Equal Marriage? Not really

UPDATED! Please see below for a potential source of hope to UK couples containing trans people. (26/04/2014)

Today I heard the news that Scotland has passed an amendment to their version of the Same Sex Marriage Bill that might finally make marriage something even approaching a possibility for me. They’re adding a gender-neutral option for wedding vows, allowing couples (regardless of their respective genders) to declare themselves “partners in marriage” rather than “husband and wife”, “wife and wife” or “husband and husband”. If England had made such an amendment, the only things preventing me from getting married on March 29th 2014 would be the more usual obstacles of not being engaged to anyone and not being able to afford a wedding.

As things currently stand, I have one additional and very large impediment preventing me from marrying and it’s one that only trans and intersex people have. It’s also a problem that has been entirely and wilfully created by successive UK governments. 

My problem is that, in a very limited sense that basically *only* effects my ability to marry and has almost zero effect on anything else*, I am “legally female”. I can and do have a male passport, a male NHS medical file, I can (and should) tick “male” on the census, I can describe myself accurately and legally as “male” on any and all government forms and documents… but it suddenly becomes perjury if I want to call myself a “husband” at my own marriage ceremony. Yes, perjury which is a crime with a seven year imprisonment as punishment. Would you be prepared to risk that? I’m not.

The strange and enduring situation that leaves me “legally female” despite my identity and life as a man effectively prevents me from marrying unless I’m prepared for just one day to call myself someone’s “wife”. Unless I can get something called a Gender Recognition Certificate first.

All a gender recognition certificate does is say that you can have a new corrected birth certificate showing your current name and gender. Once you’ve got a corrected birth certificate, you are for all purposes (including marriage) a member of your own gender. Which would be great for people like me except it comes with a host of less-than-helpful strings attached.

To get a corrected birth certificate, any trans person living in the UK (and also British trans people living overseas) is required to prove:
a) that they have been living as their chosen (binary) gender for a period of at least two years and they intend to do so for the rest of their life,
b) that they have a diagnosis of gender identity disorder which must be from one of a government approved list of gender specialists, and
c) that they are not currently married or in a civil partnership (or, from next year, that their opposite gender spouse consents to the marriage continuing after gender recognition).
To do this, they and two doctors, one of whom must be an approved gender specialist fill in a form and provide medical letters stating their diagnosis and detailing any medical treatment undertaken and/or *detailing why certain treatments have not or not yet been undertaken*. They must also provide a statutory declaration saying they have been living as a man or woman and intend to continue to do so, this needs to be notarised by a solicitor *and* they need documentary evidence that they have been using a “gender appropriate name full time for two years or more (i.e. letters from bank, bills, school certificates etc).

The stat dec and the solicitor cost money. The two doctor’s reports also cost money. Getting the diagnosis itself often costs money as waiting lists for NHS gender services are often more than two years long and private gender specialists exist. Then there’s the administration fee. And the postage. And all that has to go to a panel who literally get to decide whether in the eyes of the government you’ve done enough to prove that you’re a man or that you’re a woman. THEY LITERALLY GET TO CHOOSE YOUR GENDER FOR YOU AND YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR IT. You pay even if they refuse your application.
And then, even if they agree with you about who you are, your past and present names get recorded together on a government list just for the purpose of keeping track of who has new birth certificates because they are trans. A list that you don’t have access to (and the public don’t, thankfully) but who you don’t have any say or control over who has access to it. A list that could conceivably end up in the hands of future transphobic governments or transphobic civil servants. But you get a new birth certificate for the trouble of seeing several doctors and a solicitor and spending hundreds of pounds on *paperwork* even if you haven’t already had to spend huge sums on medical care. Once you’ve a new birth certificate, you can marry without committing perjury. If you can afford even a two witness registry office wedding after spending so much *literally buying your right to be treated as a member of your own gender*.

These are not sums of money I can afford to spend. I don’t want to be on a list of trans people somewhere. I do want to at least have the option of getting married someday.

All these problems could have been solved by one or both of these two things:
1. Gender-free marriage vow options
2. Gender recognition by filling in a simple form with no need to submit evidence that doctors agree with you

Hurry up UK and sort these for me. Or do I have to hope for a independent Scotland to get these things sorted first?

*The other thing I know the nebulous concept that is “legal gender” to actually affect in the UK is whether or not you get sent to a gender-appropriate prison.

So, this blog post got sent around a lot, especially in March and it got people talking. The general feeling among trans people and those in solidarity with us is quickly turning *against* the Gender Recognition Act which is seen as draconian, humiliating and just not good enough and that’s in part due to conversations started by me and by this post. However, one person I know, Joel Wallenberg decided to ask at an actual registry office and they said that neither notice nor certificate require a statement of gender”. It looks suspiciously like there simply is no national policy and in at least some places gender-free marriages are entirely possible. Zoe O’Connell is going to ask the General Register Office to get some kind of policy written down and then we’ll know for sure but it looks hopeful that this might go in favour of trans people and our partners and allow us to get married without being misgendered.

