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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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.