Write to YOUR MP about Gender Recognition

Here on YetAnotherLefty, I’ve written about the current state of gender recognition for trans people in the UK, it’s effects on Marriage and contrasts with other countries before. These posts have been widely shared as people came to learn, often for the first time, quite how awful, humiliating and blatantly transphobic the current set up is. People have contacted me to tell me how upset and angry this makes them as cis people and how terrified and overwhelmed they feel as trans people. After another case of someone apparently being denied recognition of her gender by the Gender Recognition Panel *because a magazine reported that she had got her wife pregnant within the last two years*, the messages I’ve been getting have changed from just “This is so wrong!” to “This is so wrong! WHAT CAN WE DO?”

Here is the start of my contribution towards doing something about this awful situation: A Guide for individuals and organisations on the how and why of writing to your MP to stop this awful situation continuing.

You read that right, I’m an anarchist asking you to write letters to MPs. It’s not the only tactic but I think for once it may be a useful place to start.

So: before we go any further, here is WHAT WE WANT
In quiet discussion with a large number of trans people and trans organisations, the following goals seem to be more or less agreed upon.

FIRST: The Gender Recognition Panel should be *immediately* instructed to APPROVE gender recognition for all those currently on its waiting list and to approve Gender Recognition for ALL SUBSEQUENT APPLICATIONS until…
SECOND: The Gender Recognition Panel is disbanded and replaced with a simple method of updating one’s gender based on self-definition rather than medical or social “evidence” of transition. A similar system to that already in place for updating one’s address or name or a single Statutory Declaration would be much preferable to the current system.

How to Write To An MP
1. Find your MP’s contact details here
2. Send a physical letter rather than an email if you can or email through something like Write To Them
3. Be polite! We want to get them onside so if you’re angry be angry but polite with it.
4. If you are going to publish a copy of your letter and/or their reply (such as on your blog) remember to say so in your letter.
5. If you have twitter / facebook / etc tell people when you have sent the letter.

Your letter should include:
– a brief description of the problem,
– how it affects / how it makes you feel and/or how it affects your MP’s constituents,
– what you want your MP in specific to do about it,
– your hopes of a swift but considered reply.

Below I’ll write some stuff to help you write each section. Try to use your own words as much as you can – MPs tend to ignore form letters.

What is the problem?

Problem 1: transphobic and patronising law
The Gender Recognition Act has been fundamentally flawed for the entire decade of its existence. It is built on the transphobic assumption that doctors and lawyers who have never even met a person are better placed than that (ADULT!) person to decide what that person’s gender is.
The process for getting your gender recognised in the UK if you are trans is lengthy, costly, invasive and humiliating. (Consider briefly describing the process in case your MP is not familiar with it).

Problem 2: Coercive sterilisation / invasive focus on medical treatment
There is also increasing evidence that, while no medical procedure, treatment or surgery is required per se, in actual fact the Panel is systematically biased *against* trans people (and especially trans women) who do not have genital surgeries and those who delay or forgo treatment in order to preserve their ability to procreate. This has led to an ongoing situation where people feel that they *must* undertake treatments and surgeries that they might otherwise have not had for several years or even might not have had at all out of fear of the Panel denying them Gender Recognition if they do not. The current situation is one of coerced medical treatment – especially medical treatment that results in irreversible sterilisation. The UN, the World Health Organisation and others condemn forced or coerced sterilisation and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez recognised forced or coerced medical treatment for trans people as torture. His report is here and a very detailed reflection on his report from The Anti-Torture Initiative is here. As both of these reports are on torture in health care settings, please read with caution and take breaks if you are triggered or otherwise harmed by reading about the actions mentioned in the reports.

If nothing else, the form’s insistence on knowing intimate details of all treatments for Gender Identity Disorder that an applicant has undergone or will undergo needs to be immediately removed from the form as this information is private and irrelevant.

