Gender Recognition: Our Absolutely Non-Negotiable Terms

I know I’ve talked about Gender Recognition before. And I know I’ve promised to write about my research that recently shows that I, along with hundreds of other UK based adults, essentially CANNOT GET MARRIED but I’m still dealing with my own emotional response to being told I either have to be okay with being misgendered at my wedding, misgendered on my civil partnership certificate, elope to Scotland or… well, or get my gender recognised at both considerable financial cost and by submitting myself to bureaucratic torture. And allow my name to be added to a secret government list of trans people. Just so I can safely and legally get married to the person I want to marry. Read this by D H Kelly  or any of my many previous posts on the topic to get an idea of how difficult and expensive and transphobic the current system is. There’s apparently going to be a consultation “in the Autumn” so now seems like a good time to write down our lines in the sand – those things that are absolutely necessary and not negotiable.

For any Gender Recognition system to work at all it must be:

  • Available to all ages, including children.
  • Available to all people, including those who are not citizens
  • Free or extremely low cost
  • Available for every gender and none
  • Possibility of having more than one gender legally recognised as the genders of one person
  • Possible to change over and over again with no limits on how many times or how often
  • Based entirely on self-definition with no medical opinions, no length-of-time-you-must-be-out first and no panel with the ability to refuse to recognise someone’s gender
  • Everyone who has a gender recognition application currently waiting to be seen by the Gender Recognition Panel should be approved for gender recognition right away, before the new self-definition method starts – they’ve waited long enough
  • No veto power given to spouses, parents or anyone other than the individual whose gender needs to be updated
  • No records kept of who updated their gender and when.
  • The destruction of the current Gender Recognition Register and apologies (and compensation) to those whose information was stored in it
  • Updated birth certificates available as quickly and simply as possible and at the same cost as obtaining a copy of any birth certificate
  • Immediate ability to marry in the updated gender (if adults otherwise able to marry)
  • Immediate ability to have updated marriage or civil partnership certificates, change from a marriage to a civil partnership or vice versa or update names and genders of parents on a child’s birth certificate
  • The minimum possible number of people and pieces of paper should be involved to update a gender. Ideally, one would be able to update your own gender by writing a letter to HMRC but I would also accept a deed poll like system (see below).
  • A legal assumption that a person’s gender is what they say it is regardless of what their paperwork says and paperwork only required for the tiny number of occasions when one’s gender is legally relevant

In the UK, we currently treat names very much like I wish we treated gender. Your name is whatever you say it is, you are assumed to be named whatever you say you are named, you can have more than one name and you can change it instantly and easily as often as you like. Where it is legally relevant exactly what your name is, you might need paperwork. Updating your paperwork name can be done instantly with one piece of paper and a witness or two. No courts, no fee, no solicitor required. Even changing the name of a child can be done without a court or a solicitor if everyone with parental responsibility agrees to the change. Although deed polls don’t change birth certificates, the mechanisms to change information recorded on birth certificates does exist – if your parents marry after you were born, even decades afterwards they can still re-register your birth to show them as married and change your birth name to their married name if that’s different from what your birth certificate says your name is. It’s not that the structures needed to update names and genders on birth certificates on request don’t exist – it’s really that the people behind some of the current laws on gender recognition and on marriage would really like to make it very difficult for trans people to legally exist as ourselves.

Other things I really, really want to happen but am not sure should be considered absolutely essential:

  • EVERY BIRTHING PARENT be given the option to be listed as “Parent”, “Mother” or “Father” on their child’s birth certificate (currently you have to be a “Mother” if you give birth, even if you are legally male). Same for the other parent.
  • Any adult of any gender(s) be legally able to marry any other non-related adult regardless of their gender(s). This would require significant changes to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act which long time readers will know I advocated for *before that bill was passed*. Unfortunately, the Act doubles down on making marriage gendered and essentially created “ManWithWoman Marriage” and “Same Sex Couple Marriage” as two different, still separate institutions.
  • Phasing out recording sex at birth in the first place. This would really, really solve a lot of problems for everyone and one state or another is going to have to go first. If we stopped assigning people legal genders, we’d eventually no longer need to have structures in place to update those genders. People would have genders in the same way they currently have races and religions – by ticking boxes on the census and on equality monitoring forms without anyone telling them they’re wrong if one year they start to tick a different box.
  • No step between “Fill in this form” and “Get your records updated”. Currently you have to wait to receive your Gender Recognition Certificate and then use that to get a new birth certificate. That doesn’t seem at all necessary and has lead to a lot of orgs demanding (illegally) to see your GRC before they’ll update your gender records
  • Give all trans people the protection of privacy that GRCs are supposed to give to just some of us. If it’s against the law to out some of us as trans, it should be for all of us with or without a piece of paper
  • Honestly I wish they would fire every single person in the civil service who came up with the Spousal Veto
  • Updating your gender to no longer be considered grounds for divorce (and preferably for the UK to get “no fault” divorce already) or grounds for a celebrant to refuse to marry someone

