As a transsexual woman I was pleased to hear Penny Mordaunt, the minister for women and equalities, speak on 3 July. Among many things, she launched a much needed consultation on the 2004 Gender Recognition Act involving not only trans and non-binary people but the whole interested community.
Of late there has been a rising tide of opposition to any changes to the Act which grants trans people the right to identify as the opposite gender. Wild and misleading claims are often made in an attempt to whip up a US style of trans panic in the UK, promoting a backlash against the gender identity community and spreading resistance to change.
Contrary to popular belief, proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act would not alter or dilute existing sex discrimination legislation. Trans men and women already enjoy legal protections under the Equality Act of 2010 and this will not change. The legal recognition process in the UK for trans individuals has never required surgery or hormone therapy. Trans women and men can retain their birth genitalia and still be legally recognised as the opposite gender. This has been so for the last 14 years and will continue. Discretionary exemptions to protect the provision of single sex spaces are already in place, for example women’s refuges. My feeling is they should remain so.
Change is badly needed however, not to alter the legal definition of who is male or female but to make the process of accessing Equality Act protections easier. The road to getting that protection is tough involving a spousal veto if you are married and complex medical consultations. Unsurprisingly, Tuesday’s report reveals take up of the Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) by only 12% of transitioned individuals. Myself and my partner occupy opposite ends of the trans spectrum. I am transsexual. I found the GRC process easy and painless to navigate. I fulfilled the criteria and had existing medical evidence. On paper, I am now protected. They (my partner) on the other hand are bi-gender. They are entirely left out of the current process. I have recognition, they do not. It makes them feel vulnerable, marginalised and invalidated. The consultation seeks to establish how all trans people can have their identity better and more easily recognised and protected.
Proposed governmental change will signal the need too for much needed societal change too. The reality for most trans individuals is that it has lagged way behind official recognition. My own and partner’s experiences bear witness to that. Last year, on our way to a Pride event, a van was driven at my partner and I, forcing us to scatter while the driver shouted “tranny faggots” from his window. Simply waving my GRC I suspect would have done little to save me from this. The general public have to support change too and understand that it will not put them at risk. Societal hatred of trans and non-binary people is driven by ungrounded and irrational fears, mistrust and misinformation. Genuinely trans and non-binary people pose no threat to anybody yet are continually under threat themselves.
No matter what careful decisions we take as a nation about the official acceptance of trans and non-binary people, it is also winning over public support that matters. Without that, a GRC could be a rather worthless piece of paper. Nice to have but not that useful in everyday life.
Making the gender recognition process a little easier will help us include people currently alienated from the process; those who find it difficult like my partner. It will signal to the public that we are valid and respected citizens, not perverts and freaks. Most importantly, it will make Equality Act protections accessible to the whole trans community, not simply the few.
Entering that process will always be fraught with social difficulties. Many of us will still lose friends and families, see our marriages collapse, our careers ruined and our future radically altered. All trans people know that this process is not for the faint hearted: Nobody would undertake it on a whim. If they make that brave first step to becoming themselves, we can at least make the recognition process as painless as possible.
In bringing about that change let’s be courageous. It is a two-way process. We need to change hearts and minds but we need to counter ignorance and misinformation honestly, meeting people’s fears and understanding them. Trans activists cannot intimidate and prevent women meeting to discuss these issues and women’s groups need to reach out and include trans women in their dialogue.
Women, we need to talk.