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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For Gender Recognition For All People

I’ve tried to write this post dozens of times. Trying to explain why I, as someone who is broadly opposed to the entire concept of “legal gender”, spend so much time and effort trying to get the UK to recognise the genders of myself and my friends without first subjecting us to invasive and institutionally transphobic questioning. Why is this even important?

If no one were given a “legal gender” in the first place, I’d not want anyone to be given one. Since people are given gender assignments at birth and those are recorded and have legal consequences, I want them to be as easy to change or update as any other piece of information attached to an unwitting infant at birth is. It’s *assumed* that the name, race, ethnicity, religion, and, yes, gender ascribed to a newborn child will remain the same for most or all of that child’s life – yet these can and do change or are updated based on new information. All of these have important legal consequences (as do other ascribed “facts” such as the disability status and sexual orientation of a person) but updating your name, race, ethnicity or religion in government and non-government records is just as easy as updating your address – you don’t have to “prove” the accuracy of your new information to anyone, just tick a different box or write a new answer on a form and it’s done. You can update these things as frequently as you need to and you’re the sole arbiter of their accuracy. If you say you’re White British, Christian and called Jonte Abellard then you are. Yet if Jonte Abellard is trans, it doesn’t matter what gender he says he is – the government want to insist he’s whatever gender he was assigned as a baby unless he convinces a panel of government appointed strangers that he’s done enough to earn his gender.

And that’s the crux of the matter for me. Any system of gender recognition that automatically accepts genders handed to newborns as accurate until rigorously proven otherwise makes gender into something that people can’t be trusted to figure out for themselves. It takes autonomy away from people and gives this part of their identity away to others to determine for them. It takes the genders of cis people as well as trans people and makes them into something requiring an external opinion – your gender isn’t yours to determine in any place that treats gender as something that needs medical “proof” of any kind.

Your gender is yours. Mine is mine. Nobody else should get to decide it for us. Almost everywhere in the world, including the UK, you don’t have the final say on what your gender is – some combination of doctors and bureaucrats do. And that’s not okay and shouldn’t be acceptable, never mind normal.

There have been times and places where doctors and bureaucrats have been allowed to decide what race people were – with legal consequences such as who they can marry. There still are places where bureaucrats get to decide what religion people are – with legal consequences such as who they can marry. Here in the UK, I can’t marry *anyone* unless I either call myself a woman (which I’m not) or I get the UK government to agree that I am a man first (by subjecting myself to medical and bureaucratic scrutiny and consenting to be listed in a government list of the current and former identities of transgender people). By not only recording but also deciding these parts of people’s identities, states more or less assert ownership and control of people’s identities – controlling who you are allowed to be and who you are allowed to become.

The more difficult it is to change the identities we are handed as children, the more fixed and “natural” they appear. Making it difficult to assert an identity that we have claimed for ourselves while simultaneously making it easy to keep the identities ascribed to us by needless bureaucracy gives the bureaucratic identity a sheen of permanence that it has never earned. Even while I live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year as a man, with “he” pronouns, socially accepted by my peers as a man, my gender listed as Male on the census, my NHS records, my academic records, my benefits records… the government of the UK doesn’t see that as a reason to think I’m a man. I don’t get to be a man in their eyes until and unless I apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate and my application is successful. This effectively means that there is nothing I can do myself to change the “Female” gender assigned to me – even being a man doesn’t disqualify me in any way. Yet if I apply for a GRC, use of names or pronouns deemed not sufficiently masculine could prevent my male gender from being recognised. So could things like being pregnant or breastfeeding, not wanting surgeries, having a “feminine” job… any little thing that suggests that I might not aspire to cis male masculinity. Being a man apparently isn’t reason enough to alter the records to show I’m not a cis woman but any sign of woman-ish qualities could prevent me being recognised as a man. This is a hugely unjust double standard.

I write about gender recognition a lot and I don’t doubt that I’ll continue to do so. Until gender is recognised by self-definition alone, allowing everyone free and equal access to a simple process to change or update their gender information as often as they need to (whether that’s “never” or “a hundred times”) I’m going to keep insisting that we deserve better. Because we do.

Links to my previous posts on gender recognition:
Whose Gender Is It Anyway?
Write to your MP about Gender Recognition

Equal Marriage? Not Really

You’re Not Homophobic But… Actually, Yes You Are

About a week and a half ago, the Supreme court of the United States of America declared that all States had to have marriage available to same gender couples as well as mixed gender couples. And this is probably a good move even though I think a lot of other things would have been much more important to secure for LGBTQ people… but that can always be a different post.

This post is about the rise in online homophobia I’ve seen since the court ruling. Not just the people literally resigning their jobs, threatening to get divorced and crying on camera over how unfair it is to them that people like me have a chance to do something that they have enjoyed relatively freely for decades. Not just them but also the people likely to start a sentence with “I’m not homophobic but..”
But “I don’t accept gay “marriage””
But “Homosexuality is wrong”
But “marriage is between a man and a woman”
But “I don’t think same sex couples should be allowed to marry”
But “Same sex relationships aren’t, like, REAL relationships so why do you need to marry?”
But “I don’t want to explain this to my children”
But “Gay couples can’t have kids so they don’t need marriage like straight couples do”
But “I believe homosexuality is sinful but we can still be friends”

But but but but but…

All these and more have been thrown at me and mine recently online. Often while those same people insist that they believe all humans are equal and bullying and attacking LGBT people is wrong and something they would never, ever do…

But. These people are being homophobic – and often seeking out their gay and bi friends in order to explain to us that while they think *who and what we are* and *who and how we love* are wrong, false, immoral or lesser but we should know that they still love *us*. Just not, y’know, a major facet of who we are and a huge portion of our life.

To spell out clearly why this is homophobic, let’s put it this way:
If you believe that
a) Marriage exists and people should be able to get married
and b) Marriage affords social protections and advantages to married couples and their family
and/or c) Marriage is a way of celebrating the love shared between a couple
and you also believe d) Marriage is only for couples containing one man and one woman

then it follows that you must also believe either that same gender couples don’t need those social protections and advantages or that the love between members of a same sex couple doesn’t deserve celebrating (or worse, isn’t love).

Why would I want to be friends with someone who likely thinks my love for another man doesn’t deserve to recognised and celebrated as love but my love for a woman would? Or who thought my love for a woman should grant me and her advantages over other couples who weren’t man-woman pairs? This question isn’t rhetorical, I really want to know.

I love and have loved other men. I love and have loved women. I love and have loved nonbinary people. My love for current and ex partners who are women doesn’t feel to me to be of any different, special or unusual character compared to my love for current and ex partners who were not women. Society is/was less disgusted and less intrigued by my relationships with women than it is/was by my relationships with men, yes but the actual love and the actual relationships I don’t experience as substantially different by gender.
And when people tell me that loving men as a man is wrong or it’s okay but I shouldn’t be able to marry or it’s okay but not in public… I feel like they are telling me that my love for other men is different, somehow lesser, less real, less important, less worthy; just LESS than my love for women. And it’s not.

My love for women doesn’t need a pedestal to celebrate its social acceptability. My love for other men doesn’t need to be kept behind closed closet doors.

I’m not all that keen on the idea of marriage itself but when you tell me that the gender of the people I fall in love with should determine whether or not we can marry, what I hear you say is “I’m not homophobic but I think your relationships with other men just aren’t love”

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.

UPDATE
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.