In January, the UK parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee report on Transgender Equality was released. It was widely reported on the day, with numerous trans people appearing on television, radio and in a wide variety of newspapers. Among other things, the report was very critical of the NHS and the care of transgender prisoners, and it recommended improvements to the police, social work, schools and the courts. It also suggested simplifying the system by which people change their ‘official’ gender and proposed ‘non-gendering’ government records.
The public reaction was as you might expect; occasionally supportive, but often critical. The amount of coverage and the consideration of issues that had no apparent relevance all came under repeated attack with ignorance and offensive transphobia abounding. The sight of trans people fighting for fair treatment seemed too much for many, and everything reverted back to the debate trans people face every day; framed as a rejection of our identities, it is in fact: do we have a right to exist?
The committee report proposed changes to the legal recognition of gender. At present the Gender Recognition Act requires trans people to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate if they want the state to recognise a different gender from that recorded on their original birth certificate. The options are male or female, with no provision for non-binary genders. It costs £140 and requires submission of evidence, including medical reports and 2 years proof of living in the desired gender & name. Once received, a committee will sit and consider if the trans person does indeed warrant the change of recorded identity. There is no representation at this committee and they will never meet applicants. Yet they sit in judgment of trans people’s lives. Bear in mind that this comes after any medical process with its numerous psychological assessments and commonly at least a year of living as the preferred gender, but oh no, start again ladies and gents – the committee wants to see your council tax bill is in the right name.
I share this because many of the public think it is right and proper that trans people face some kind of test to change gender, lest we do so frivolously. Presumably this is because of all the fun we can have being shouted at in the street or disadvantaged by discrimination … but I digress. The committee has recommended that the UK adopts a system of self-declaration of gender; simply put, anyone over the age of 16 should be entrusted to make the decision of what gender the state should refer to them by. The main argument against this elimination of humiliating bureaucracy is that cis men will apply for female gender recognition and be granted legal protection when they enter women-only spaces to observe or attack women. The fact that there is currently no law that prevents men entering women’s toilets for example, except the vague ‘breach of the peace’, doesn’t seem to matter. It’s only when trans people are brought into the equation that it becomes relevant. Funny that.
Trans people go through a lot. We fight ourselves, then our family, then our society. We take on enormous odds and we don’t don’t always succeed. We deserve this right to a simple administrative change without fuss or impediment and we deserve it now.
by Lisa Severn (@lisasevern)
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