THE BLOG

Trans People Won't Be Equal While We're Treated Like Children

27/12/2015 18:56 GMT | Updated 27/12/2016 10:12 GMT

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I remember reading recently about how it wasn't unusual for women of my parents' generation to be fired from jobs if they got married. Some employers were 'generous' enough to allow women to carry on working if their husband gave his written permission.

Even if women were not, by that point, legally the property of their husbands, society often treated them as if were at least their husband's responsibility. Women were infantilised, not trusted to make "proper" adult life decisions. "Women and children" seemed a natural grouping, and not just when considering the question of who should be first into a lifeboat.

Thankfully our society has moved on considerably. The idea that your employment rights are somehow your spouse's to bestow, or not, as they may decide, is one that is very much in the past.

That is unless you are a transgender person. As part of the recent Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, a nasty little provision was inserted that became known as the 'spousal veto'.

When you come out as transgender, and start transitioning, you have few legal protections. The government places you in a sort of gender limbo, seeing you as neither man nor woman, and you lose many protections in law that others take for granted.

After two years you can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate, or GRC, as long as you have the relevant paperwork which will include reports by two doctors and, bizarrely, something like a gas bill. This gets you some of your legal protections back, including certain employment non-discrimination rights. The importance of this GRC has been shown recently because without one, if you are convicted of a crime you will likely go to the prison of your birth sex

But there's a catch; if you are married you can't have a GRC, unless, that is, your spouse signs a bit of paper to say you're allowed to have one. If trans people are married, it seems our equality before the law is something that belongs to our spouse. Like the women of my parents' generation, we're infantilised.

You also can't have one if you really are neither man nor woman, because the government doesn't believe you exist. If the wealth of human experience and identity doesn't fit into neat legal boxes, then the government feels your identity is apparently at fault, not the law.

It doesn't stop there. Originally, getting a GRC gave you pretty much all the rights and responsibilities of your identified gender. When the government passed the 2010 Equality Act, it apparently decided it had previously gone too far and took away many of the protections it had previously given to trans people. Once more you can be fired from some jobs for being transgender. You can be refused service in some cases for being transgender. If you are married and can't prove your spouse knew you were trans at the time, they can have the marriage annulled, just like that.

The unspoken principle underlying the poor treatment of trans people in equality legislation seems to be that we are not to be trusted. That it's not appropriate to give us full equality with other adults. That we can't be trusted with rights because we're not responsible. Years after they mostly abandoned the notion for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, some psychologists still cling to the idea that being trans is a de facto mental illness, and the law unconsciously reflects that.

This is why the Equality Act that says trans women can be turned away from domestic violence shelters (despite being at higher risk of such violence), and denied employment there, also says that we can't set up our own service, unless we let non-trans people also work there to supervise us. Because we are still infantilised and seen as untrustworthy, lawmakers didn't even consider that we might be competent enough to organise support services. We need to be supervised, it seems, by the people responsible for us.

Paternalistic and infantilising attitudes like this used to prevail about women. More recently similar attitudes prevailed about gay and lesbian people, and resulted in injustices such as Section 28. Much of society, and consequently our law makers, still see trans people in these terms. Until these attitudes change we will never be equal in law, or in reality.