Problem 3: Unnecessary and Unhelpful pathologization
A further problem with the current system is that it unfairly allows only those who have a medical diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder” or “Transsexulism” to have their gender recognised – despite the fact that being trans (ie considering oneself to belong to a gender other than that assigned at birth) is not in itself a medical problem or diagnosis. It is quite possible to be trans yet not be able to get that diagnosis if a person is not greatly distressed by being trans or if the person is intersex. The Liberal Democrats have active policy to remove this requirement – if your MP is a Lib Dem, ask them what the Lib Dems are doing towards this, if they aren’t ask them what their party’s policy on this issue is.

Problem 4: No gender recognition for under-18s or for people of nonbinary genders
The current system also denies gender recognition to children who may need it and provides no recognition at all for anyone who has a gender other than “man” or “woman”. Many people are neither men nor women and they have just as much right as anyone to have their identity legally validated and recorded correctly on any documentation including birth certificates.

Problem 5: No one can work out whether or not I can legally marry *anyone* as myself
Under the current system, it is unclear whether or not a trans person *without* a gender recognition certificate can legally marry any other person without committing perjury by gendering themself correctly during their wedding ceremony. (I’ve talked to several lawyers on this, they couldn’t agree). This essentially leaves every trans person in the UK with at least two years of their life in which they may neither marry nor reproduce and no certainty that those two years so constricted in their right to a family life will yield a usable birth certificate and recognised identity. It’s a high price to pay and thousands of trans people are being left with no option but to pay it.

Problem 6: the Spousal Veto
Another HUGE problem with the Gender Recognition Act as it is currently, is something UK trans people have named “the Spousal Veto”. I find it hard to explain but it essentially allows any person married to a trans person to delay their legal gender recognition *potentially indefinitely* by refusing to either consent to remaining married to the same person under their new gender or consent to a divorce. Sarah Brown explains the situation much better than I could and also goes into a fair amount of the social and legal history that led to UK-based trans people having such a bizarre and draconian set of legal hoops to jump through for basic recognition of who we are. Incidentally, the Lib Dems also have policy against the Veto.

Problem 7: Monetary Cost to individual trans people
The current process requires sums of money that many will simply not have access to (due to discrimination in the work place, trans people are disproportionately under- and un-employed). Two doctors notes (for which NHS doctors may charge up to £200) and a notarised statutory declaration (costing between £5 and £50) are needed in the case of a single trans person (two stat decs would be needed in the case of a married trans person), in addition to the (means-tested) admin costs and the costs of any treatment the trans person has been unable to get on the NHS… It’s an amount of money many will be completely unable to spare yet the cost of going without gender recognition is also high. Being unable to marry, unable to provide a birth certificate as ID and knowing that somewhere the wrong name and the wrong gender are recorded as your identity has a huge psychological and social impact on trans people both as individuals and as a community.

Problem 8: Cost to the state
The existence of the Gender Recognition Panel – a group of people literally employed by the UK government to judge and decide the gender of British and UK-residing trans people – is also costly and inefficient to the state. Trans people can and do legally update their gender details on absolutely everything else, including passports, medical records, the census, work records, school records, exam certificates, bank records etc etc perfectly well without a panel to decide whether or not they can. The panel is simply not necessary and needlessly adds distress and delay to the lives of trans people and their families.

Updating one’s name has always been straightforward in the UK, requiring no court or lawyer or external body to approve or disapprove. The UK trusts its citizens to choose their own names, why not also their own genders?

How it affects you / your friends / other people
Talk about the distress, the delays (at least two years before you can apply, under 18s cannot apply even with parent’s permission, exploding queue situation with applications) monetary costs and the rights to family and private life that trans people cannot exercise with a Gender Recognition Certificate.

Words I’ve heard used to describe the present system include: absurd, ridiculous, kafka-esque, draconian, evil, wrong, repugnant, invasive, degrading, dehumanising, pathologizing, transphobic and inhumane. It shows a complete lack of trust in trans people’s ability to know themselves (ourselves) and what they (we) need. Talk about how it does or would make you feel to have to submit to a Government panel to decide for you who you are. Perhaps ask your MP how they would feel if they had to go through this process.

