State Recognition, Ontological Justice, and Transgender Children

Mr Matthew  Mitchell3
School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

Between 2004-2017, the Family Court of Australia regulated minors’ access to gender-affirming hormones. In these cases, access to hormones depended upon being recognised as a legitimate subject for treatment by the Court. From an analysis of these cases’ reasons for judgment, I examine how the Court constructed and deployed an ontology of gender identity as part of the “conditions of recognisability” that governed this process. First, I describe the characteristics of this ontology and identify several inconsistencies and incoherencies within. I then analyse this in terms of ontological politics—that is, showing how power shaped and enabled the Court’s conception of the ‘real’ nature of transgender identity and the subjects before it. From this, I argue that these cases prompt important questions about ontological justice—that is, about who has the power to construct this reality, and the consequences of that reality for those who must live it. I conclude by discussing how these questions help us to consider what a more just encounter between law and gender difference might look like, and how this might help us to better understand the struggles of queer lives lived with law.


Matthew is a PhD Candidate in Criminology at the University of Melbourne. He is interested in examining issues of gender and sexuality through the lens of the sociology of law. His PhD dissertation examines how the Australian legal system regulated transgender young people’s access to gender-affirming medical technologies between 2004-2017.


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