Please think about how much the current system must suck if I can put some of this stuff into “Nice to have” instead of “absolutely essential”. Some of those could easily go into “Absolutely Essential” and that’s where some other people are going to want to put them. Other people are likely going to look at my list of “Absolutely Necessary and Non-Negotiable” and think “We’re never actually going to get all of that” and will demand the much less they feel we’re actually likely to get. If you are that way inclined, please don’t. Please don’t drop trans children’s or nonbinary trans people’s needs so that binary trans adults might get ours. Please don’t settle for a system that’s LESS traumatic rather than one that’s NOT traumatic or one where fewer people get a say on your gender but you still don’t get to assert it yourself.
We might not get the sort of system I’m asking for but if we don’t AIM to get a radical, self-definition only, updates to certificates etc on demand for everyone, no fucking secret list of trans people, all genders and all ages system then we will guarantee that we don’t get one. Aim for the best not what you think you can get away with. Please.

There’s a consultation coming up. We’re not sure when yet. When it does, please, please make all of these demands as clearly as you can. Our genders are ours and the government has no right to dictate them to us.

And I really think I’d like to get married without misgendering myself. Please, I need your help to make that even possible.

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Be Yourself! But Not Like That!

A while ago, I tweeted something like this:

“Cis society: Be yourself!
Trans people: Yes, okay
Cis society: No, not like that!”
It’s been running through my head a lot since. I figured it deserves a blog post.

I see this as a sibling post to my often shared post about the pressure I feel as a bi person to “choose” to “be straight”… Because I feel a similar pressure to “choose” to be cis.

There is a very strong message that often comes from within trans communities as well as from cis society that says that being trans is so, so intrinsically awful that nobody would (or *should*) be trans if they could possibly avoid it. Indeed, many people spend months or years trying to convince themselves that they don’t want to transition when they actually do because of this very prevalent idea.

And just as with sexuality where most people will concede that some people can’t choose not to be gay, it’s understood that some people can’t be cis but it is frequently suggested that some people do have a choice – and that the “correct” choice is to be cis if at all possible.

I would be rich if I had a quid for every time someone tried to convince me that I should be able to live as a cis woman instead of as a trans man.
People told me (as if I somehow didn’t know) that women can dress in men’s clothes, that women can do and be anything men can, that it’s okay to be a lesbian, that it’s okay to be butch, that women can be androgynous and still be women… And I don’t disagree with any of these things! They just aren’t reasons why I should be someone I’m not.

I also frequently get told that I’d be “prettier” as a woman, that more men would be attracted to me if I lived as a woman, that more women would be attracted to me… And I don’t believe that. Authenticity is much more attractive than forced cisnormativity ever could be and even if it weren’t, I wasn’t born to be attractive I was born to be my best self.

The ways people have tried to convince me to stop being a man say a lot about why they think trans people transition. I’m not trying to become more attractive, I’m not looking at the clothes I want to wear and trying to make my identity “match” the side of the shop I find my clothes in. I don’t think that men are any better than women and I’m not trying to avoid homophobia. I know that women can be butch or androgynous – I’m not trying to escape one set of restrictive gender roles by fitting myself into another set.

I am, quite simply, trying to be myself.

While pretending to be a girl / woman made me deeply unhappy and caused me mental pain and anguish, that isn’t even really the reason I live as a man. I live as a man because THAT IS WHO I AM. There is no good reason why I should try to “be” anyone else but me.

Think about it, especially if you aren’t trans. Can you really imagine people telling you that who you are is wrong and you should be someone else instead? Imagine for a minute being told to act like someone else for the rest of your life and being told that the other made up, false “you” was actually more real than anything you thought or felt about who you are. Like going undercover or acting, say, but forever. It’d be doable, sure, but could you be happy? Could you be even satisfied with a lifetime of being someone else, even someone almost but not-quite like you? Or would the not-right-ness wear you down? Would the pressure of hiding anything that might blow your cover eat away at you? Would you be tempted to call it quits and just be yourself and hang the consequences?

I could, in theory at least, live as though I were a cis woman. But why on earth would I trade my integrity and authenticity for a thin veneer of cis privilege?

If you feel like you’re pretending to be someone else and you want to try being yourself, you don’t need to wait for the facade to be killing you to be “allowed” to drop it. Whether that’s a gender, a sexuality, a religion, a relationship, a career or something as simple as having a name that isn’t working for you, you don’t have to wait for things to feel completely intolerable to make a change. You deserve to be your self, with integrity and authenticity, right now.

I don’t need to earn the right to be myself or to suffer through every possible attempt to find a way to me kinda like myself but not trans before I can be the trans man that I am. No one should have to exhaust every other option before being who they are just because who they are is trans.

To expect otherwise (and many people do expect otherwise) is to insist that being cis or appearing to be cis is innately better than being trans. It’s not.

We all deserve to be ourselves. So don’t you dare tell me it’d be better if I was someone else instead.

Whose gender is it anyway?

