Standing up for Transgender Rights

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Standing up for Transgender Rights

We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned about the removal of protections as specified in the Equality Act of 2010, the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, and the blocking of proposed changes to the latter. In response to the letter “Standing up for transsexual rights” (hereafter referred to as “the letter”) posted by The Guardian on the 4th of May 2018, we would like to correct some misinformation, and to address some of the points brought up by those who endorsed it.

Transgender is a term that includes a wide variety of people, including those who would label themselves “transsexual”. Transgender people may well fit the more widely acknowledged idea of “binary” gender, ie man or woman. But we also include people who identify with neither, or switch, or other forms of gender variance. Trans is often described as an umbrella term, and there are many people under the umbrella.

The current approach to changing gender on a birth certificate, as described by the Gender Recognition Act 2004, is not evidence based, as the letter would suggest. One must submit paper “evidence” that one has been living as their gender for a specified time period, yes, but this does not make it an evidence based approach. The people who judge us never meet us, the “evidence” required is often arbitrary or difficult to obtain, and many people can not afford or are able to go through the process. Reasons for this may include disability, lack of money, lack of documentation, or just not having a gender expression that is compatible with the process itself. Some of the evidence asked for reinforces traditional gender roles, and discriminates against people with androgynous names or presentation. Not allowing such people to be recognised by their birth certificate is discriminatory, as such gender expression is hardly trivial and is a core part of someone’s being. It also carries great legal implications, should someone’s gender be misidentified.

The proposed approach involves adopting something similar to the Irish system of gender declaration, whereby a person must sign a legally binding document, and then their details can be updated accordingly. If one is found to be abusing the system, they would face legal consequences in addition to what ever crimes they may have committed.

The previous letter’s use of “physically intact” is itself a very poor term. Intersex people, or perhaps those who do not identify with either gender – are they “physically intact”? Some “binary” (ie, the traditional idea of being trans) transgender women or men can’t have surgery due to health issues, or through poor access to healthcare. Finally, it suggests that those who medically transition are “not intact”? What does that imply? Should any of this be a reason to prevent someone from legally establishing their identity? Currently, for the most part, it is not.

In practice, the UK has a form of self identification of gender. Thanks to existing protections and case law, a lot of us can access the spaces that befit us. Our current system of law and medicine itself does not much distinguish between people who have undergone a certain level of transition, and those who haven’t. Should the concerns about sexual fetishists be grounded in reality, one must wonder why this isn’t already a problem, seeing as we’ve been able to legally access our chosen spaces for at least just under a decade (or more, depending on your interpretation of the law). We can also confirm that we have been using these spaces since long before then, even. If anything, the proposed changes would add additional protection, with abuse of self identification being itself a criminal offence. As stated before, countries like Ireland which have self identification in law, have not suddenly suffered from mass waves of sexual violence. There is no data to back up the letter’s concerns.

The medical establishment and the law do not draw a line whereby someone is suddenly a valid “transsexual”. One does not need to have surgery in order to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate, though the process can be complicated (as mentioned above). The letter’s assertion that it is merely trying to protect women from sudden changes to society, therefore, makes no sense.

Considering the vast array of human experience when it comes to gender, a lot of transgender people reject the term “transsexual”, as it has become pathologized, and view “transgender” as a more inclusive term. The reason a minority of those who call themselves “transsexual” may continue to do so is because it is, after all, the most accepted form of being transgender. As such, it affords relative privilege. However, when used to denigrate the rest of us, it becomes a form of elitism.

It should be noted that a lot of trans people who underwent their transition in earlier years do embrace the term “transsexual”, as it was the most used term at that time, and so has become a part of their identity. I want to reinforce that the term itself, while not used so much among some of us, can not be used to say that someone is exclusionary. However, we believe it is being used as such in the letter.

The previous letter also describes their willingness to engage in debate and how they reject attempts to shut it down (presumably referring to the protests against such events, a thing people have a right to do). We would say that such a thing is easy to say when you’re already not challenging anyone’s assumption, merely reinforcing them, and telling the majority of society outside of our umbrella what they want to hear. Doing so leaves you open to no backlash, no violence, and the validity of your existence is not being questioned. However much it is painted as being in some form of opposition, it is a trivial position to take.

And as we’ve said, the trans umbrella includes a huge array of people. Those who identify strictly as “transsexual” in order to distance themselves from the rest of us are not representative of the trans community, nor of the vast majority of LGBTQ+ rights organisations.

We, the undersigned, reject the divisive character of the letter in question, and propose a much more inclusive and progressive look at gender politics and law in the United Kingdom.



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