Self Identification of transgender people and why it shouldn’t worry anyone.

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.

Self Identification of transgender people and why it shouldn’t worry anyone.

What the future holds

We’ll, life changing events don’t come much more comprehensive that a 65th birthday, if you’re an airline pilot. 

In Europe, EASA and in the USA< the FAA, both use the outmoded concept of age discrimination to end the career of an airline pilot at 65. The rules are bizarre, frankly. Suddenly, it’s not OK to fly for an airline despite passing all medicals, simulator and line checks. However, I could still fly a Boeing 777 – as long as it was a private 777. From 60-65, I could not fly with a similarly aged co-pilot. Now, post 65, I could fly that private 777 with another 65+ co-pilot. Indeed, post 60 I could not fly single pilot airline ops. Now, I could fly non-public transport single crew. 

A mole tells me they might look into cleaning up that regulatory mess – next year – which will, of course, be too late for me. So July saw me retiring from British Airways after 44 years and 8 months. I would have loved to make that 45 year anniversary in November but it wasn’t to be. 

I don’t have a crystal ball (though many think I’m a witch but that’s another story) so I’m still in the realms of speculation but I do have some plans. 

First, my fledgling company, Catherine Burton Consulting Ltd., which sees me monetising my speaking skills. I’m available to companies, government departments, organisations, charities, universities, colleges and schools at rates that vary from full commercial to 100% discount (I love inspiring school pupils far too much to price myself out of that market). I’ll inspire, motivate, move and amuse any audience, large or small, and in any setting from a theatre to a classroom to after a dinner. My talks have gone down well with F1 trainee doctors, company leadership teams and HR professionals and, of course, school pupils of all ages. 

Catherine Burton Consulting Ltd is also my vehicle for getting back to the grass roots of my flying. I’m about to embark on a Flying Instructor course and will then freelance instruct in any capacity for which my experience and ratings will allow. 

Of course, that private 777 would be nice. Or any other private type that needs a professional pilot. I’ve got every Boeing on my license from 737-200 to 787 but I quite fancy a nice Global Express. Or, to the horror of some of my erstwhile colleagues, I quite fancy getting my hands on a PC-12. 

I’ve had a couple of magazine features lately, at Runway Girl and at Aviation Wales, both of which were very flattering. 

I still work for numerous charities, most notably on the boards of Race Equality First and Trans Media Watch, and as a volunteer role model for Diversity Role Models

I’m happy to receive requests to join other boards, whether they be charity volunteer positions or paid non-executive directorships. 

Retired? I don’t think so. 

Cat Burton

+44 7900 808477

What the future holds

A compliment for a government service

Unusual, I know, but one service set up specifically for transgender people seems to be clear, easy to use and very effective.

I’ve just applied for enhanced DBS checking (Disclosure and Barring Service, the old Criminal Record check) to become a School Science Ambassador with a women pilots’ organisation.

The electronic form asks for all previous names so I left that blank, submitted the form and followed the instructions here.

On that opening page, there is a section telling transgender applicants to email I did so, on Sunday, and received a reply this morning to the effect that they just needed sight (an emailed copy) of my Stat Dec and a quick phone call from me to confirm I wanted the certificate to be devoid of my previous identity.

Job done from my iPad before I even got out of bed.

Dave – the very pleasant Scouser who answered the phone said, to my initial announcing of my transgender request and that I’d just replied to their email with my Stat Dec said, “Oh. Is that Cat? All received. We’ll monitor your application once a day throughout the process and if any queries are raised, we’ll deal with them so that the certificate isn’t held up and it won’t refer to your past identity.”

Now if only we could make the GRC that easy.

A compliment for a government service

Aviation safety is like a game of football

Remember when you were kids?

Playground football (soccer for my American friends) was a disorganised melée with everyone running to where the ball was.

Then you learned about proper tactics and teams and positions.

Suddenly, you could pass the ball rather than all running after it.

Imagine that playground team in a game against a proper, organised team. The organised team would pass the ball up the right wing then centre the ball and score.

The disorganised team might decide something along the lines of, “They won’t get away with that again,” so ALL of them would block the right wing. The organised team would, of course, attack up the undefended left wing. So the disorganised team would all move across the pitch to defend against the last attack, only for the organised team to switch again.

Well aviation is all about defending the goal against disasters. Accidents, attacks, events. They all need a defence. But if we run about defending against the last disaster, do we reopen an OLD vulnerability. Or expose a new and innovative one?

It’s vital that we be allowed to consider our defences and plan, unhindered by the mob mentality that wants us, immediately, to rush to the other side of the pitch. That mob mentality is led by the media, for whom the campaign for a ‘quick fix’ is seen as paramount. You’ve seen it. A newspaper demands action and, when something changes, claims they were behind the change. Well this is too important to get wrong. Before we change anything, we need to examine the benefits of the change and compare them to the risks of the change.

Aviation safety is like a game of football

Knee-jerk reactions are NOT the way forward

We’ve had a week of tragedy in aviation which requires a considered reaction from airlines and regulators.

What we’re seeing, instead, is a public (read media driven) response of emotional cries for an instant fix, most of which demands two people be on a flight deck at all times.

Whatever the regulators end up doing (and the airlines will obviously comply) should be the result of a thorough risk/benefit analysis. Adding extra and much less well trained people to the flight deck should only be done with much thought. While it may ameliorate the current hot issue, it may be to the detriment of why we installed the lockable doors in the first place (security). It would also need firm guidelines as to when a potentially newly recruited member of cabin crew could override the decisions of the lone pilot.

It should be remembered that the commander of a civil aircraft has legal rights and responsibilities. Indeed, ONLY the commander has any authority based in law. ALL other authority is simply delegated from the commander. Refusing the lawful orders of an aeroplane commander is a serious criminal offence. Are we then, to suggest that a new member of cabin crew should ignore a commander’s order? Maybe the order would be NOT to open that door (for whatever reason – maybe the commander is concerned that their co-pilot has been coerced and a terrorist is about to storm the flight deck, maybe the commander is concerned about a sleeper in their crew.

I’m not suggesting that we should NOT choose to increase the minimum compliment in the flight deck. Simply that a proper risk/benefit analysis and careful consideration of the implications be undertaken first and we NOT be driven by the media’s demands.

Knee-jerk reactions are NOT the way forward