Self-declaration of legal gender is a reckless proposal that would deny trans people the opportunity to have their gender externally verified and force them to rely entirely on their own assertions. While that might work in some parts of society, it could be catastrophic for those living in hostile environments where their motives may be questioned and their claims disbelieved.
Hostility can develop from suspicion, so we must listen to other groups who fear that their rights may be compromised. In particular, we need to take seriously the concerns that some women have raised about sex-based protections and access to sex-segregated spaces.
People should have the right to identify and express their gender, but a more nuanced approach is needed when the law is reviewed.
Reform is essential because, as our understanding of gender develops, the current legislation is increasingly unsatisfactory. Trans people are let down by the law, but rigid gender norms restrict everyone. Rather than contemplate self-declaration of gender, into two or possibly more categories, we should stop defining people by their gender in the first place. We need to relax the rules, not make new ones. When it comes to dress codes, for example, let’s legislate to stop employers treating men and women differently. While trans people may be the main beneficiaries, progressive solutions like these help everyone.
However, access rights to sex-segregated spaces and other sex-based protections need to be considered separately. Women have fought for them, and it is unwise to dismiss reasonable concerns that they raise. Under self-declaration, how do women distinguish between a trans woman and an opportunistic man? Even the possibility of men taking advantage generates suspicions, and those suspicions will have a deleterious impact on trans people, including trans women who have hitherto been welcomed and accepted.
The Gender Recognition Act is in desperate need of reform, but self-declaration of gender is not a progressive solution. Indeed, where sex-based protections are concerned, external verification is vital to maintain trust and confidence. Otherwise, trans people face an uncertain future in a society that may decide that it just doesn’t believe them.
* This article was first published by The Morning Star on 7 October 2017 as part of a larger feature that discussed the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act: The gender identity debate explored
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One reply on “The Gender Recognition Act needs reform but self-identification is not the answer”
‘External verification is vital to maintain trust and comfidence.’
The issues are:
1) What form of ‘external verification’ is needed when making a change to one’s legal status?
2) Who does the ‘external verification’?
3) Who verifies the ‘external verifier’?
4) What is the legal status of the applicant whilst the process of ‘external verification’ takes place?
5) Is there ‘trust and confidence’ in the current system of ‘external verification’?
1) The current system relies on a) time – at least 2 years living without legal status…what this proves nobody can say; b) a collection of documents accrued on the basis of self identification during the aforesaid 2+ years…quite what payslips, council tax and utility bills prove is highly questionable; c) two medical opinions, one of which is from a specialist, ie a psychiatrist…as the current medical opinion is that being trans is not a psychiatric disorder their opinion is again highly questionable; d) a statutory declaration before a commissioner for oaths…which is what is envisaged in the proposed revision. Interestingly the only part of the current process which has any logic is rejected by critics for use in a revised process .
2) The panel which meets to ‘external verification’ do not have any specialist knowledge of gender identity issues. Quite why a random group of lay people can decide the fate of trans applicants is beyond me.
3) Most systems of ‘external verication’ have oversight systems in place to clear up any discrepancies or appeals. The GRC panel does not have these.
4) The current system takes 2+ years and usually much longer especially given GIC waiting lists. During that time the legal status of the trans person concerned is questionable. This has implications not only for those trans people who transgress the law but also for those who are victims of law breaking though thankfully the prospect of a trans woman experiencing rape by vaginal penetration but having it dealt with as male rape has gone as a result of my taking up this issue with the Home Office in 2014.
5) There is little evidence of ‘trust and confidence’ in the current system. Those who oppose trans rights and make public declarations that ‘trans women can never be considered women’ never, ever qualify this with the qualifier ‘unless they hold a GRC.’ Those who oppose trans rights and equality hold absolutist positions which reject the authenticity of trans people’s existences. Conversely those who support trans rights and equality do so unconditionally without the need for a GRC.
The GRA is in urgent need of reform. The only part of the current system – making a statutory declaration – which makes any sense is rejected by critics as not good enough for a new and fairer system. Robust consequences are needed for anyone who fraudulently uses the proposed system. At the same time robust consequences are needed for those who stir up and mobilise hatred against trans people.