There is a lot of comment in the UK media right now about the moves to let transgender people ‘self identify’ as their acquired gender. Almost all of it is manufactured comment to fuel fear and hatred of what is one of the most marginalised minorities.
Let me try to explain exactly what is being proposed and what it doesn’t change.
The proposal, arising from recommendations put forward by the Women and Equalities Committee, chaired by Maria Miller MP, is to change the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to remove many of the hurdles transgender people have to surmount in order to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). A GRC is a single use piece of paper. It’s only use is to notify the General Registrar that the subject’s gender has been legally recognised, and they may have a new Birth Certificate.
Note that it does NOT change a person’s identity in any way. It does not change which bathroom they will use. It does not change which part of the prison estate in which they would need to be locked up if they commited a crime. It does not change and form of ID they may possess or use on a day to day basis.
Transitioning gender is a complex process for most people. We have as many variations on our journey as there are transgender people. Sometimes, we are asked what was the Eureka moment. I can only illustrate the answer with my own journey.
I should have known I was my true self at an early age. All the signs were there. But it seemed too terrible to contemplate, in the UK of the 1960s. So, I denied my own sense of identity for most of my adult life. Even when I finally completed my transition in 2014, I felt as if I was stepping off a cliff when I came out to my colleagues. Fortunately, the cliff turned out to be 2” high. My Eureka moment? When I stopped denying my true self, I lived in two gender roles. I was presenting as male for work and often as female away from work. Gradually, as I overcame the fears of embarrassment, ridicule and not passing invisibly and grew in the confidence that I was entitled to be myself, I presented as female more frequently. At a particular point, my own perception of self went from being someone who presented as female occasionally to someone who had to present as male occasionally. THAT was the moment of my transition. That realisation that I was female, but occasionally had to hide that fact.
And what about my social markers during that process.
I used the women’s bathroom from the time my first excursion presenting as female. I remember it well. I was spending a whole weekend in Glasgow, with a good friend. We went shopping. We did lunches. We socialised in bars. We just did things any two girl friends might do on a weekend break. And I needed the loo. I couldn’t have used the Gents safely. I never even considered it. I went to the Ladies, did the necessary in a cubicle, glanced in the mirror and came out. Importantly, I broke no laws. If I’d used the Gents, I may very well have broken one. The ONLY laws applicable to bathroom use in the UK are public order laws. In the Gents, I may very well have caused a breach of the peace. So I had self declared my appropriate bathroom as the Ladies.
When I finally mustered the courage to come out at work, I needed some more markers to change. I needed a passport and driver’s license. The passport office needed an original of my name change document and a short letter from a doctor to confirm one simple fact. That, in the opinion of the doctor, my change was, “likely to be permanent.” Two days later, I had my new passport and a week later, my US Visa and driver’s license followed, all with an ‘F’ gender marker. At that point, ALL my normal forms of identification agreed with my own self identification.
On a side note regarding gender markers on UK passports. There is a controversy over non-binary people asking for a non-gender-specific passport – an ‘X’ in the gender box. Well, for those of us old enough to remember the blue British Passport, that had NO gender marker whatsoever. Gender was indicated by the honorific hand written in front of your name in the upper paper space on the front cover. Mr Fred BLOGGS. Mrs Jemima PUDDLEDUCK. But what about Dr Lesley PHILLIPS? The default position for transgender people was to issue the passport with NO honorific. Indeed, if the applicant needed to travel to a country where that not so subtle code for transgender person could cause problems, they needed to apply, in person, with a letter from a sponsor, explaining the need for a new honorific, to the delightful Miss Kirk at the Petty France Passport Office. Miss Kirk would decide and issue the new passport on the spot.
Self declaration would also not change the medical pathway and treatment of transgender people in the UK, young or old. That is entirely separate from the issues under discussion.
Finally, the current process for obtaining a GRC is onerous. A complex submission including medical diagnoses from two doctors, one of whom must be a recognised gender specialist on the list provided by the panel, a fee, statutory declarations from both the applicant and any spouse or civil partner and a lengthy wait for the submission to come before the panel, normally comprising a judge and a doctor. In many cases, treatment happened decades ago and the doctors involved may have been delisted due to retirement or death so an applicant may need to get a fresh diagnosis, opening wounds they thought healed in their distant past.
So, we are asking for a simpler process. Self declaration of our own gender identity. This does NOT mean the ability to stand outside a bathroom and say, “I feel like a woman (or man) today therefore I shall use the ladies (gents). WE ALREADY HAVE THE RIGHT TO USE THE BATHROOM RELEVANT TO OUR GENDER OF PRESENTATION.
Self declaration would mean that we could make a Statutory Declaration of our gender identity and of our intention to remain in our acquired gender for the rest of our lives. It would need to be declared before an ‘Officer of the Court’ in the same way as the current Statutory Declarations reviewed by the Gender Recognition Panel. It would simply obviate the need for medical scrutiny and remove the need for consideration by a slow and outdated panel.