Thinking of quitting your degree? Read this first

(Cross-posted at Support Disabled Students)
Hello, I’m Liam and I usually blog over at YetAnotherLefty. What you might not know about me is that I’ve seriously considered quitting my degree – and not just once. I’ve got to the point where I’ve gone to my Supervisor and said “I don’t think I can do this any more”. So, I have an idea of what you might be thinking and how you might be feeling if you’re considering quitting your degree.

Lots of people decide not to finish their degrees. Whatever it is that means you’re considering this choice, it’s highly unlikely that your University hasn’t already dealt with someone in a similar situation.

Why do people end their degrees before completion:

  • They become parents and want to spend time with their baby
  • They become very ill and cannot study
  • They begin caring for a sick / disabled relative or their relatives care needs increase
  • They get a job offer that’s too good to miss
  • They have financial problems and cannot afford to continue their studies
  • They need to go into hospital
  • They don’t enjoy the degree any more
  • They don’t feel able to keep up with a degree
  • Many other reasons!

What you may not know is that, whatever you’re circumstances, continuing your degree as it is or dropping it completely are NOT your only options.

You could also consider:

  • Changing course
  • Taking time out and then deciding whether or not to return
  • Retaking some or all of a year
  • Going from full time study to part time study (or vice versa)
  • Extending some or all of your deadlines
  • Having your circumstances taken into account when your mark or grade is decided (this is sometimes called mitigating circumstances or extenuating circumstances)
  • Getting financial help from your University
  • Getting disability, physical health support or mental health support to enable you to continue studying
  • A combination of the above.

There are pros and cons to all of these options. You’ll need to talk to someone at your University to work out the best way forward for you.

How to find help:
Your supervisor should be able to point you at the resources and University staff you need should you want to change course, take time out, go part time, get deadline extensions, get mitigating circumstances or finish your course early. Your supervisor may be there primarily to guide you academically but they are usually also trained to help make sure your welfare is looked after while at University. If you’re not wholly comfortable talking to your supervisor, another member of academic staff in your department might be a good first person to talk to. Go to someone’s office hour. Talk about why you’re struggling. Ask what the University can do to help you.
If you’re not sure what you want to do, try to find a University Welfare AdviserSearch your student home page for “welfare” “advice” and “support” and email anyone who looks like they might be the right person. Try to get an in-person appointment to talk through your options. You also might like to search for “Academic Support”, “Financial Support” and “Mental health” or “counselling”.

If you feel very stressed, anxious, panicky and distressed or if you feel depressed, lethargic, hopeless or upset, please, please find out what mental health support may be available to you. Most Universities have some kind of counselling available on campus for free. You might also be able to access counselling or therapy via your GP, through a local youth group or charitable organisation such as MIND or by paying for therapy with your own money (I have used all of these options myself at least once). It’s also possible that you have an underlying physical illness that may or may not be treatable – get it checked out, don’t just write it off as “Fresher’s flu”.
Your Student Union may also have staff trained to assist students in difficulty. The ones at my SU are called “Advice and Support”. Check your Union’s website.

Things to Consider:

  • Changing the length of your course, whether by ending it early, extending it with time out, retaking parts or considerably extending deadlines can affect your eligibility for student loans. GET ADVICE from someone more qualified than me. Leaving Uni can result in the student loan company asking you to give back money they’d already given you. Too many extensions to your end date could mean having to find your own tuition fees for later years / terms.
  • Going part-time or quitting your course would mean you’d have to pay council tax. It might also mean you wouldn’t be able to live in student housing.
  • Leaving your course either temporarily for some time out or permanently usually means leaving University owned/run accommodation.
  • Whilst taking time out from an otherwise full time course, you wouldn’t have to pay council tax – but you also wouldn’t be able to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance or many other benefits. GET ADVICE.
  • Changing courses after the first term will often involve mandatory time out of Uni so you can start again the next year.
  • Changing the end date of your course and/or your final deadline(s) can change your graduation date.
  • Students on time out of their course can access some but not all University services (e.g. I can still use the Welfare Advisers but I can’t use the counselling service, I can use the library for reference but can’t take out books etc etc) Make sure you know which services you will and won’t be able to use.
  • Part time students are not usually eligible for student loans but are eligible for more benefits than full time students are. Check here http://www.nus.org.uk/en/advice/money-and-funding/other-sources-of-funding/can-i-claim-government-benefits-as-a-student/ and GET ADVICE.
  • Sometimes the best thing to do is work out what you want as a best case scenario and then ask how to make it possible. There might be a way to do it! (For example, I wanted to take time off and come back the next year with a much-reduced time table and to retake the class I was failing. I wanted to pay my tuition fees by module so I wasn’t paying for classes I wasn’t taking. I asked for this and my department worked out how to make the paperwork do that).

Finally, a few things to remember:

  • Lots of people have been in your position. This will not be something the University hasn’t seen before.
  • You are much, much more important than any degree. If quitting is the best option for you, there’s no shame in taking it.
  • Though it doesn’t always seem like it, your University wants you to succeed and flourish and wants to help you. Find those support services and make use of them – they’re there for you.