Introducing self-identification has not led to problems in other countries. On this final day of consultation I urge feminists to support this progressive step
Ellie Mae O’Hagan
Fri 19 Oct 2018
Today (Friday 19, 2018) is the final day that anyone can fill in the consultation for the Gender Recognition Act. So let’s start with what the Gender Recognition Act actually is. If you want to change your gender in the UK, you need a gender recognition certificate. To obtain one, you need to have lived in your preferred gender for two years and get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria (ie be treated as mentally ill) from two different doctors.
Trans people and a growing number of experts have long argued that this process is needlessly distressing and longwinded. In fact, Amnesty International UK responded to the GRA consultation by pointing out that the process constitutes a violation of human rights. In June 2018 the World Health Organisation declassified gender dysphoria as a mental illness.
The GRA proposes replacing the current archaic system with a simpler process, whereby trans people can instead self-identify as their preferred gender. The GRA consultation will, in part, work out exactly how this should happen, but around the world where self-identification has been introduced there have been no reports of problems so far, and trans people say they are happier. Perhaps we will adopt the same process as Ireland, where a person changing their gender must sign a certificate in front of a lawyer and confirm that they understand the gender change is a serious undertaking that will last for the rest of their lives.
The GRA changes will have a negligible effect on British society, because most gender-segregated spaces already rely on self-identification. That’s why no one has ever demanded to verify your gender – whatever that might entail – before you use a public toilet. Trans people have been using toilets, accessing domestic violence facilities, playing sports, using changing rooms, and generally trying to get on with their lives for as long as they have existed (which is about as long as all people have existed). This won’t change any of that. But it does mean that if a trans person wants to get married, they don’t have to choose between getting diagnosed with a mental illness and having their day ruined by the registrar writing the wrong gender on their wedding certificate.
Supporting the updated Gender Recognition Act is a necessity for anyone who calls themselves a feminist, and in fact most feminists do support it. Trans people are more likely to experience domestic violence, sexual assault, self harm and mental health problems than cis people. Anything that can be done to remedy that should be supported in full by feminists, including making the process of changing gender easier and less humiliating. What’s more, if the problems trans people encounter sound familiar, it is because they are: cis women are also more likely to experience domestic violence, self harm, sexual assault and mental health problems.
Why? Because both trans people and cis women live in a patriarchal culture which privileges men by keeping rigid and outdated ideas about gender in place. Trans people and cis women have a shared interest in confronting patriarchal norms, and promoting a more fluid understanding of gender. The sooner we can do that, the happier, freer and safer both groups will be.