The Gender Recognition Act: Your Need To Know

The government says it wants to make it easier for trans people to become their desired sex, the sex that they feel they are so here’s your need-to-know on what’s changing and, of course, the controversy it’s causing.

The Gender Recognition Act: Your Need To Know

by Sophie Wilkinson |
Published on

How easy can it be to transition from male to female or female to male? If it’s just your name on Facebook, in theory, it’s pretty easy (the physical, emotional and whole explaining it to people bit is the hard part). And then, when it comes to legal documentation, things get a little trickier. There’s a whole load of admin, and cost, and time involved. The government says it wants to make it easier for trans people to become their desired sex, the sex that they feel they are so here’s your need-to-know on what’s changing in The Gender Recognition Act and, of course, the controversy it’s causing.

**What is being changed? **

The Gender Recognition Act is being reformed, promises Justine Greening, who has the double cabinet portfolio of Education and Women and Equalities. She told Channel 4 News 'we’re going to be launching a consultation in the Autumn on reform of the Gender Recognition Act looking at how we can make sure it’s more streamlined and de-medicalised. At the moment it’s very complicated for people.'

Maria Miller, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, also said: 'This is one of the most marginalised groups in our society, and I think the government should be applauded.' So far, so very good.

What is the Gender Recognition Act?

The Act gives people the right to legally change their sex on official documents. Let’s say someone feels like they are female, but were assigned male at birth. They’re transitioning from male to female and begin living as a woman. But they also want their official documents to reflect this, like their driving licence (which says ‘Miss’ on it if it belongs to a woman) or their passport (which says M or F depending on sex). Additionally, if someone is no longer a man, should they be placed in all-male hospital wards? That’s where the Act comes in.

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** What is the difference between gender and sex when it comes to trans people?**

For most people, sex is what you’re born with, and gender is what you do with it. Though ‘transgender’ is frequently used to refer to trans people, ‘transsexual’ is what’s in our legal terminology. Though both transgender and transsexual people fit under the umbrella of ‘trans’, the difference is that transgenderism means presenting in a way that doesn’t match your sex, whereas transsexual refers to someone whose sex - perhaps even their chromosomes - don’t match who they feel they are, emotionally and psychologically.

It's worth noting that while the Gender Recognition Act can help transsexual people, it can’t help transgender people, or gender-non-conforming people, who can and will face similar harassment and discrimination to transsexual people.

How does someone qualify for help under the Gender Recognition Act? To change the gender on their official documents, a person would have to:

One: Have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria (this is the medical term for feeling that their sex doesn’t match who they feel they are)

Two: spend two years living as the sex they feel they are.

Three: send off all relevant information and evidence to a ‘Gender Recognition Panel’ and convince them of how serious they are about feeling they are the opposite sex to what’s on their current legal documentation.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has said that the Gender Recognition Act discriminates against trans people because it “does not allow trans people to self-identify their gender and forces them to undergo invasive medical tests.” However, a Gender Recognition Certificate can be awarded to someone who hasn’t done any medical tests beyond those psychological tests necessary to provide a diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

The application process also costs.

What’s going to change?

The entire process, it seems. As Felix, a trans person told Channel 4 News: 'I don’t really want to have a panel of people tell me something I already know' And campaigners, and now the government, agree. If gender is such a huge, personal decision, how can it be decided by a group of strangers?

What will the new process look like?

The detail isn’t in yet, but it looks likely that the necessity for a gender dysphoria diagnosis will be cut, as well as the length of time needed to get the Gender Recognition Certificate. It also seems like the Gender Recognition Panel will no longer exist.

And surely people are happy about this?

Yes, transsexual people who wish to have legal recognition of their desired sex are thrilled. So are their allies: Stonewall, the LGBT rights charity has been campaigning for a change to this Act for a long time, saying: 'The process is in dire need of reform. We need a simple process which isn’t medicalised, intrusive or demeaning. We would urge the Government to ensure that all trans communities are consulted and to act quickly on their concerns.'