I’ve deliberately chosen an amusing title because the topic I’m writing about isn’t remotely amusing for those of us caught up in it. Gender recognition is something I’ve blogged about on yetanotherlefty before and some of what I write here will be a repeat of things I already said in March. Once again, there is news that has prompted this post. This time the news is that Denmark is joining Argentina and becoming the second country to have gender recognition for trans people based on self-definition with no requirement for medical interventions, proof of social transition or any other criteria beyond a declaration of membership of another gender. From September 2014, people in Denmark will be able to have their gender recognised provided they are over 18. The system seems to involve filling in a form declaring the wish for gender recognition followed by a 6 month waiting period (in case people change their mind) after which the person’s gender is legally recognised in Denmark. This will make Denmark’s Gender Recognition process the best in the European Union and the second-best in the world. The only country to have a better Gender Recognition process is Argentina – there is no lower age limit, allowing transgender and/or intersex children to re-register themselves as an appropriate gender provided they are capable of understanding what they are doing and the process takes just one form, recognising each person as the only true authority on their gender without requiring the intervention of doctors or psychiatrists. Whilst Argentina and Denmark are world leader in gender recognition and their progressive and modern laws are advocated as examples of best practice by Amnesty International, there are still notable difficulties with both laws. Not least among these is that, so far as I am aware, neither country allows the choice of any gender other than “Male/Man/Boy” or “Female/Woman/Girl”. While there are countries that do offer legal recognition of other genders (India being the most notable example) many of those allow only for trans people to switch between being recognised as their incorrect birth gender to a third option (such as Transgender, Other or Indeterminate) which for many trans men and women is just as inaccurate.

Having laid out to the best of my understanding what the international situation is, I will now briefly discuss the current situation in the UK. Whilst a person can change their name instantly and for free in the UK, can (in theory if not always in practice) change the gender on their NHS record on request and (again, more in theory than in practice) change their gender on college/Uni records, bank accounts and at other organisations with just a letter and happily tick or not tick either, neither or both gender boxes on the census however best represents their identity, changing the gender recorded on a passport, birth certificate and/or as recorded with HMRC, starts to include requirements for medical evidence. To change the gender recorded on a passport, you need a letter from a Doctor saying that you have been diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, that you have begun living in your new gender and that you intend to continue to do so for the rest of your life. This letter can be from any doctor and may or may not cost money. A GP can write it but may not want to if they don’t feel like they know enough about transgender people (there really isn’t much to know but this still happens). Many people have to get to a gender specialist, either privately at some cost or via the NHS which is chronically beset by delays and unlawfully long waiting lists, before they find someone willing to write this letter, meaning months and even years living with a passport that cannot be used as ID.
Changing the gender recorded with HMRC involves getting an updated birth certificate. This requires a person to provide evidence of two or more years of social transition, including continuous use of a “gender appropriate” name in addition to TWO doctor’s reports, one from a gender specialist, detailing a diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder and details of any treatment undergone and/or explanation of why further treatment has not occurred. The implication here is that, while treatment is technically not necessary for Gender Recognition in the UK, not having had certain treatments will prejudice the Gender Recognition Panel against you. It is commonly (yet quietly) advised that at least one of the doctor’s reports state that you are “waiting for the standard of surgery to improve” or that you “intend to have x, y, z surgeries within the next few years but these have not yet been scheduled” whether you actually intend to have surgery or not. In addition of the “proof” that you changed your name permanently two years or more ago, the two doctor’s reports and the form itself, a statutory declaration that you are X, formerly Y, you are over 18, have been living in your gender for two or more years and intend to continue to do so for the rest of your life and that you are not currently married OR, if you are married, that you are married. In that case you also need a statutory declaration from your spouse that they consent to the marriage continuing. If you’ve spent off ALL OF THAT, plus an administration fee, then a panel of strangers will review your case and either accept or reject your application. After all of that, this panel of complete strangers can and sometimes DO reject your application – which you still have to pay for. Compared the UK, Denmark’s law sounds like paradise for trans people!

The hope is that the UK will follow or even expand on the example set by Denmark and Argentina, as they clearly show that the sheer amount of fuss, bureaucracy and intrusion of privacy required by the UK’s Gender Recognition act is simply unnecessary and, to put it as politely as I can, damn near inhumane.

I return to the question I titled this blog with: Whose gender is it anyway? The UK’s current system makes it incredibly clear that my gender does not belong to me, but to doctors, solicitors and to the state. The state can and will employ people purely to examine and judge the gender of its people. This is wrong and grossly unfair. My gender belongs to me and me alone, it is part of my identity and should not be decided or imposed upon me by anyone else. In my ideal world, no state* would even think to record the gender of its people, seeing this as just as ridiculous as recording whether people were “Black”, “White” or “Coloured” or registering every person’s religion from a state-approved list (yes I know these both are things that have happened and do happen). Why record everyone a gender from a state approved list and make them jump through hoops to change that registration? Yet whilst registering of genders is a thing, it is important to make it as easy as possible for a person to re-register as another gender, with many different options available to all and no requirements for “proof” of anything beyond that the person wishes to re-register and understands any consequences.

* Okay, I ideally wouldn’t want there to be any states at all but assuming there are states then…