Even by the most conservative of estimates, something like 1 in 100 people is some kind of trans. There will be dozens, even hundreds, of children in your MP’s constituency who are trans – what kind of gender recognition system would your MP like them to encounter if they ever need one? One based on the assumption that they are wrong about their identity until and unless several doctors and lawyers *most of whom they will never meet* decide it for them? Or one which assumes autonomy and gives them control over their own identities?

If you have gone through the Gender Recognition process, you might like to write about how distressing it was. If, like me, you haven’t gone through it because it would be terribly distressing, invasive and/or costly it is then consider writing to your MP about that. If you are cis (i.e. you are not any kind of trans and consider the gender assigned to you about birth to be more or less correct) please say so in this section and write about why this issue still matters to you because it is e.g. distressing to think of anyone and potentially friends, partners or family feeling forced to go through this awful system.
Mention that there is a general consensus among many trans people and organisations that the Gender Recognition Panel MUST GO – this includes people who have gone through the Gender Recognition Process and people who campaigned FOR the Gender recognition Act.

Mention that Argentina and Denmark now have Gender Recognition on demand and that this has been widely welcomed and celebrated by trans people and their communities.

Perhaps point out that the UK doesn’t tell people what name, race, sexuality or religion is theirs: why should gender be any different?

What Do You Want Your MP To DO About This
There are several things you might ask your MP to do.
-You could ask them to ask in Prime Minister’s Questions what the Government intends to do to solve the many, many problems with the Gender Recognition Act or even to ask specifically if the Prime Minister will agree that Gender is a personal matter that should be decided on by individual people rather than by the State.
-You could ask them to draft an Early Day Motion or (if someone already has) to support an existing EDM.
-You could ask them to arrange to meet with trans people to discuss these concerns.
-You could ask them to do all in their power to lobby for the Gender Recognition Panel to be abolished and replaced with a simpler system based on self-definition and to approve all applications in the mean time.
-You could ask them to publically acknowledge and support trans people’s rights to autonomy over our bodies and our identities.
-You can ask them what THEY plan to do to make sure this awful coercive dehumanising system does not continue as it is. Or what their party plans to do.

Conclusion

Use the concluding paragraph to wish them well, say you hope they will consider your letter carefully and reply within two to three weeks. Remind them again that this issue is very important to a lot of people and you hope they can agree to help in some way. Add a method or two for them to contact you if they need anything clarifying or explaining before they reply. And remember to state clearly whether or not you intend to publish your letter and/or any reply online. If you feel like it, you may want to remind them that the elections aren’t all that long off now and trans people and their (our) supporters will be watching what the various parties do to support trans rights between now and then.

World AIDS Day 2014

It’s World AIDS Day and I’m struggling to find the words to describe quite what that means.

What it means that I left compulsory schooling without learning about the AIDS crisis.
What it means that I was 20 before I understood how to protect myself from HIV if I had sex with other men.
What it means that the LGBT community is still at high risk of contracting HIV.
What it means that so many of my LGBT ancestors died of AIDS.
What it means knowing as many as 50% of trans women of colour will get HIV.
What it means knowing some of my friends are HIV positive and facing discrimination daily.
What it means that I have sat with terrified people in clinics and held their hands as they wait for the test result.
What it means that I have learnt all my sex ed as an adult and learnt it all from community resources.
What it means to know my own HIV status and know that most people have no idea what theirs is.
What it means to know enough history to know that the wider community didn’t care about HIV AIDS until it started killing straight cis people too.
What it means that the LGBT community was brought together by the tragedy of the AIDS crisis and yet LGBT people my age and younger barely even know it happened.
What it means that bisexual men like myself are stigmatised by many because they blame us for spreading HIV.
What it means that even CHILDREN with HIV are discriminated against because the world still thinks HIV only happens to people who have lots of sex.
What it means to know that others believe God created AIDS as a punishment to my community for daring to exist out of the shadows.

What it means to know all that and also know that HIV is no longer a sentence of certain death. With appropriate medical care, HIV positive people can live just as long as anyone else.

Today is World AIDS Day. And I don’t have the words to explain quite what that means.