Indeed, trans people face a lot of struggles. Compared to cis people (that means people whose bodies match their gender identity), not only are they more likely to be harassed in school and have mental health issues, they’re more likely to face discrimination in the workplace and experience hate crime in public. Some will spend prolonged time and effort trying to hide who they are in order to fit in and the Gender Recognition Act helps acknowledge what they feel inside.

Is anyone not happy about the Gender Recognition Act?

Yes. While there are religious and far-right sorts who are basically anti-trans progress, because they believe that, say, God created man and woman (there are many non-Judeo-Christian cultures around the world which believe in a third gender), some feminists are concerned they won’t be listened to.

Their worries are that, while they have no problem with trans women using female facilities, violent men will take advantage of an ease of legal transition in order to access all-women facilities such as changing rooms, prisons or refugees. Many of these facilities contain vulnerable women. Additionally, what does this mean for official statistics measuring, say, the gender pay gap?

The detail of the reform is yet to be seen, but it’s worth noting that trans women seeking to be legally allowed into women-only spaces will be doing so for the same reason that cis women want to be in a woman-only space. There have been several high profile incidences of trans women taking their own lives after being placed in male prisons. Both trans and cis women fear male violence; the question now stands: how can this be avoided?

How can violence against trans people be stopped?

First, legal protection. Discrimination against trans people has been illegal in the UK since 2006

And trans people have been given a special status in 2010 which means that crimes against them because of their gender identity should be recorded as hate crimes.

Secondly, education. Justine Greening has previously promised that sex education will be compulsory, but the detail hasn’t been seen yet, and without a reform, sex education will continue to have huge gaps in it on issues as necessary as consent, porn and now gender identity.

Thirdly, perhaps trans people need their own protected status? Writing under a pseudonym, a trans woman argued in the New Statesman that 'there is an urgent need to re-establish the status quo, ensuring that transsexual people can be correctly identified and their rights supported and reinforced'. When trans women become women, according to law, will their unique experiences as trans women be forgotten? Ditto for trans men.

Has the Gender Recognition Act been changed before?

Yes! Though it came into being in 2004, it wasn’t until 2014 that a married person transitioning wouldn’t have to get a divorce to do so. Because same-sex marriage wasn’t legal before, if a man transitioned to become a woman, legally, they could not remain married to a woman. She would have to divorce her wife and enter into a civil partnership instead.

**Wasn't there a campaign for gender-neutral passports? **

Yes, and that continues; people who identify as neither male nor female, and so would like an 'Mx' on their passport instead of the Mr, Mrs or Ms. These people, who likely identify non-binary, don’t necessarily seek validation via the Gender Recognition Act, because they see themselves as neither male nor female.

Is there something murky going on here?

There are doubts that Maria Miller, who has voted to impose further time limits on abortion and against regulations to outlaw forms of homophobicdiscrimination is truly as woke as she claims to be. Plus, at a time when major players in the Conservatives are briefing against each other, tearing themselves apart at the prospect of Brexit, could this move just be good PR for them?

Is there something great going on here?

Doubtless, if the consultation speaks to as broad a base possible of those truly affected by the reform to the Gender Recognition Act, it will be fantastic. But to actually improve trans people’s lives, it must run concurrently with compulsory and robust sex education.

What next?

Considering nearly half of trans teenagers attemptsuicide it’s not up for debate whether trans people - transsexual or transgender, or non-binary folk — deserve their rights to space and safety. What is worth MPs figuring out, though, is why our official documents refer to our sex in the first place?

Considering EU law makes it illegal on the basis of sex discrimination for insurers to offer female drivers discounts on the basis that they make fewer claims, it seems unnecessary for female drivers to have a ‘Miss’ on their driving licences. After all, men don’t have a preposition on their driving licences! On the other hand, there is a use to medical documents having a sex listed; if someone complains of abdominal pain and they’ve got a M on their files, it’s not likely to be endometriosis, or period pains. Likewise, if a person with a F on their files has missed their period for over a year, it is an issue in a way it is simply not for those with an M on their files.

Your go, government.

And if you are LGBT, the government wants to hear from you in its first ever LGBT survey. Go fill it out, now!

You might also be interested in:

The Handmaid's Tale: Your Need To Know

A Brief History Of Mass Hysteria

Germaine Greer vs Trans People: Your Need To Know

**Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson **

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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