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GRA Reform

Self-ID will not give trans people “dignity and respect”

Trans rights are indeed human rights, but that means they must be considered in the context of everyone’s rights. It’s not just about us.

Why is Caroline Nokes pushing so hard against current Government policy?

Seven years after the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee opened the first (2015) inquiry into transgender equality, the ensuing debate has become polarised and heated. Yesterday, the committee reacted to the recent Government response to the committee’s second (2021) inquiry — which itself came hot on the heels of the Government’s (2020) publication of the analysis of its own (2018) consultation into changes to gender recognition. Confused yet?

It is easy to become exasperated that such a niche topic concerning a small group of people has occupied so much time at Westminster. But at stake is the boundary between men and women, and that affects everyone.

In a nutshell, the committee appears frustrated by the government’s caution. Caroline Nokes, the current chair declared that:

Moving closer to a system of self-declaration [of legal gender] and away from the currently over-medicalised process of gender transition would have given transgender people the dignity and respect they deserve.

Caroline Nokes

Who told Nokes that self-declaration would give transgender people “dignity and respect” and why did she believe them? Nokes added:

I am disappointed that the Government is unwilling to take simple steps- such as the removal of the requirement to live as a stereotype in an acquired gender, or the requirement for a ‘gender dysphoria’ diagnosis- to move the GRA into the modern day.

Caroline Nokes

The current process for gender recognition — that the government intends to retain — is neither onerous nor demeaning, certainly when compared with, for example, citizenship.

Trans rights are indeed human rights, but that means they must be considered in the context of everyone’s rights. It’s not just about us. For those of us who are married, it’s also about our spouses. The committee seemed to care little about them when they called for spousal consent to be removed.

If we change our legal sex, we change the status of our marriage. That affects two people, not just one. Currently, marriages cannot be changed without the consent of both parties — and rightly so. The committee sounded confused, claiming that married applicants need to “acquire the consent of their spouse in order to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate.” But that is not actually true. If consent is withheld, an interim certificate can be issued which can then be used as grounds to end the marriage. Once that happens, the trans person is free to apply to change their legal sex.

Removing safeguards moves nothing ‘into the modern day’. Those requirements — as Nokes calls them — are essential checks and balances that protect us all and foster public confidence in the process. That matters to me as a trans person, and it should matter to Nokes and her committee. After seven years of debate in Westminster, it’s high time for the Women and Equalities Committee to realise this fact.


Debbie Hayton

* This article was first published by Unherd on 25 March 2022: Self-ID will not give trans people “dignity and respect”.

By Debbie Hayton

Physics teacher and trade unionist.

7 replies on “Self-ID will not give trans people “dignity and respect””

Here in the U.S., the gender of a person only matters to the government during certain events, such as a census, imprisonment, seeking certain benefits, etc. The whole government certificate thing that Britain has instituted strikes me as nothing short of bizarre. I see it as unnecessary. And since gender is the same thing as sex, no one can actually change their gender anyway.
Here in the U.S., we had the case of a white woman with curly hair who misrepresented herself as black so that she could head up a chapter of the NAACP (a black civil rights organization). She did indeed look like she might have a little black blood in her; but when her family spoke up and revealed she was white, her deception was deemed shameful. Now, however, people are so transfixed by the idea that one’s gender can be changed that they are talking about how race may be a social construct which you can also change. The stupidity never stops.

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How much “black blood in” someone makes them “black”? Presumably this is a colloquial way of talking about tracing whether the parents were “black” or “white”, and their parents, yes? You’re thinking in terms of halves, quarters, eighths, etc.?

But then how far do you go back? 🙂

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Gender and sex are different, although up until recently they were sometimes used interchangeably, probably for politeness’ sake. Gender is what we call a ‘social construct’, meaning that it is something that has been created by society according to stereotypes, and it is mutable. Sex is our biology, what we’re born with, and is immutable.

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Actually, I disagree with you, Katrina. To me a person’s gender comes from his or her sexual reproductive system, so the two words — sex and gender — are interchangeable to me. You call “gender” a “social construct”, but trans people don’t seem to understand that since many of them believe that having the gender identity of the opposite sex makes them REAL men or women (depending on what they want to be). You can’t be a real woman if you have a man’s body.

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If you look up the definitions of gender and sex you’ll find that gender is a social construct (or words to that effect), and sex is biological. They’re not the same, but gender has commonly been used to mean the same as sex, as in female-sexed or male-sexed people. Transpeople use the words gender identity because the word ‘gender’ is more of a description than definition, so more adaptable for them.

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I disagree with both of you. I know my view is uncommon, and it is being somewhat pedantic, but it’s a philosophical point that has been argued well many decades ago. Looking up the definition of “gender” or “sex” in a dictionary or online should bring us a little closer to seeing that everything is a “social construct”. What do we think dictionaries are, tablets of stone found on a mountain? Of course, it’s easier to miss the complications of a definition with something “biological” or “a physical fact”, but it is actually subject to the same problem, as many many philosophers of science will tell you in long, detailed, technical, peer-reviewed papers. It is a bizarre, but fascinating, observation that we can be more confident of the absolute results of logical argument than we can of our abstractions from the natural world, although ultimately nothing is known absolutely (I may be wrong about that, LOL).

Does this mean that self-ID is fine? Well, not necessarily. That is a political debate. The answers we choose depend on assessing as best we can the likely consequences of legal statutes and encouraged cultural norms. So, putting my pragmatist’s hat back on, the working definition of “gender” as “social construct” as distinct from sex (which is much clearer in the main, of course) has a lot of benefits.

However, I don’t think we will reap them unless we focus less on whether “men” can be “women” or vice versa, and under what circumstances (and while we argue for absolutist positions), and put more on the related underlying social constructs of stereotypical appearance and behaviour. It is, in fact, the same point as my pedantry above – male and female, being social constructs, can look different and behave in a whole range of different ways.

It’s quite simple, really – the problem stems from kids (or insufficiently enlightened adults) assuming they are “the other gender” because of some spurious condition that they think must only apply to the opposite sex – liking wearing skirts or putting on makeup, looking after babies, or driving diggers and punching people outside pubs, for example. It’s the difference between sending your boy to school in a dress and demanding that he’s still respected and the school demands the same, and sending the kid to school with a note demanding that he is now a she and must have access to the girls toilet, while preparations are made for delaying his puberty and he is indoctrinated further in the ideology of gender stereotypes.

I think this view has more chance of rescuing us from the damage the current obsessions for gender switching is having, while not retreating to the reactionary position of “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…(it’s not a drake, unless a body of psychologists says it’s a drake and it’s worn bright feathers for a year or two and is having a penis surgically constructed)”. Challenging gender stereotypes also supports the central concerns of gender equality or “feminism”, where chanting “vive la difference” just encourages the patriarchy.

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Well said again Debbie, always appreciate your common sence in a increasingly stressful mad world that ignores girls and womens basic human rights. Self ID enables rapists, who judges say will go out of their way to get into womens and girls spaces. The stats of rapes attacks on girls & women where their single sex spaces are removed, back this up. Sex is being male or female, its internal as well as external. Is physical, cant change it. But they say gender is a state of mind that you are what you feel you are… dangerous. The present system is safe for trans people to be sure living as a different sex is really what they want, hopefully getting lots of support. Self ID gives trans and women no safeguards, is dangerous to women and when the public realise how many attacks on young people & women, take place, cos police force wrongly accepts self ID of rapists– general trans population, not the few male sex offenders, will be blamed. I dont want transpeople/non binary people i know to be blamed for what these evil deceitful men do. I cant understand anyone who puts a rapists rights before a woman’s or trans persons.

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