recorded? Asking would just make me look like I don’t take them at their word, or that I’m asking for an exception.